Third Glasgow Asylum death puts pressure for public inquiry

On 21 September it was reported that all seven Glasgow MPs in the Westminster Parliament, members of the Scottish National Party (SNP), have written formally to Scotland’s senior legal officer to call for a formal Fatal Accident public inquiry into the deaths over recent months of three asylum seekers living in the city. 

The MP’s move follows a period of prolonged but unsuccessful pressure on the UK government Home Office and Tory Home Secretary Pritti Patel to call a full-scale public inquiry into the recent spate of Glasgow deaths. 

Mike Picken follows up an earlier report for Socialist Resistance with the latest news and background from Glasgow.

Mercy Baguma tragedy

The most recent tragic asylum-seeker death on 22 August was of 34 year-old Mercy Baguma from Uganda.  Mercy was found dead in her Glasgow flat after the police were alerted that she had not been seen for several days and her child’s cries were heard from within.  Mercy Baguma’s death sent shock waves across Scotland. 

Mercy had been pursuing an asylum claim for several years to the UK government, but had been told shortly before she was found dead that she was no longer able to work and had therefore been forced to give up her job in Glasgow.  She was described by the Glasgow-based charity Positive Action in Housing that she approached for help as being “left destitute” by the Tory government. 

The exact cause and circumstances of her death remain unclear, but Mercy appears to have lain dead in her flat undiscovered for several days alongside her one-year old UK-born son, who was found in a state of malnutrition and required hospital treatment. 

Mercy was due to be relocated under the merry-go-round of constant movement by the Home Office that asylum seekers face in Glasgow.  The impending relocation meant that her friends and supporters were unaware of her exact circumstances, despite their attempts to contact her. 

When the death of Mercy was raised in the Scottish Parliament by MSP Alison Johnstone of the Scottish Green Party, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP launched a devastating attack on the UK asylum system saying she found herself “consumed with sadness, but also real anger at the death”. 

Sturgeon went on to say to the Parliament: “I think we can all say that the UK asylum system is not just broken, it is deeply inhumane and it must be changed … we need wholesale reform of the UK’s asylum system and we need to start from the principles of dignity, of empathy and of support for our fellow human beings who come to this country in need of support at desperate times in their lives”. 

Mercy’s body was sent to Uganda for a family funeral and dozens of friends and supporters gathered in September in a Glasgow park to hold a vigil in her memory.  Her son is being looked after by his Nigerian-born father who is also an asylum seeker in Glasgow, still awaiting a decision on his own application for the right to remain.

Asylum seeker shot dead in hotel by police

In June, another Glasgow asylum seeker died after being shot by armed police following a siege at a central Glasgow hotel.  Badreddin Abedlla Adam was a 28 year-old Sudanese asylum seeker who had been staying in the hotel following the forced relocation of nearly 400 Glasgow-based asylum seekers by the UK Home Office’s agent, the Mears Group. 

In early April, asylum seekers across Glasgow were forcibly removed with less than an hour’s notice from their homes in the city to be virtually incarcerated in six hotels made empty by the pandemic.  Home Office and Mears Group officials claimed it would enable them to better be supported during the pandemic, but the real motive is suspected to be the savings by the Mears Group due to the cheapness of the hotel accommodation and meals, enabling the removal of the £37 per week payment that each asylum seeker had been being paid.  

The asylum seekers and local campaigners complained about being shut up in sealed hotel rooms where they could not open windows, the risk of the pandemic spreading, the lack of money for basics, and the nature and quality of food supplied. 

A protest was held in central Glasgow but it was attacked by far right racists.  Campaigners warned that the situation in the hotels was like a tinder box that was bound to erupt.  No risk assessment was undertaken by Mears Group.

 On 26 June, following warnings to Mears Group and the Home Office about his mental health, Badreddin Abedlla Adam attacked several of his fellow asylum seekers and hotel workers with a knife.  Police were called and a police officer was also stabbed before armed police shot Adam dead – the first such armed killing by Police Scotland since the force was formed in 2013.  The six people injured were hospitalised but recovered.

A protest at the Govan Home Office Immigration centre over the death attracted over 100 people despite the lockdown and was supported by Positive Action in Housing and other antiracists.

The death of Adam had been preceded by that of Adnan Walid Elbi, a 30 year old asylum seeker from Libya, who died on 5 May in one of the Glasgow hotels to which the asylum seekers had been forcibly moved.  His cause of death was reported as “unascertained”, but he is suspected to have taken his own life as a result of the severe mental health pressures on the asylum seekers. 

In August BBC Scotland obtained confidential emails from the Mears Group that despite assurances after the June shooting that they would relocate from hotels back into flats in the city that hundreds would remain in the incarcerated environment of the hotels for months, possibly through to December.

