Jan 23 2013 EXCLUSIVE by Joe McGuire
Glasgow 2014 volunteer Image 1
The volunteer drive kicked off in a blaze of publicity earlier this month
GLASGOW’S Commonwealth Games have been slammed by a human rights watchdog over its volunteering criteria.
The Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) are angry that asylum seekers will be unable to volunteer for the Games, as Glasgow 2014’s criteria states volunteers must be eligible to work in the UK.
The rules are far stricter than UK immigration law which allows asylum seekers to volunteer even though they cannot work.
Glasgow has the highest number of asylum seekers of a city outside of London, with around ten per cent of the 2000-strong asylum seeker community.
Gary Christie, Head of Policy for Scottish Refugee Council, said: “We are extremely disappointed and frustrated by the Commonweath Games Organising Committee’s decision not to allow asylum seekers to volunteer for this exciting event.
“Asylum seekers – many of whom flee horrendous situations of violence and persecution in their home countries – have a wealth of skills but are not allowed to work while their asylum claim is processed.
“Many choose to volunteer. The sense of value and self-worth that this brings is extremely positive at a time when they have to deal with the stress of going through the often inhumane asylum system.
“They can contribute to society which is good for the whole of Scotland.”
The SRC say that it “adds insult to injury” that asylum seekers from Commonwealth Countries with human rights abuses such as Pakistan, Rwanda, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are not allowed to volunteer during the 2014 Games.
They have also called on the Scottish Government to put pressure on Glasgow 2014 to change their volunteer criteria, and to raise the matter with the UKBA, as they believe it contradicts Holyrood’s own policy to ensure people claiming asylum are allowed to integrate from day one.
Mr Christie added: “We believe the Commonwealth Games, which gets public support both financially and in kind, owes the people of Glasgow, whatever their background, much more.”
The Glaswegian spoke to “Ali”, a 19-year-old asylum seeker from Pakistan who did not wish to be fully named, who was crushed to find out he could not take part as a volunteer.
Ali, who was forced to flee the Commonwealth country in fear for his life, has been in Britain for 22 months, and has volunteered in various projects, including as community liason for Strathclyde Police, for the past 18.
He said: “When I found out that they would be recruiting for this I felt it would be a great opportunity for me because I’ve been interested in sport since I was a young boy.
“When I found out that I couldn’t volunteer it was a very dark moment because I always wanted to be involved in the games.
“There are many people in the asylum seeker community who have a lot of skills and a lot to offer, many of whom who have specialist knowledge in sports.
“It is sad that people have an amazing pool of talent and don’t have the opportunity to show this.”
While the law states that asylum seekers are unable to work, legally they are allowed to volunteer, and the SRC have pointed to asylum seeker volunteers in organisations such as the Red Cross and Citizens Advice as proof that Glasgow 2014 should allow them to take part.
Immigration law specialist Jamie Kerr confirmed that there was no legal reason that asylum seekers should not be allowed to volunteer.
Mr Kerr, an associate with Morton Fraser solicitors, said: “The rules around asylum seekers and work are unfortunately very complex, however I can’t see any legal reason why asylum seekers can’t volunteer and be part of the project.
“In legal terms there is a distinction between work that’s not paid and carrying out volunteering. In legal terms the distinction is very clear and 2014 ought to be aware of this.
“It is disappointing that they have taken this approach.”
A Glasgow 2014 spokesman said that all volunteers must meet the minimum criteria, and confirmed that this includes being eligible to work in the UK.
He said: “Glasgow 2014 understand that the UKBA aims to resolve asylum applications within an allocated time period and some volunteer candidates who apply are likely to have their status resolved before the start of the Games volunteer training period.
“Due to the expected high volumes of applications and number of interviews to be conducted Glasgow 2014 require that all volunteer applicants meet all the eligibility criteria during the application period from January – February 2013.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “While the criteria for volunteer selection is a matter for the 2014 Organising Committee, not the Scottish Government, the Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport is happy to meet with the Scottish Refugee Council to discuss their concerns and see how they can be further involved in the legacy of the 2014 Games.”