Christmas is coming so fast some of us will blink and miss it! But the man in red is busy, busy, busy. Traditionally he’s been the friend of little children – if they’ve been good. If they’ve been bad, then across Europe there are tales of him carrying off the offending little ones.
In Britain, the United Kingdom Borders Agency, (UKBA) has taken on the role of carrying off the children AND their parents. Entire families are locked up in detention centres such as Dungavel. Some people have been in Dungavel for more than a year.
They have committed no crime, received no trial but been judged to have no good reason to be in the UK. Therefore they are waiting to be sent back to their country of origin. One man now living in Glasgow said he spent longer in detention in the UK than he did in prison in his own country. He was tortured physically in his own country. The torture in the UK was mental and, in his instance, lasted for seven years of cat and mouse tactics.
Fortunately, he had some friends who fought long and hard to ensure his safety. Other people are not so fortunate.
When the Unity Centre in Govan knows of asylum seekers they invite them to register with them before going into the reporting centre at Brand Street and again when coming out of the grime place. If a person doesn’t come out, the Unity volunteers can raise the alarm. But many people don’t find their way to Unity and some of them have certainly been transported back without any fuss.
Santa Claus comes silently in the night. UKBA personnel come in the cold light of dawn and break down doors, enter bedrooms of sleeping adults and children and take them out of their beds. Sometimes they do not even allow people to dress properly before forcing them into a van and transporting them for hours to a detention centre.
The old fables of Santa taking away children are still told. The 21st century twist is that it is the United Kingdom Borders Agency that is spiriting away people today.
That’s why a man in a red robe spent nine hours up a pole blockading the Brand Street headquarters of the United Kingdom Borders Agency.
A man in a red coat was up the pole today (Monday 10 December 2012) for nine hours.
He blockaded the entrance to the UKBA reporting centre in Brand Street, Govan. When he was eventually brought down from his tripod, he was arrested. One of his little helpers was also arrested – allegedly for not moving fast enough out of the police exclusion zone set up around the structure to extricate the man in red. The drama happened on International Human Rights Day.
The red robed man sat at the top of his tripod in front of the gates of the reporting centre where every asylum seeker has to sign in regularly. His action stopped vehicles getting in or out of the reporting centre all day and prevented the UKBA detaining anyone.
He said: “I’m taking this action to stop any more children from being detained by the UKBA – like the 4 year old boy Shahmer who, with his two teenage sisters and mum and dad was arrested in his home in Glasgow last week by the UKBA. I am shocked that children can be locked up in this way when the government pledged they would never do this again.”
Messages of support can be sent via Santa’s Solidarity Grotto :
c/o The UNITY Centre, 30 Ibrox Street, Glasgow, G51 1AQ. Tel. 0141 427 7992 Their website is: www.unitycentreglasgow.org and the email is: email@example.com
The UNITY Centre is run and funded entirely by volunteers. It supports asylum seekers who register before going into Brand Street and it records when they come back out again. If they don’t re-appear within a sensible time, the Unity Centre volunteers can then raise the alarm that another person has been ‘disappeared’ by UKBA.
Later, Strathclyde Police said: ‘At around 06.45 hours, police were called to a report of a group of protesters blocking the entrance to the UKBA building, Brand Street, Govan. Police attended and two men – aged 26 and 28 – were arrested for alleged public order offences. The 26 year old has been detained in police custody. The 28 year old has since been released. Both will be subject of a report to the Procurator Fiscal.’
It is expected the two will appear in court tomorrow Tuesday 11 December.
A comment is awaited from UKBA.
On the morning of Govan Fair 2012, an asylum seeker made homeless by Y people recently, was detained by the UK Borders Authority at its Govan office in Brand Street. He is scheduled to be deportation on Monday 11 June aboard a Qatar Airways flight to Dar es Sallam, Tanzania at 21.30 hours.
He is Ahmed Abdullah, a 27 year old Somalian man who has ‘made a significant contribution to his local community in Govan,’ say colleagues in Govan and Craigton Integration Network (GCIN) where he was a valued volunteer.
