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.
Some asylum seekers may be saved from destitution if a legal challenge, started on Wednesday 17 October at Glasgow Sheriff Court, wins.
Formal ‘Notices to Quit’ had been issued by Ypeople to around 32 individuals as the first step to evicting them. But out of the 18 cases heard on Wednesday 17 October, almost half were challenged on human rights grounds. The legal arguments are scheduled to be heard in court before Christmas.
The United Kingdom Borders Authority (UKBA) which has the responsibility for housing those who seek sanctuary in this country, has changed housing provider in Scotland from Ypeople to the global company SERCO. To re-possess some of the flats where asylum seekers are housed, Ypeople has to evict their tenants. It is estimated 100 people may be affected.
The arguments heard by Sheriff Ritchie, included the contention that the Home Secretary has a legal obligation to house asylum seekers and that the housing provider is under contract to do that on his behalf.
Those tenants who had a defence lawyer will have their cases heard in coming weeks. Around ten people who did not have a defence lawyer will now be scheduled for eviction as their cases were unchallenged. They will soon be left living and sleeping on the streets of Glasgow without any means of support. Almost all people seeking sanctuary are strictly prohibited from working by UKBA.
A group of around 20 supporters demonstrated outside the Court before the cases were heard. Most of them sat in the court room to listen to the legal debates. But the microphones were not used by the lawyers or the Sheriff so very little of the legal argument was actually heard publicly. And supporters in court were told to stop taking notes.
Afterwards a spokesperson for the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees said: ‘I’m sorry not all the people whose case was called today, were represented. They will probably be evicted. Margaret Wood of the Campaign added: ‘Now we can build up test cases through the court system and challenge the legality of evicting asylum seekers.’
Some of the Advocates appearing for the defence were doing so without charging a fee.
Several MSPs spent time over the Christmas holiday seeing, for themselves, what is being done by volunteers to help homeless people.
This week, Humza Yousaf, SNP MSP for Glasgow, went out with a street team run by the charity Al-Khair working in conjunction with the Simon Community and Emmaus in the city. Said Humza: ‘The street team help people with addiction, mental health, social exclusion, employability, literacy and numeracy problems. The Muslim community spends a lot of time and effort tackling social problems. I was privileged to join those volunteering over the festive period. And am always touched by the amount of work people do to help others at this time of year.’
A few days earlier, James Dornan, Glasgow SNP MSP for Cathcart spent a night patrolling Glasgow city centre with the Street Pastors. He said: ‘Seeing first-hand the work these volunteers do and how positively they are received by people of all ages, was an eye-opener. Their support of those in most need, particularly the homeless, was fantastic – from giving out blankets, gloves and socks to ensuring they were welcome at Glasgow’s City Mission.
‘At this time of year we should give a thought to those unfortunate people who find themselves on the streets. But we should also pay tribute to the volunteers and organisations that do so much to make life as bearable as possible for them.’
In Aberdeen, Mark McDonald, SNP MSP for North East Scotland, visited a winter shelter run by the Bethany Christian Trust. He said: ‘The experience was deeply humbling. I heard the stories of some of the individuals using the shelter; how they became homeless and how important the services provided by the Trust are to them at this time of year. I spoke at length with the volunteers, including a group from a local recruitment firm who were giving up their time, and making a donation, to assist the work of the Trust. It is important we take time to remember the many people who face real hardship. I commend the work of organisations such as the Bethany Trust, for what they are doing to help homeless people.’
The University of Glasgow held its traditional Nine Lessons and Carols at a Christmas ecumenical service last Sunday – 11 December. It was attended by around 350 people including Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell, who read a lesson. The service raised £400 for the Small Animal Hospital.
The National Museum Scotland recently received an Christmas present. In Chambers Street Edinburgh, the re-furbished treasure house was named ‘Best Building in Scotland 2011′ by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)
The place is hosting a number of family festive and foot-tapping events for Christmas and the New Year so check it out: www.nms.ac.uk
Diwali – the festival of light celebrated in India – is as big as Christmas here. So the Indian Social Group at Glasgow Caledonian University will mark it this year with an Indian Dinner, music, dance and sparklers. ‘We’ve celebrated it for the past three years,’ said their spokeswoman. ‘This time it will be bigger and the next day will be our New Year.’
Students at the University are invited to the ticketed event on Friday 28 October, along with friends and families of the Indian Social Group. The evening incorporates fund raising with the money collected helping educate children in need in India. ‘We have collected a total of £600 in the past two years and aim to raise £300 this year,’ added the spokeswoman.
Life, suddenly, is getting serious. There are Christmas cards for sale already. Book your Christmas dinner adverts are appearing all over and we haven’t even started the night classes, yet!
Where is time going? It is fast tracking into winter before autumn starts. That’s especially so when you see the political parties holding their conferences, getting in a tiz over who will be the next leader, and unceremoniously ending the careers of local councillors they judge to be past their sell-by date.
The blood shed during such culls may well fertilise next spring’s crop of problems and green shoots of hope. But with the cold wind of winter swirling around, it leaves a lot of painful wounds open to terminal chill.
Quite the opposite of the Love comes down at Christmas, message.
The end another year and all of us at the LOCAL NEWS would like to wish all readers, advertisers, contributors, supporters and anyone who sent us Christmas cards, a very happy, merry and warm Christmas and delirious New Year. We look forward to 2011! Trave safe this Christmas
By Christine Lavelle
Cathcart’s first Christmas tree in over forty years was lit up on Wednesday evening outside the Couper Institute on Clarkston Road.
Councillor Sadie Docherty was joined by members of the community as the lights were turned on at 6.30pm.
Bill Baird, vice chair of Cathcart Community Council, said: “This is the perfect spot for the tree to stand; it is next to the community centre and right beside Cathcart Trinity Church.”
Bill Milner, secretary, said he and chairperson Flora Wardlaw had been trying to get a tree in Cathcart for two years but they had always been slightly late in applying to Glasgow City Council.
He said: “This year we applied early in June, to make sure we got it.
“It’s important to us because Cathcart has not had a Christmas tree in at least 40 odd years!”
Mr Baird said the community council are grateful to Sadie Docherty as without her backing it may not have been possible.
Ms Docherty said: “This is one of the reasons why I got into local politics, because I wanted to help to bring new things into the local area.”
The event was followed by hot drinks and mince pies at the Trinity Church.
Mr Baird said: “We will definitely make sure we have a Christmas tree in Cathcart again next year, and for many years after that.”
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