Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, leader of Catholics in Glasgow, today called for an end to the ‘human rights scandal’ which forces asylum seekers into destitution.
He said as he signed a public petition against such forced destitution: ‘I’m sorry we have to make such efforts. They are only necessary due to the inhumane situation that is manifesting itself on our doorstep.’
When a person’s claim for asylum is refused, their accommodation and weekly allowance of around £70 is stopped. They are left homeless and with no money to feed or clothe themselves. They are forbidden to work at any time during the asylum seeking process.
Right now, Dje Bruno Masahi, is in that situation. He fled from the Ivory Coast almost two years ago when his life as a politician in the opposition party was under threat. In an emotional account of his day-to-day struggle to survive on the streets of Glasgow he said: ‘I fled my country looking for protection because my life was in danger. I did not get protection and now it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive.
‘It’s not just me – asylum seekers across Scotland are suffering. Something needs to be done about this situation.’
Recent research by Caledonian University showed that hundreds of people are made destitute by the UK Government’s policy. Some couch surf with friends. But another asylum seeker whose case is in process, can find their case is put in jeopardy if they house a destitute friend.
The night shelter for destitute asylum seekers in Glasgow is usually full. And the City Mission’s rough sleepers’ shelter – which has just opened for the winter – is expected to allow destitute asylum seekers in now, too. It is aimed at people who live rough on the streets of Glasgow.
Said Archbishop Tartaglia, who is also President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland: ‘This Christmas, I have a particular concern for people in our own backyard who may be forced to shelter under a bridge in freezing conditions, in a doorway or on a cold floor – because they have been made compulsorily destitute.’
He has put out an appeal to those ‘in positions of civil authority’ to ease this suffering by allowing people the ‘basic human requirements of shelter and sustenance.’
Gary Christie, Head of Policy at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: ‘We are calling on the UK Government to provide basic support to all asylum seekers until they are given the right to remain here or until they leave this country.’
Eileen Baxendale, Chair of Refugee Survival Trust said: ‘It is unacceptable to leave people hungry and homeless on the streets of our cities.’
Almost 1500 people have signed the Stop Destitution petition in postcard format which the Archbishop signed. The postcards will be sent to the UK Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean. He took over from Damian Green MP in September. More than 20 organisations have also pledged support including, Amnesty International, Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland.
Details of what people can do to stop enforced destitution can be found on the website: www.stopdestitution.org.uk under LEARN. And the petition is there for those who wish to sign it. Caledonian University’s full survey and a summary, are also online there.
The Gambia – a favoured, West African, holiday sunshine destination for many Scots – is now the bloodbath of Africa. Nine people have been summarily executed in recent weeks with the remaining 38 in the country’s ‘death row’ expected to be shot soon.
Since 1981, the Gambia has been abolitionist in practice and among more than two thirds of states worldwide, which have abolished the death penalty in practice or in law.
President Yahya Jammeh said publicly during recent Eid celebrations that he would: ‘rid the country of all criminals’ by ‘mid-September.’
Many of the people facing the death penalty still have legal processes pending – such as appeals. But the country’s legal system is now widely considered to be in disarray with lawyers, judges and other legal officials being removed at the whim of the President.
Members of the Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia discussed this ‘sickening’ issue with officials in the Scottish Government on Thursday 13 September.
Said Campaign Chairman Arthur West: ‘The human rights situation in the Gambia is deteriorating fast. Amnesty International issued a report on enforced disappearances, torture and extra judicial killings in 2008. Last year they updated that with a ‘Climate of Fear’ report showing that the Gambia was not observing its international human rights obligations. These executions dramatically step up the erosion of human rights. We have brought this to the notice of the Scottish Government and are urging that they do all they can to make their concerns known and to prevent further executions.’
The bodies of those executed have not been released to families. Neither the people executed nor their families were given warning of their final hour.
More than 20 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) have signed a motion condemning the nine executions and urging the UK Government and wider international community to ‘seek a resolution at the UN General Assembly condemning the use of the death penalty and all human rights abuses in the Gambia and to consider that aid, trade, tourism and diplomacy all have a role to play in putting pressure on the Gambian Government to end its abuse of human rights.’
The sponsor of the parliamentary motion, MSP Patrick Harvie, said: ‘The death penalty is a gross violation of basic human rights wherever it is used. But in the case of the Gambia, the background is one of political oppression, unfair trials, torture and censorship. It`s vital that the international community opposes this brutal regime and supports those Gambians who are bravely speaking out against the authorities there.’