From a small island in the south of Somalia, he fled with his mother when he was aged 7 after soldiers shot his father. He lived precariously for most of his adolescence in different refugee camps and most of his family are dead. In 2005 an agent arranged a fake visa for him to come to the UK under a Tanzanian identity so that he could join his grandmother who was seeking asylum in the UK.
Volunteers at Unity Centre in Govan, which monitors and supports asylum seekers who are required to ‘sign in’ at UKBA in Brand Street at regular intervals, put out an appeal tonight (Friday 1 June 2012) for people to contact the Home Secretary, Theresa May, urgently, to ask for the forced removal flight to be stopped and for Ahmed to be returned to safety in Glasgow. They also ask supporters to contact Qatar Airways to ask them not to fly Ahmed.
Ahmed is the latest in an new wave of detentions at Brand Street. Theeparajh Thilliyampalam from Sri Lanka was due to be forcibly removed on Thursday 31 May to Colombo.
He and many of his family had been imprisoned and tortured and some murdered, by government forces. His partner disappeared in November and it is believed she has been kidnapped by government forces. His appeal for asylum was rejected because of lack of documentary evidence.
Joshua Odeke is currently in detention and is due to be forcibly removed from the UK to Nigeria on the June 7.
His life is in danger if he is returned to Nigeria because of his political roots, his Christian religion and the fact that he is homosexual. He is due to be removed on a Charter Flight number PVT090 to Lagos at 23.20.
Full details of how to protest at these forced removals is on Unity Website: www.unitycentreglasgow.org
At least three asylum seekers in Glasgow have been locked out of their accommodation by Ypeople without warning. Each was left in the clothes he was standing in but with all his worldly goods behind the unyielding door.
The Christian charity, Ypeople, has lost the accommodation contract to house asylum seekers in Glasgow. The UK Borders Agency (UKBA) has given the £175 million contract to SERCO Group plc, instead, a British registered private service company which runs detention centres around the world.
Said Jeremiah from Zimbabwe whose case is in the process of being presented for a judicial review : ‘When I couldn’t open the door on Monday morning, I went to my lawyer. He told me to speak to the Home Office. They said I had to move everything out by tonight (Monday 14 May). I’ve lived here for four years and said that was impossible, they told me to have everything moved by 2pm on Tuesday. This makes no sense and is very stressful. They should at least give me some time to remove my things.’
Ako, an asylum seeker from Kurdistan where he is a human rights activist and a journalist, encountered a similar situation but was allowed back into his flat after two nights sleeping at a temporary night shelter in the city’s West End. He said: ‘I can’t sleep and feel bad.’ He was subsequently given a key to the new lock and is now back in his original flat after he and his friends put pressure on Ypeople.
Mohamed from the Sudan has been without support for more than one year. His Cranhill flat’s lock was changed without notice last week. He said: ‘When I went to the Ypeople’s office they told me to come back the next day if I wanted my clothes. I stayed with a friend that night and am still waiting on my clothes being returned to me.’
A charity registered in Scotland, Ypeople’s mission is: ‘to provide support to vulnerable groups and individuals including the homeless, refugees, asylum seekers and young people to enable them to adapt to change and improve their quality of life.’
The chief executive, Joe Connolly, was asked for a statement on the lockout situation but his office referred this website’s enquiry to public relations company the Big Partnership and a response was still awaited some hours after the initial enquiry and subsequent reminders.
The charity’s last annual report states that it looked after 2200 ‘service users’ in 1150 properties and homes across the city. ‘We are committed to providing high quality services,’ is part of Ypeople’s mission along with the commitment to ‘recognise the right of individuals and treat them with respect.’
At Ypeople’s head office in Govan’s industrial estate at Moorpark, their certificates are on display from the Home Office as a ‘recognised Supplier 2011′ and for Investors in People and as a member of the Glasgow Social Care Providers’ Forum as well as Quality Scotland membership.