In the last week in September Abdul Safi, a desperate Afghan asylum seeker, organised a protest at the Govan Home Office Immigration centre and went on hunger strike over the treatment of his claim.  The hunger strike attracted strong local support as he camped out overnight on the Glasgow pavement.  It has just been reported by the Afghan Human Rights Foundation that a representative of the Home Office has confirmed verbally that a positive decision (limited leave to remain) had been made.  At the time of publication this had yet to be confirmed in writing, but if true it represents a victory and shows the power of protest but is an indictment of the lengths to which asylum seekers have to go to get justice from the UK Tory government.

Deeply racist UK asylum and refugee policy

The forced relocation of nearly 400 Glasgow asylum seekers in the middle of a pandemic was a callous act by the Home Office and Mears Group and shows the extent to which the deeply racist UK asylum and refugee policy is prepared to go to dehumanise people.  The Mears group won the contract with the Home Office to supply asylum seeker accommodation in Scotland only last year, following the repeated failures of the previous private contractors – SERCO. 

SERCO had lost the contract after a spate of complaints and demonstrations about their treatment of Glasgow asylum seekers and they were fined nearly three million pounds by the Home Office for contract breaches.  This fine followed a previous twenty million pound fine over SERCO’s failure in a government contract for an electronic criminal tagging. 

However, their failures didn’t stop SERCO being awarded the current UK government health contract for the currently collapsing ‘third rate’ Covid testing system.  Of course, the fact that SERCO’s Chief Executive is the grandson of former Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill and brother and nephew of other former Tory MPs has seemingly made the company impervious to public criticism in its relentless acquisition of lucrative Tory government contracts. 

Despite only holding the Home Office contract for only a short time, the Mears Group have shown themselves to be just as callous and inhumane as their SERCO predecessors.  Mears Group are a for-profit provider of ‘social housing’ and have contracts not just with the Tory Home Office but with Labour councils for management of privatised housing stock.  The privatisation of public services by ruthless companies such as Mears and SERCO is a major part of current scandals that should be condemned by the Labour Party and trade unions, rather than Labour councils continuing to award them contracts.

Glasgow MPs campaign against Tories

Despite the statements by leading SNP politicians in June that the shooting of Badreddin Abedlla Adam should not be “politicised”, SNP MPs in Glasgow have since campaigned energetically against the racist treatment of asylum seekers by the Home Office.  The Glasgow SNP MPs walked out of a meeting with the Home Office in June, and Chris Stephens MP is now leading a campaign of all the MPs to expose the appalling racist treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, attracting strong support across Scotland. 

Asylum, refugees and immigration policies are ‘reserved’ matters for the Tory UK Government and neither Glasgow City Council nor the Scottish government at Holyrood have any say or role in how asylum seekers are treated or housed under the Tories ‘hostile regime’.  It appears that both the Council and Scottish government have repeatedly raised their major concerns with the Home Office, but their pleas have been ignored. 

The policy of dispersal and relocation of asylum seekers to places like Glasgow began under a Labour UK government over a decade ago, but the Tories have accelerated the scale and inhumanity of it.  The people of Glasgow and Scotland have repeatedly shown how they welcome asylum seekers and refugees in spite of UK government hostility.  This has now become part of the narrative of why a majority of people in Scotland currently support independence from a racist UK state, alongside the momentum for this created by the xenophobia of Tory Brexit and the Tory failures on the pandemic.

Some figures on the left of Glasgow Labour have publicly supported the asylum seekers, for example former MP Paul Sweeney.  But it has mainly been the efforts of SNP MPs, (rather than Labour’s front bench and Shadow ‘Scottish Secretary’ Ian Murray, that have highlighted the importance of calling out the UK’s racist anti-migrant policy.  The Labour Party leadership needs to come off the fence and raise the issues.

On the ground in Glasgow, the efforts of local charity Positive Action in Housing, with a 20 year battle to support asylum seekers, have also been magnificent in opposing the realities of Tory racism on the human beings at the centre of this.  A further welcome sign is the setting up of self-organisation by refugees in Glasgow through a Refugees for Justice manifesto and organisation.

The racist policy of the Tory UK government is being challenged in Glasgow and across the rest of the British state and building genuine united campaigns with migrant groups, asylum seekers and refugees should be supported by the labour movement and left.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. Sign the petition for a public inquiry, set up by Positive Action in Housing, and publicise it on social media.
  2. Get your Labour Party or Trade Union branch to support the call for a Public Inquiry.
  3. Contact Refugees for Justice to get speakers and information.
  4. Get your labour movement or community group to support Glasgow-based charity Positive Action in Housing by making a donation of support for their campaigning work.   home@positiveactionh.org https://www.facebook.com/PositiveActionH.  Support also the work of the Glasgow-based Afghan Human Rights Foundation https://twitter.com/AfghanHRF https://m.facebook.com/AfghanHRF/
  5. If you have a Labour Westminster MP put pressure on them through your CLP to support the demands of Glasgow MPs for a public inquiry and raise the matter in Parliament.
  6. Support all efforts to build broad-based campaigns around migrant rights.

 23rd September 2020

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