Arthur West, Chairman of the Campaign said: ‘Our campaign is grateful to Patrick Harvie MSP and the other MSPs who have supported this motion highlighting the worrying human rights situation in the Gambia now. We are particularly pleased that the motion highlights that aid, trade, tourism and diplomacy all have a role to play in putting pressure on the Gambian Government to end its abuse of human rights.’
President Jammeh came to power in a bloodless coup in 1994 when he was an army lieutenant. He has remained in power through three elections. The last – in November 2011 – was held in conditions ‘not conducive for the conduct of free, fair and transparent polls,’ according to the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS) Opposition parties were permitted only 11 days to campaign. Some of their leaders had been imprisoned beforehand. President Jammeh has total power over the media with almost all tv coverage being of his speeches and actions. Independent radio stations and newspapers have been shut.
Journalists have been imprisoned for asking, formally, for permission to protest publicly at the executions. They were charged with ‘conspiracy to commit a felony.’ Their homes were searched; they were held for more than the statutory 72 hours and were not permitted visits in detention by their lawyer or the Gambian Press Union. They were released on bail of US $8,000.
Currently, an estimated one third of the country’s population of 1.8 million, lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 (78p) a day. A good average wage is $24 (£15) a month. Most villages do not have clean running water, electricity or easy access to health care.
President Jamme claims to cure AIDS, personally, and has called for homosexuals to be beheaded.
Glasgow University’s Amnesty International group is one of the winners of the organisation’s prestigious Human Rights Champion 2012 award. Presented by Amnesty’s Dan Jones on Sunday 15 April 2012 in Manchester the University team was recognised for their Secret Policeman’s Ball in the Queen Margaret Union (QMU) in February. ‘We raised more than £2000 for Amnesty – £300 more than last year – and the venue – which can hold 500 – was sold out,’ said Elena Soper who is the group’s Vice President. ‘The awards ceremony closes the annual conference and rewards top groups and individuals. Our group won the award for services to justice and dignity beyond the limits of human endurance. We’re all very proud.’
The group has 11 committee members and between 20 and 50 student supporters at any one time. This was the fourth Secret Policeman’s Ball and is organised as a good night out with stand up comedy. Since the committee had spent months organising the affair, they agreed to dress smart – see the photograph here!
Amnesty International fights for people around the world who are unfairly and often inhumanely treated or even killed because they have spoken out against harsh regimes. Their motto is ‘better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’
An evening of poetry, music, song and food, was celebrated by the Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia this week in Glasgow.
A key speaker was former Vice President of the West African country, Bakary Dabo, who now lives in London. In a calm and diplomatic way, he explained how a Rule of Fear had overtaken the democratic rule of law which The Gambia had enjoyed before a military coup. ‘The people in power now are not leaders.’ he said. ‘It is a depressing picture. This small country of 2 million people has an appalling human rights abuse record. There is a very vicious despotic system in place run by one man with his clique.’ Mr Dabo emphasised how important it was for groups such as Amnesty International and the Glasgow based Campaign for Human Rights in The Gambia and others to be raising awareness of the situation and to be supportive in the search for a solution.
‘We are hopeful,’ he continued. ‘But The Gambia is right now held by its throat as a hostage.’
Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Danny Alderslowe. A Green Party Councillor, he had that day at the final meeting of the Glasgow City Council before the local government elections, won a motion to review the Personalisation process being implemented by the Council.
Danny had orchestrated an excellent programme of entertainment at the Afro Caribbean Centre in Osborne Street G1. This ranged from Haggis on the bagpipes with Omar on the drums, Jethro from the Congo, Scratchy Noises fiddle band, Fozzy singing fighting songs, Lucio and friends on an array of African stringed instruments and Tomona reciting one of his thoughtful poems. Danny, himself, had written a poem based on the fact that the osprey flies between the Gambia and Scotland ‘easier than a jumbo jet!’
Other speakers included Elena Soper from the University of Glasgow’s Amnesty International group who detailed some of the human rights abuses known about in the Gambia; Arthur West, chairman of the Gambia Human Rights Campaign and John Matthews Chair of the Glasgow Branch of the National Union of Journalists. ‘We support the Campaign wholeheartedly,’ said John. ‘We are the first trades union to recognise journalists who are seeking asylum, as members of our union and we can act on their behalf when possible. As a political journalist, our colleague Alieu Cessay had to flee from the Gambia. He is not alone. Some journalists – and others who have displeased the regime – have disappeared, been imprisoned, tortured. The evening is to celebrate life while expressing our compassion for the safety of our brothers and sisters and highlighting the need to have a free press and freedom of speech if a country is to be truly free.’
