Resistance is growing to the fact that as many as 140 asylum seekers will be made destitute in Glasgow in the next few weeks.
This follows a change of provider of accommodation from Ypeople, a British based Christian charity, to Serco an international conglomerate providing essential services in more than 30 countries. In the UK it runs electronic tagging, video surveillance, nuclear weapons maintenance, several prisons and two immigration removal centres.
At a rally of around 200 people on Thursday 12 April 2012, at the foot of the Red Road flats which are home to many asylum seekers, speaker after speaker spoke out against the inhumanity of putting vulnerable people onto the streets.
Chair of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Glasgow, John Matthews, told the crowd: ‘In Europe in living memory Jews were first of all refused the right to work, then removed from their homes. I see Glasgow going that way more and more with the asylum seekers. Asylum is a right under the United Nations Convention so don’t be put off by this struggle.’ The NUJ is the first trades union to count journalists who are seeking asylum, as full members of the union and it is encouraging other trades unions to do the same.
Jim Main of UNISON said that Ypeople’s proposal to throw out asylum seekers from their accommodation was ‘outrageous.’ He went on: ‘We will fight this through every trades unions branch. This is a civil emergency and we must demonstrate to prevent this happening. We must show we are a Glasgow that cares. Everyone must ask questions of people in power.’
Speaking as a Justice and Peace campaigner for the Catholic church, Carol Clarke stated: ‘People must be given human dignity and that means a roof over their head.’
College lecturer, Barrie Levine, praised the Scottish Government for its ‘excellent support.’ Both First Minister Alex Salmond and his Deputy Nicola Sturgeon had sent apologies and messages of support to the rally organisers. Said Barrie: ‘That is excellent, but I want to see Alex Salmond make representation to the UK Government which controls UK Borders Agency (UKBA) and I want to see him fully support our protests and make sure civilised values are brought into play. The Big Society should be called the Sick Society. It is a scandal that people are being made destitute and put onto the street. Make no mistake, Serco has this £175 million contract. But the Ypeople’s Board should hang their heads in shame. There is no need to evict anyone right now.’
In her address to the crowd, SNP MSP, Sandra White, said: ‘we have proposed practical ways forward. The Ypeople have a window of opportunity as they do not need to evict anyone till November. We have asked the Scottish Parliament Secretary for External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, to make our views known at Westminster. We are asking for the people who cannot be returned to places like Iran, Iraq and Somali because of wars, to be granted refugee status.’
Afro-Caribbean centre organiser Graham Campbell said: ‘The Ypeople Board should not be allowed to do this. It is disgusting. We should all tell them that in writing. The Afro-Caribbean Centre charity is refusing to work with Ypeople till it withdraws the threat of making destitute asylum seekers, homeless. It is a UK government issue and we must demand it be stopped.’
In a passionate speech, Angela McCormick of the Stop the War Coalition, declared: ‘We are here today to show Serco, Ypeople, Glasgow City Council, and everyone else that we will stand with those who have fled oppression – usually war. The link between this Coalition and the asylum seekers is that many of them have fled from war zones, bombs, missiles and weapons of destruction. They have come here seeking sanctuary. But how do we treat them? They are made destitute, kept in poverty and now being forced out of their homes.’ She added: ‘I believe we are the sensible majority. We do not want this to happen. Remember the people who fuelled the wars which caused the asylum seekers to flee in the first instance are the very people who make money from selling the missles and weapons of war.’
Organised by the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, master of ceremonies, Jock Morris commented: ‘We want to send a statement to the UK Government and the Scottish Government saying lound and clear – refugees and asylum seekers are WELCOME HERE.’ On a show of hands practically everyone in the crowd agreed with the statement.
‘We are now organising another, bigger rally at the STUC in Woodlands Road, on Tuesday 17 April 2012 to decide on the best way forward, together,’ said Margaret Wood of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees. Everyone concerned about this issue is invited.’
Currently around half a dozen destitute asylum seekers are given overnight accommodation each night in a safe, warm place, with an evening meal, a full breakfast and a takeaway lunch pack. But that number is expected to increase dramatically as soon as Ypeople start evicting asylum seekers.
Arts festival LENTFEST was blessed with high powered backers at its launch on Tuesday 21 February, including the Vatican’s Culture Cardinal, Gianfranco Ravasi.
Started by Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti ten years ago as he took office, Lentfest has grown to be a major source of creative Christian endeavour across the city from just before the start of Lent till after Easter. It involves all three universities and churches in every part of the Archdiocese.
Said Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the launch: ‘Lentfest helps mutual awareness and respect. It confirms Glasgow as the Scottish Cultural Capital and the city can be extremely proud of this celebration of faith through the arts.’ On behalf of the University of Glasgow, Vice Principal Professor Graham Caie praised the ‘terrific programme of music and drama’ and reminded the large audience gathered in the University’s Memorial Chapel, that the University had been founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V, then head of the Catholic Church.
Bailie John McLaughlin brought greetings and good wishes from Glasgow’s Lord Provost, Bob Winter and said: ‘We hope Lentfest will continue to play an important part in the cultural life of the city and of the Archdiocese. The Catholic Church and the wider Christian community play a vital role in this city.’
Festival Director Stephen Callaghan who said he ‘fixed the nuts and bolts’ admitted he felt humbled by the gathering for this year’s launch. He said: ‘It is hard not to be emotional about the great community of good will towards Lentfest.’ After reading out the letter of support from Cardinal Ravasi he said: ‘Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d receive such endorsement. It is wonderful to have this. But it is also wonderful to have the card with good wishes from a local Father who has nourished Lentfest from the beginning.’
The programme includes talks on the influence of Christian faith set against the backdrop of the Art Exhibition in the University Memorial Chapel which has work from Peter Howson, Richard Demarco, Jolomo (John Lowrie Morrison) among many other prominent artists. There will be music ranging from Scotland’s pre-eminent composer, James MacMillan’s work ‘Why is this night different?’ with the composer, himself, introducing it – to The Hound of Heaven, a six song cycle for solo tenor and piano and Alessandra Pompili playing Franz Liszt’s score of the Way of the Cross with the projection of pictures that inspired its composition.
The children of St Joseph’s Primary School in Faifley, Clydebank sang at the launch to highlight the appeal for 1000 people to assemble at 7pm on Monday 19 March in St Margaret’s church Clydebank and St Anne’s in Dennistoun to pray, sing and laugh together to bring spiritual hope to communities.
The highlight of this year’s Lentfest will be an exhibition of the Stations of the Cross and Resurrection, as well a production of the Martyrdom of St. John Ogilvie, Scotland’s martyr who was hanged at Glasgow Cross in 1615. Written by StephenCallaghan, Lentfest director, he will have to play the main character because the actor preparing to do that, has had to drop out of the production. The drama will be seen in eleven venues across the city.
For full details of Lentfest see website: www.agap.org.ukwhich is the Archdiocese of Glasgow’s Arts Project.