“He kicked me off the bus and refused to let any of the people I was with on. Only the white people were allowed.”
This is the account of an asylum seeker trying to board a Stagecoach bus into Bristol. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he was asked for ID by the driver when he and three other men tried to board after having already purchased a ticket.
“I had never been asked for my ID before, but I know that I don’t have to show it just because someone asks so I questioned him and all he said was, ‘It is what it is, I have to identify you’,” he said. “I know this isn’t true, so I refused – at which point he said, ‘I’m not taking any more asylum seekers.’”
Stagecoach initially denied the allegations, claiming there was ‘no evidence’ the alleged events took place. But after media coverage this week, the firm has now launched an ‘urgent investigation’.
The events are alleged to have taken place at the Cowslip Green bus stop and involved drivers operating on the Falcon route between Plymouth and Bristol, which is run by Stagecoach South West.
The bus stop is next to the Holiday Inn at Bristol Airport, where around 100 people seeking asylum are being housed. This is one of three hotels on the outskirts of the city where people are living while they wait for their asylum claims to be assessed. Afghani refugee Bahara previously told the Cable the experience was like living in prison.
The man who was denied entry to the bus from Bristol Airport had to go through the same ordeal again. “We had to wait an hour for the next bus and then the same thing happened,” he said. “When I questioned the second driver he got very angry and actually pushed me physically. I was so angry I wanted to fight him but I was afraid to do anything because it could ruin a lot of things for me.”
He has been in the UK for 11 months and is studying accounting at college in Bristol. He says this event, which took place in the last days of September, is one of the most recent in a long line of alleged instances of discrimination. He said many of the asylum seekers at the hotel have experienced similar kinds of incidents, which when put together form a clear, regular pattern of mistreatment.
‘We’re letting these people down’
“There’s a list of incidents running back months,” said Angie Bual, a local resident and creative director of local arts charity Trigger, which has been helping the residents with clothing donations and transportation assistance such as lifts and bicycle access.
“We have numerous cases of buses not stopping, drivers refusing to allow black and brown passengers on because the bus is full when there are empty seats, and the police were called recently when a driver refused to accept a £20 note as payment for multiple tickets,” she added.
“The man refused to leave the bus and the police were called, who ultimately sided with the driver and had the group removed. When I contacted the police to follow this up I was told that racism is not a crime and that the driver has the right to decide who is allowed on.”
“It’s shocking and it’s upsetting. Some of these people have lost their families to war and it feels like we’re letting them down. They’ve been placed in the middle of nowhere and have to rely on a single bus route to get to college, the GP, legal appointments, everything.
“They live off a budget of £8.25 a week and a bus ticket costs between £5 and £7. As a country we’re not doing our bit, and getting a bus ticket should be the minimum.”
After initially claiming that there was ‘no evidence’ the alleged events took place, Stagecoach has launched an ‘urgent investigation’. The company said in a statement: “We do not tolerate discrimination or any kind or unacceptable behaviour, whether that involves an employee or any customer seeking to use our services.”
The statement goes on to say that Stagecoach has “been in close contact with the liaison officer responsible for the hotel at Cowslip Green and put in place additional monitoring of boarding and ticketing on services calling at the bus stop.
“Since these measures have been put in place, we have not been made aware of any problems, however we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” it adds.
When asked what course of action may be taken if the asylum seeker’s claims are substantiated, a spokesperson for Stagecoach said: “It would be inappropriate to speculate on any conclusions while the investigation is underway.”
‘Lack of commitment to the cause’
A former Stagecoach diversity and inclusion officer, who worked outside of the South West, told the Cable: “There is a major disconnect between upper management and frontline staff” when it comes to D&I policy, and that these examples show how the policies set out by the company “don’t trickle down”.
“I don’t think there is a problem of systemic racism within the company, there are pockets like these that are allowed to exist and thrive in every operating company throughout the country,” the former D&I officer said. “These events feel like a microcosm of my time with Stagecoach, where centrally they try to say the right thing but in reality there is no substance or commitment to the cause.
“Having worked for different bus companies and driven in various places throughout the country, I don’t think this is a Stagecoach South West-specific problem but instead an industry wide issue.
“Drivers have a lot of power, spend very little time with supervisory/management staff and are generally allowed to operate in whatever way they feel appropriate. There is a real resistance to change and there is too much focus on the physical aspects of operating a bus and not enough focus on the customer/community side of things.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Avon and Somerset Police Superintendent Dickon Turner said: “There can be no excuse for any form of hate or prejudice in Avon and Somerset, and we will always take any such offences extremely seriously.” Turner went on to confirm that officers attended a previous incident at the Cowslip Green bus stop on 10 September, and no offences were reported, until report was made later that day by a third party who was concerned the incident was racially motivated.
The event has since been logged as a hate incident. This is less severe than a hate crime, which requires the common law to be broken with an element of severe prejudice. Hate incidents have a broadly similar definition to what constitutes a hate crime but would not be a criminal matter in isolation.
There are currently no refugee rights charities operating in North Somerset, where the asylum seekers are housed. Trigger has set up a fundraiser to support these asylum seekers and others in a separate hotel that recently opened nearby.