Jock Morris, Chairman of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees said: ‘We know of at least four people over the weekend who have had the locks changed in their homes, without warning. We met Joe Connolly and Glasgow’s Social Work chiefs two weeks ago and were assured no locks would be changed without people being told well in advance and that the Social Work department would ‘bend over backwards’ to help anyone affected – so this behaviour is irresponsible. These people have not been honest with us.’
On Monday, Unity, a group supportive of asylum seekers, held a demonstration with the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and others outside Brand Street where the UK BA offices are located in Govan. Later they moved to Ypeople’s offices a few streets away and set up their demonstration there.
Said a Unity spokesman: ‘Joe Connelly agreed to send a letter out to people explaining the processes and giving dates of when things will be taking place. No letter has been received by Mohamed, nor any of the individuals we’ve been in touch with. Once again, Y-People have failed to deal with vulnerable asylum seekers in a fair and honest manner. By using dirty tricks and giving unclear messages, they have created fear among the asylum seeking community. Some individuals, terrified by the threat of eviction, have gone into hiding,’ claimed the spokesman. He added that around 100 asylum seekers who have had their initial asylum claim refused but are unable or unwilling to return to their home lands, are still in Glasgow. ‘Many of these people are victim of administrative errors and poor decision making on the part of UKBA, yet are now facing imminent homelessness.
‘We’re calling on everyone concerned about this situation, to write to Y-People, expressing their concerns at their dishonest practices and asking them to adhere to due process,’ he said.
See their website for further information and contact details: www.unitycentreglasgow.org or email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Before protesting outside the Ypeople’s offices in Govan, the campaigners had stood in solidarity outside the UKBA offices nearby in Brand Street, Govan to support Angeline Mwafulirqa from Malawi as she signed in. She and her three children had been detained the previous time they signed in. They were taken to a detention centre in England and but, for the loud resistance of Angeline as she was being forced to board a plane back to Africa, the family would have been deported.
Said Angeline: ‘It is not safe for me to go back. I just screamed and made a lot of noise so that the airline – Kenya Airways – knew I would be boarding the plane against my will. I have been in the UK for six years. Two years ago I applied for asylum as I split up from my husband who is also from Malawi. My case for asylum has been refused but it is unsafe for me to go back to Malawi. Local custom there would require my children to be taken by their Father’s family.’
by Martin Graham
ONE HUNDRED and fifty people braved the cold and hail on Saturday morning to attend a rally at the UKBA building at Brand Street, Govan, to protest at plans to evict up to 200 asylum seekers from their homes.
Charity Ypeople, formerly YMCA, are set to evict up to 140 people seeking sanctuary after losing a government contract to Serco.
Serco is an international service company which also operates tagging schemes for offenders, runs prisons and has business at Guantanamo Bay.
Ypeople had been allowing refugees whose asylum claims had been refused, to remain in their homes. But under the new contract they may be forced to evict these tenants. Ypeople said that the profit on this contract for the UK Borders Authority (UKBA) was used to enable people to say on over the contracted time.
Speakers at the rally included Kingsway campaigner and former Scotswoman of the year Noreen Real.
Noreen said: “I will fight with the last breath in my body to stop our government treating people like animals. We’re not dealing with animals, we’re dealing with human beings. Stop starving them out, stop putting them out on the street.”
EIS president elect Susan Quinn said: “We are being asked in schools to develop curriculums where we promote citizenship and understanding, where we promote empathy, yet what are our leaders doing? Our leaders are doing the exact opposite of what we teach our young people.”
Phil Jones from Unity support centre said: “There are proposals to house refugees in board-only accommodation. They could be housed in hostels with only food and no money.”
A temporary night shelter in the city is already attracting an average of ten people a night. There are also known to be a large number of rejected asylum seekers in Glasgow who have a roof over the head only because friends let them sleep on their sofa.
It was a different start to the week on Monday 21 November.
Despite three people chaining themselves to the entrance gate and one man sitting 20ft up on a tripod at the UK Border Agency premises in Brand Street, Govan, The Home Office said: ‘business is still carrying on.’
