On Wednesday night, peaceful demonstrations by asylum seekers protesting pandemic accommodation conditions were disrupted by far-right groups, who occupied Glasgow’s George Square and prevented the protest from going ahead.

Whilst reaction has focussed on the racist ideologies of these groups – who also on the previous Saturday disrupted an action in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in George Square – it is important not to lose sight of why the demonstration – organised by No Evictions – was necessary.

The conditions that asylum seekers and those who support them were protesting in Glasgow are the result of a border system which is systemically racist. Asylum policies disproportionately impact populations who are ‘substantially more likely’ to identify as ethnic and racialised minorities. In the meantime, the asylum system has traceable roots in the practices of the British Empire (Bhambra 2017) and in its contemporary form, is designed to control the mobility of black and brown populations.

The contemporary system used by the UK Government to accommodates asylum seekers – Dispersal – is coercive and curtails asylum seekers’ rights and mobility. The Dispersal Scheme operates through a decentralised relationship between the Home Office and large, private contractors, like Mears (the current provider for asylum accommodation in Glasgow).

Dispersal contracts incentivise companies like Mears to provide low-cost and cost-saving accommodation. As a result, asylum seekers often end up living in accommodation with particularly low housing standards. Asylum seekers have no choice in where they live, or who they live with, or when they move.

Mural in the New Gorbals area of Glasgow. Credit: E.Hill 2018.

The ‘Hotel Detention’ that asylum seekers tried to protest in George Square on Wednesday is an extension of this system. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Home Office halted evictions and deportations. However, what this meant was that there was insufficient asylum accommodation to meet demand. To ‘solve’ this, Mears decided to move asylum seekers with No Recourse to Public Funds out of their housing and into hotels.

In the hotels, and in pandemic conditions, asylum seekers have to share communal spaces and in some cases, share rooms. Residents are told when and what to eat, and have curfews on their movements. In the meantime, arguing that hotel conditions provide sufficient resources, the Home Office have withdrawn financial support to the residents. Where support was already extremely limited at £37.50/week, residents now have no financial means to travel to health appointments, see family, or top-up their phones to speak to them.

By controlling asylum seekers’ access to resources, and curtailing their movements, Hotel Detention creates appalling living conditions. It also makes use of two strategies – immobilisation and coercion – that have long been associated with the control and containment of black and brown people at the border. Mears and the Home Office urgently need to end Hotel Detention. But their actions must be understood in the context of a system that targets racialised minorities and is designed to produce racial inequality.

No Evictions continue to campaign to end Hotel Detention.