As part of an Amnesty International Day of Action, the Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia will hold a rally, information day and vigil on Friday 22 July starting at 11am at the Donald Dewar Statue at the top of Buchanan Street, Glasgow.
It co-incides with a Gambian national holiday called Freedom Day which has been celebrated since President Yahya Jammeh took over the running of the West African country in 1994 after a bloodless coup. Speakers in Glasgow will include Westminster MP for Glasgow Central, Anas Sarwar; National Union of Journalists Past President, Pete Murray and Green Party elected representatives Patrick Harvie MSP and City Councillor Danny Alderslowe.
Said Campaign Chairman, Arthur West: ‘We hope the event will be well supported. The main purpose is to raise awareness of the very worrying human rights situation in the Gambia at present.’
Amnesty International has compiled a dossier on the situation. People who were selling t-shirts with a political slogan for a legitimate political party recently, have been charged with sedition. Politicians,
journalists and other community leaders have disappeared, been jailed, tortured and murdered. The only common thread seems to be they have said or done something to upset the government which is controlled by the President. ‘This has created a climate of fear in the country,’ said exiled journalist Alieu Badara Ceesay. He added: ‘Fear, intimidation, torture and killing have no place in a democracy. The Gambian people deserve a free media and to live in a plural society with open debates and freedom of expression. We hope the efforts of Amnesty International, the international community and civil society groups around the world will lead to tangible reform in The Gambia.’
In recent years, claims that enforced disappearances, torture and extra judicial executions are taking place in the West African country, have increased. Amnesty International reported in 2008 that Gambia was ruled by Fear.
President Yahya Jammeh who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1994, will not campaign for his own re-election in November because he is so confident of winning, say local commentators. In a recent six-week voter registration exercise, 869,600 people signed up to ensure they will receive a vote. The country has a population of 1.7 million of whom more than a quarter are under voting age.
With music, poetry, film and words, the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia launched its first social evening which was enjoyed by more than 100 supporters at the CCA in Glasgow on Tuesday 18 January.
In his welcome, John Matthew, chair of the Glasgow Branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) which is actively promoting the campaign, said: ‘Everyone is welcome – and an especial welcome to anyone sent here by the Gambia Government or Security Service. Here, you will hear the truth!’
The truth about people who had been imprisoned, tortured, disappeared or killed in cold blood for saying things that were constitutional but critical of the present regime, was related in a variety of ways.
Exiled journalist Alieu Ceesay outlined the reality of life in the sunny West African country. Not only is he on a ‘wanted’ list which is checked at every point of entry to the Gambia, but last week the country’s own Justice Minister Edward Gomez, threatened him and the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights. ‘We will wait here for them to come,’ said the Justice Minister. And warned they would be prosecuted on arrival in Gambia.
Amnesty filmed interviews of a woman writer who was imprisoned and whose baby was taken from her and put into an orphanage and of a male politician who was tortured and witnessed others being tortured and killed in prison, were screened.
A messages of support was given by Peter Swindon, assistant to Westminster MP Anas Sarwar (Labour) who has had 27 cross-party MPs signing an Early Day Motion condemning the abuses of human right in the Gambia. Through the MP, the Campaign has made contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee to inform their cause and the UK Government’s responses and policies.
Said Peter: ‘We have been inspired by the courage and bravery of people like Alieu Ceesay and exiled journalist Charles Atangana from the Cameroons. These voiceless people need us to stand up and shout for them.’
MSP Patrick Harvie (Scottish Green Party) detailed how he has brought forward a similar early day motion in the Scottish Parliament which has been signed by 25 MSPs from the different parties. He emphasised that such human rights were a fundamental part of any democracy. MSP Anne McLaughlin (SNP) also pledged support.
NUJ President, Peter Murray, explained how important it was for a journalist to be able to investigate and circulate their stories especially when a government is corrupt. ‘This is at the heart of good journalism,’ he said. ‘Informed people are strong people.’
Amnesty International representative Arthur West, who is chair of Ayrshire Branch, told the meeting that asylum seekers like Alieu and Charles have been rejected by the UK. ‘We are encouraged to continue the fight for fairness and justice when we hear what people like them have to say and what they have experienced.’
The information was interspersed with poetry, music, song and laughter.
