Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Asylum Seekers in Glasgow

I was in charge of a parish in the South-Side of Glasgow when the current wave of asylum seekers came to nearby Castlemilk, and was involved with John Millar, then a future Moderator of the C of S, together with the Baptists in Castlemilk in founding the first drop-in/support/clothing/advice centre in Scotland. The stories were horrendous. I couldn't sleep at night after hearing about the situations these human beings had escaped from. To this day I keep in touch with some, and one family are still committed members of my parish in Dumbarton.

Ekklesia, today, published this. But it is only the tip of the tragic story. Gadgetvicar has a more in-depth story to tell with a call to action. It is printed below.

Residents of Red Road have asked for help with a demonstration outside the UK Borders Agency, (Home Office) at Festival Court , 200 Brand Street , Govan, Glasgow (next to Cessnock underground and off Paisley Road West , Glasgow ) on Tuesday 9th March in memory of the family who committed suicide on Sunday morning from one of the tower blocks in Red Road .

The bodies of the family, a couple and their son, were found at the bottom of a 31-storey block at 63 Petershill Drive , Springburn, Glasgow, on Sunday morning. We understand they were asylum-seekers who had received a negative decision from the UK Borders Agency (UKBA).

According to the Unity Centre in Govan, Strathclyde police visited the family's flat on the 15th floor last Friday to tell them their asylum case had been refused and they would have to leave the flat. It is common for the police only to come to the door of a refused asylum seeker at the request of the landlord after the family have refused to leave their accommodation.

So far, the YMCA who were landlords for the three are refusing to comment to the media. (The YMCA has a highly profitable contract with the UK Borders Agency to house asylum seekers in the Red Road flats, which are some of Glasgow 's worst housing stock).

It is difficult to understand why it has taken the police more than 24 hours to identify the three people as all asylum seekers are repeatedly asked to give their finger-prints by the Home Office and their landlords, the YMCA, should be able to tell the police who was living in the flat at the time.

At the moment, the Home Office are saying they are not prepared to comment, however it has been known for asylum seekers to be so desperate that they jump from their windows if they think they are about be detained in a dawn raid by the Home Office's Enforcement Team. Neighbours have said that they thought the Home Office had been banging on the door on Sunday morning when the family jumped.

Every-day, Positive Action in Housing's staff are confronted with the reality of asylum seekers coming into the office crying or upset because they have just been told they must leave the country. Then their money and housing is stopped a week later. We run a hardship fund and give out small amounts of cash for food and arrange free shelter in the homes of our volunteers. There is a great deal of mental strain and it is normal currency for people to talk about ending their lives as a viable alternative to destitution or removal.

After years of waiting on a decision, and putting your life and the lives of your family on hold, it's a big shock to be systematically stripped of each and every one of your basic human rights of food, shelter and work by the asylum system, and then face the daily terror of destitution or possible removal in the early hours. Then it's easy to see why someone would consider suicide preferable to returning to an unsafe country.

We believe there should be a public inquiry into these deaths, and the impact of the UK Borders Agency and their terror campaign - disguised as asylum policy - on the lives of asylum seekers who have lived here for years but live in permanent fear of destitution, detention and removal. Many asylum seekers flee persecution or death, only to be terrorised by the prospect of removal back to an unsafe country, and in the process face destitution or long term detention. The current asylum system is based on the false premise that all asylum seekers are bogus. We need a complete rethink.


This case, and many others, raise serious questions about the way the UK asylum system operates in this country. Members of the public have a right to know if we have a fair asylum system, or one which terrorises vulnerable people to the point they would take their own lives. Please demand the following questions are answered and write to your MSP, MP, the First Minister, the Scottish Secretary and the home Secretary:

Please copy your correspondence to home@paih.org. Email addresses are at the end of this email.

1. Who were the family and what was their background in the UK ?

2. Demand a public enquiry into the suicides and in particular the details of all communications the UK Borders Agency had with the family.

