The Unity Centre
The Unity Centre in Glasgow opened in March 2006, and since then has been open five days a week from 10am – 6.00pm. Located less than 100 meters from the main entrance of the Home Office reporting centre, the centre plays a unique role supporting asylum seekers in Glasgow and is run entirely by a collective of volunteers and depends totally on donations from supporters.
Part of the no Borders Network we work to create a world with freedom of movement for all. Working with the asylum seeker community in Glasgow, we try to use radical methods of collective action, solidarity and non-hierarchical organizing to challenge the injustices faced by asylum seekers under the UK’s racist immigration system.
Frequently traumatised; not allowed to work; made to live on only 70 per cent of benefits or only on vouchers; often not speaking English as a first language and regularly targeted by racists and the right wing media; asylum seekers are one of the most vulnerable minority groups in our community.
The Unity Centre is a drop-in centre for asylum seekers attending the Glasgow UKBA reporting centre for interviews or to report regularly. Most people are detained when reporting at the UKBA so many are anxious that they will be detained without warning when going there and come to the Unity Centre for support and help.
We aim to create a safe, welcoming, space where volunteers provide information in a relaxed, friendly, way in a small, informal office. People register personal details with us so that we have relevant information in the event of their detention or any other emergency relating to their immigration status.
On average, ten asylum seekers register every week with us and 20 to 30 people come into the Unity Centre every day. Since we first opened, over 2,800 asylum seekers and their families have registered with us. We’ve helped over two hundred families return safely to Glasgow after being detained by the Home Office. Approximately 100 people or families in detention are supported every year, a total of around 700 since we first opened.
The Unity Centre is also active in campaigning, picketing and taking direct action to stop abusive treatment of asylum seekers and to work towards our vision of a world without nation states and national borders. Our biggest victory was in the fight that stopped the UKBA from carrying out dawn raids on asylum seeker families in Glasgow in 2006. This was achieved through a combination of political action through the Scottish Parliament by more conventional groups and campaigns as well as picketing outside the Home Office, helping organizing community resistance and taking direct action blockading the entrance of the Home Office organised from the Unity Centre.
The idea of a network of people pooling money to financially support those causes and campaigns that often find it hard to get funding is a great one and one that I’m surprised hasn’t been set up already! The group I belong to often finds it difficult to find sources of funding that will allow us to carry out our vital work without limiting it in some way. The Edge Fund doesn’t do that and is aimed at groups like ours who can’t get mainstream support. Sitting down with other applicants and working out with them how to allocate the funds was a unique and fascinating experience. Not only did I get an insight on how difficult it is to decide how best to financially support a wide range of worthwhile causes but the process enabled me to meet activists from many different campaigns and groups. So not only did we come away from the process with some much needed funds but we also strengthened our network of contacts!