Karina and Ben set the tone of the evening with voice and keyboard. Babs MacGregor followed with some old and new Gaelic songs. Tawong Sithole a poet and musician from Zimbabwe, played the traditional music instrument, mbirg, to wonderful effect. His poems of critical assessment of self and others, were powerful. He and some of his colleagues entertain regularly at the CCA at the Charing Cross end of Sauchiehall Street under the name: Seeds of Thought. An uplifting set from the Parsonage Choir keep the mood bright and enabled everyone to leave with a song in their hearts and with some serious information in their mind.
MPs in Westminster and Holyrood are fighting for human rights in the Gambia. The tiny West African country is known for the sunshine holidays it offers UK citizens
. But it has recently activated the death penalty and is the subject of a report from Amnesty International which says abuses include arbitrary arrests, torture, incommunicado detention, unfair trials, rape, disappearance and extra-judicial executions.
In the House of Commons, Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar’s Early Day Motion has attracted at least 24 cross-party signators. It calls on the coalition Government to place international pressure on the Gambian government to uphold fundamental human rights.
The motion applauds members of the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia for continuing to raise awareness of the issue. Said Labour MP Sarwar, who sits on the Commons International Development Select Committee: ‘I was pleased to facilitate a meeting with the Foreign Office, the all -Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights and representatives of the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia.
‘That Campaign is doing great work to draw attention to a government that rules by intimidation, torture and killing. It is crucial that the Coalition Government does everything it can to place international pressure on the Gambian government. I have asked questions about challenges facing Gambian citizens in their country and abroad and I will continue to press the coalition government.’
In Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament passed a motion condemning the catalogue of human rights abuses in Gambia. Proposed by Green Party MSP, Patrick Harvie and supported by more than a dozen others from all parties, it highlighted the case of missing journalist Ebrima Manneh who disappeared after allegedly attempting to publish an article criticising the Gambian Government for violations of human rights.
Expressing support of Gambians who are resident in Scotland but who might feel unable to speak out about the situation in their country for fear of the consequences, the motion urges the UK and Scottish Governments to ensure that international pressure is put on the Gambian Government in defence of human rights. For further information check website: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/Apps2/business/motions/Default.aspx?motionid=20216
A campaign to highlight human rights abuse in the sunshine West African country of the Gambia was launched last night in Glasgow.
Backed by Westminster MP Anas Sarwar and the President of the National Union of Journalists( NUJ) Pete Murray, the new group will bring the issues to a wider audience.
‘I didn’t know about people disappearing, being tortured and murdered in the Gambia till I heard details at a vigil two years ago,’ said Austin Sheridan a 17-year-old, elected member of the Scottish Youth Parliament. He has brought the situation and an Amnesty International report ‘Gambia: Fear Rules’ to the attention of that Parliament’s International Committee.
Anas Sarwar, MP for Central Glasgow, said when he was campaigning to be elected, he had attended the same vigil and met an exiled Gambian journalist. ‘I promised him then, that if I was elected I would do all I could to highlight the human rights issues in the Gambia. I am keeping that promise,’ he told the meeting in the STUC.
He went on to offer the NUJ the opportunity to hold a meeting at the House of Commons to inform even more people.
NUJ national president Pete Murray, said his union was proud to support the campaign. ‘Not just because journalists are affected by the abuse of human rights but because they are being detained and tortured simply for doing their job and are being forced to flee their country and seek asylum here.’ He outlined the NUJ’s campaign to persuade the UK government to allow asylum seekers the right to work and the right to stay.
. ‘Hundreds of people are incarcarated,’ he said, ‘Not just journalists.’ He said the new Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia would press for an end to human rights violations in his country and for those responsible for such violations, to be brought to justice in fair trials.
by Elyas Hussain
Glaswegians crossing George Square on Thursday 22 July got an insight into human rights abuses in the Gambia.
A rally, on what was Gambia’s national Freedom Day, highlighted the travesty of conditions there.
Co-ordinated by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International and supported by the National Union of Journalists, the gathering heard from Labour MP for Glasgow Central, Anas Sarwar. He said: ‘I am pressing the Westminster government to address the human rights issues in the Gambia. And I am fully behind the Gambian journalists and their supporters who demonstrated in Glasgow today.’
Glasgow was one of 19 cities throughout the world which publicised the harrowing and deteriorating situation in the Gambia.
There were powerful and impassioned speeches from: Pete Murray, President of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ); John Matthews, Chair of the Glasgow NUJ branch; Arthur West, Amnesty International Chairperson in Ayrshire; Jock Morris of the Campaign to Welcome Refugees; Alieu Badara Ceesay, exiled Gambian journalist.
Local citizens and members of the supporting organisations were urged to continue to demonstrate until the rule of fear in Gambia is stopped and the rule of law is re-instituted.