Decent housing for asylum seekers! Decent housing for all!

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Jomast hear us say! Over-crowding no way! Bedbugs, broken cookers, leaking ceilings, black mould – enough is enough!

Protesters picketed Jomast’s Middlesbrough offices on Monday 5 March, rallying against the luxury property developer’s sub-standard accommodation provisions for asylum seekers.

Tyneside based Migration Asylum Justice Forum, supported by Fight Racism Fight Imperialism North East, coordinated with South Yorkshire Migration Asylum Action Group and North East Coalition for Asylum and Refugee Rights to demand improvements for asylum accommodation calling for an end to forced bedroom sharing which sees unrelated strangers forced to share bedrooms.

Jomast is subcontracted by G4S who hold the contract for asylum accommodation in the North. We forced their office to shut shop for the day. Management scarpered, leaving a couple of admin staff who locked the doors, drew the blinds and refused to accept any letters from us. Jomast own much of the office and housing blocks surrounding their office, meaning that asylum families living in the overcrowded Jomast flats above the office came down to join the protest and speak out about their unscrupulous landlord. They spoke of having their water cut off, broken washing machines, cracks and holes in the walls, with mothers and several children having to sleep in the same room, sharing their tiny flats with other families leaving them with no space or privacy.

Several Jomast residents who are forced to share bedrooms also took to the mic to speak out, demanding privacy and respect.

There has been widespread outcry over conditions in asylum housing, leading Newcastle city council to pass a policy against bedroom sharing for asylum seeker adults in March 2017. The Migration Asylum Justice Forum then pressured the council to conduct inspections of properties where bedroom sharing was taking place. As a result, Newcastle city council’s Environmental Health department issued several notices under section 139 of the Housing Act 2004 stating they considered the houses over-occupied.

Despite this, Jomast continue to force asylum seeker residents into shared bedrooms, many in quite heated situations where Jomast call the police if residents demand that the local council policy was respected. Now Jomast and G4S have appealed the council's section 139 notices so it will go to the first-tier tribunal property chamber on 23 March. If Newcastle council win the case this could be a step towards banning forced bedroom sharing across the region, following in the footsteps of Sheffield council who successfully ended forced bedroom sharing in 2017.

In the meantime, dozens of asylum seekers have been in touch with our campaign, distressed and upset with their treatment as Jomast have forced new residents in to houses that are already full:

‘Jomast want me to go crazy in here, I have no privacy, I have to share my space with another man who I don’t know, who doesn’t speak my language, doesn’t speak English, we can’t communicate - he is just as stressed as me!’

‘It is so hard sharing with so many people in the house, the others I share with, sometimes they smoke in my bedroom – and I have asthma! So many men all together – with different cultures and customs – the house is a mess, Jomast are supposed to provide cleaning materials but they never come to fix anything, they never come to clean – we are eight people in four bedrooms – no space’

All this is happening at the same time as the government and the Home Affairs Select Committee are locked in a dispute over asylum accommodation and the contracts for the next 10 years are up for grabs. Meanwhile in Middlesbrough, Jomast have just built a new Premier Inn and cite upmarket developments in Queen’s Square, Bedford street and Albert road as glittering jewels in their multi-million-pound property development projects. Our protest attracted the attention of local press with those directly affected speaking to TV, Radio and newspapers1.

Housing should be a right not a commodity – Jomast and G4S are only interested in asylum accommodation as part of a desperate scramble for lucrative government contracts. Like slum landlords, profit driven housing associations and local councils selling off estates, profit is their bottom dollar. The fight for decent homes for asylum seekers is part of the fight for decent homes for all – unity is strength – together we are stronger!

We are now preparing for the tribunal court hearing on 23 March. We will be gathering outside to protest and highlight the issue – for more information follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/migrationandjustice/

1. Crowded and poorly maintained homes cost us 'basic human rights' say protesting asylum seekers. GazetteLive, 5 March 2018.

Asylum seeker's life on Teesside - 'I thought it would be heaven but now I'm scared'. GazetteLive, 6 March 2018.

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