All the protesters were highlighting the fact that the UK BA has re-started dawn raids to forcibly remove failed asylum seekers. The demonstration was to ensure that the gates of UK BA remained closed until the end of the working day preventing the vans used to transport people, from coming in or out.
On Monday when this all happened, asylum seekers due to report at the Brand Street office, were escorted into the grounds by a police officer – once they’d negotiated a way through the cordon of 30+ police who sealed off surrounding streets with ‘accident’ signs, incident tape and police vehicles. An ever evolving crowd of around 60 protesters at any one time watched and waited to see how long it would take the police to get the man down from his perch.
Police Inspector Cowley was in charge at the location and said: ‘We’re handling the incident as normal and will monitor till removal.’
It took several attempts for the police support team to build a tubular platform from which they would have the tricky task of extracting the man. His dawn to dust vigil ended voluntarily when he descended by himself after 5pm when the UKBA offices were due to close. He was arrested, taken to Govan Police Office at Helen Street and detained for three hours and given a medical examination. Strathclyde Police also stated that a man aged 23 and one aged 18 and a woman aged 32 were arrested after they had voluntarily freed themselves from where they’d chained themselves to the fence.
During the day, the supportive crowd spasmodically broke into songs and chants to keep the spirits of the man on the tripod as high as his elevated position.
Asylum seeker Amadou Diallo from Guinea, took time off from a college course to stand in protest at dawn raids. With his poster reading in English and Gaelic: Justice, Freedom, Unity, he said: ‘People have to understand, where there is no democracy in a country, a person’s life is in danger if they are returned.’
Shelly Davidson is a failed asylum seeker who has been in Scotland so many years she says she is Scottish. She sang some powerful songs praying for God to come and help. ‘Don’t turn away,’ said the words in her first language. ‘We don’t want kids and mothers to be put in detention and deported because we fear it could be us next,’ she said.
Claire Mulholland was one of a group of banner carrying women from the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. She said: ‘It is an outrage they are carrying out dawn roads. These women and children are not criminals. They will be traumatised for the rest of their lives after being hauled out their beds by strangers who have burst into their homes. And this is supposed to be a civilised country!’
A Home Office spokesperson later said: ‘We consider all cases thoroughly. When both we and the courts agree that families are not in need of our protection, they are given every chance to leave the UK voluntarily. This includes engagement with the family over a period of time, family conferences to offer tailored voluntary return packages to assist them upon their return and self-check-in opportunities to fly home. Unfortunately, when they refuse to take up these opportunities, our last resort is an enforced return. This is overseen by the Family Returns Panel to ensure that the welfare of children is taken properly into account.’
A statement from the Unity Centre, which is near Brand Street and is a volunteer run solidarity centre for asylum seekers and destitute asylum seekers, said: ‘The blockade at Brand Street is a response to the return of the bad old days of dawn raids in Glasgow and the continued practice of detaining children.’ Unity went on to say that the practice of visiting people’s homes in the early morning to surprise them – dawn raids – was a particularly ‘barbaric and inhumane way to enforce Home Office policy.’ They added: ‘This has been the source of anger from communities in Glasgow in the past. We have given the Home Office every chance to end this abhorrent treatment of families, voluntarily. Unfortunately, they have refused these opportunities and our last resort is direct action.’
Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described the detaining of children as ‘shameful’ and pledged to end the practice by May 2011. However, the Government’s new family returns programme permits children to be lock up at the UKBA’s Cedars pre-departure accommodation near Gatwick Airport. That is where Funke Olubiyi and her five year old son Joseph were taken after a dawn raid on their home in Govan on Thursday 10 November before being removed to Nigeria which Joseph has no memory of. UKBA officials entered the family’s home at 7am. Funke was handcuffed and both were taken to Brand Street where Joseph was allowed to have breakfast before being taken by van to Cedars in England. There they remained for several days before being put on a plane to Nigeria.
The protest at the UKBA’s Brand street building was organised by Unity and No Borders Network which champions freedom of movement for all and an end to all migration controls.