3. What communications did the YMCA and Strathclyde Police have with the family?

4. We want to know the Home Office arrangements for the deceased. Have the relatives of the deceased been informed? What plans does the UKBA have to remove their bodies to their countries of origin? (We know of cases where the bodies of dead asylum seekers have been left unclaimed in mortuaries for years, this charity has had to step in to raise funds for the return of the dead to their families for a proper burial).

5. Neighbours have stated that on Saturday evening, a few hours before the suicide, the family were seen taking bags out of the flat. We believe they were planning to escape removal, not commit suicide, and that happened on the Sunday morning which drove them to make the decision to build a pyre of furniture on the veranda and throw themselves from their fifteenth floor. We want to know if the Home Office Removal vans were in the vicinity. We want to know if UK Borders Agency removal officials were in the vicinity of 63 Petershill Drive . Were they, as has been suggested, knocking at the door of the suicide victims at 63 Petershill Drive, Springburn on Sunday morning with a view to removing the family?

6. Why are innocent children still being locked up like criminals in Scotland ? Many asylum seekers who report weekly to Brand Street reporting centre don't know if this or the next week they will simply not be allowed to leave. Only on Friday, Stephanie Ovrawah went to pick up her twin six year old sons, Joshua and Joel, from Cranhill Primary School in Glasgow before going to "sign" at Brand Street Reporting Centre. The family have been Glasgow residents since the children were babies. They were immediately detained with the children still in their school uniforms, no goodbyes to their neighbours or school friends, no chance to pick up their belongings from home; they were just taken to Dungavel Removal Centre and then to Yarls Wood Removal centre, where they currently await their fate. Joshua (6) said today, "I miss my friend Taylor. I miss Mrs O'Brien and Mr Downs. They are our teachers. They said they are sending us back. I don't know this Africa ... My mum says we didn't do anything wrong. They shout at us and a guard hit my brother. We want to leave, this is a prison and a dump… I want to go back to school tomorrow and see my friends Taylor, Rhys and Keegan. "

7. We want questions raised in the Scottish parliament asto why the barbarism of the UK asylum system is allowed to operate on Scottish soil. What is the Scottish Government going to do to put a stop to this once and for all?

Please write to the following people to demand answers about this case and the way the asylum system operates. Please copy your correspondence to home@paih.org

Write to your MSP, MP and MEP. To find out who your local representative is, just enter your postcode in http://www.writetothem.com/ and email them from the website.

Write to:

Alex Salmond, First Minister at FirstMinister@scotland.gsi.gov.uk
Jim Murphy , Scotland Secretary at jimmurphymp@parliament.uk
Alan Johnson, Home Secretary at johnsona@parliament.uk
Or: public.enquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

I know there are people who would seek to abuse the system, but more and more, when I hear the stories of these people, I wonder whether or not I'm living in Nazi Germany or a 21st Century Scotland.

Please make yourself aware of the facts. They might be coming for you next.


Anonymous said...

Hmm that's amazing but to be honest i have a hard time seeing it... wonder how others think about this..

Jimmy5442 said...

After reading this,all that went through my head was how fragile life is.I know,to most of people, that is just a "story".They will probably forget this next day ,or even dont wanna mention it again. But it is really really special for me.All the things around there are familiar to me.Yes,i was living in that building last March.
i know how the family's feeling.i will never forget the day i lied down on the bottom of the van over 12 hours in 2005.it almost killed me .but things never change after i arrived here. It is a suffering to me everyday.'Cause you will never know where the next day i would be .unfortunately i was stopped on the way by the police because of my status last year.i applied an application for asylum seeker afterwards. i heard of most of cases like mine were refused, then i escaped from there after 2 months.So i am "safe" now in a way.Sometimes i am very puzzled .i tried my best to learn english to integrate into this society. i tried to be a good man...... i did try. But it is still really hard , isnt it?

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