Within days of telling a conference in Glasgow that the UK Borders Agency was ‘more compassionate with a new family returns process that was fair,’ the Director of Asylum at UKBA, Emma Churchill, was proven wrong.
A 7am raid by seven officers of the Agency broke down single mother Funke Olubiyi’s door as her five-year-old son, Joseph, slept and she was undressing to step into a bath.
The mother and child were removed from their flat in Govan, taken to nearby Brand Street where, eventually, the child was allowed to have something to eat. Then the family was taken by road to the Agency’s new family detention centre ‘Cedars’ in the village of Pease Pottage close to Crawley in Sussex. They are believed to be the first family from Scotland to be taken there. That was ‘home’ for three days and nights as last minute attempts were made to get an injunction on medical grounds.
Speaking from Nigeria, Funke described how nine immigration officials, guards and a doctor accompanied the little family aboard a plane which took them back to Nigeria. According to UNITY, a volunteer network of asylum seekers and friends, Funke said she was OK and staying with friends. She thanked everyone who had tried to fight for her.
A day earlier the UKBA had detained another single mother and her baby during a dawn raid but she managed to convince the immigration officials to release her after being held at Brand Street for more than seven hours.
Said a spokesman at UNITY: ‘These two raids mark the return of dawn raids to Glasgow following a period of several years when the UKBA had almost totally stopped raiding asylum seeker families. Despite holding Funke and Joseph for three days and three nights in their ‘pre-departure accommodation’ at Cedars which with its 2.5 metre tall perimeter fence is run by security firm G4S, the UKBA still insist: ‘We do not detain children.’
To protest at this return to inhumane actions, everyone who is concerned by the UK BA’s recent dawn raids is asked by UNITY to support a rally outside the UK BA’s headquarters in Festival Court, Brand Street, Govan on Monday 21 November from 10am. ‘We want to make it clear once and for all that the UKBA using dawn raids and the detention of families is just not acceptable.’
The United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day is on Sunday 20 November and is supposed to be set aside to promote the welfare of the children of the world.
Gary Christie, Head of Policy and Communications at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: ‘We are very concerned. After the UK Coalition Government promised to end child detention in 2010 the Home Office undertook to improve the way in which children and families were treated in the asylum process. The new Family Returns Process (FRP) was intended to treat families with children more humanely if their case had been refused. We have grave concerns about how this process is being rolled out in practice.
‘We are not convinced that all the steps of the process are being followed here in Scotland.
‘We are also highly concerned that individuals, communities and organisations working with asylum-seeking families are not being fully informed about the new process by the UK Border Agency. This has meant people in Glasgow are yet again filled with fear and panic over what could happen to them and their children.
‘It is absolutely vital that the UK Government sticks to its commitment to improve child welfare within the asylum system; and that the UK Border Agency staff working on the ground treat families and children with respect and care in all stages, particularly the end of the process, when families may be at their most vulnerable.’
As Christmas shoppers sought out gifts in the City Centre, members of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees organised a protest at Brand Street detention centre in support of the friends Florence and Precious Mhango.
The campaigners were trying to attract the attention of Minister of State for immigration Phil Woolas, who was visiting the centre. Florence and Precious were living in Cranhill and had become part of the community. In early November, they were detained at Brand Street during one of their regular signing appointments, and removed to Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire.
Precious’s godmother, Chris Mercer, was on hand to remind the minister that the Christmas cheer is in short supply for those in detention.
Chris said: ‘Precious is only 10 years old, all her friends in Cranhill are getting ready for Christmas while she is being held far from home. I speak to them every day, and Precious has been feeling depressed. The Children’s Society has been in to visit them. It’s a month since they have been held in detention.’
Friends of the pair have been raising funds and campaigning for their release. The campaigners said that they spotted Mr Woolas and his entourage inside the Brand Street building and held their banners up to draw attention to their cause. They reported that the blinds were then drawn on the room.
A press officer for the Home Office would only say that Mr Woolas had toured Dungavel and was ‘impressed’ with the facility.