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.
With all the furore over the phone tapping in Murdoch’s newspaper empire an important factor is being lost -it was journalists who discovered what was happening. Most journalists have ethics which would not allow them to carry out the criminal activities known to have happened in the News of the World. Those who are members of the National Union of Journalists have a Code of Conduct which they sign up to on joining. And, over-riding all the ethical questions and evasive, vague, Select Committee public answers, there is an even more fundamental issue – freedom of the media to investigate possible wrong-doing.
With a narrow number of media owners and an increasing dependency on a few major sources of advertising, there is a struggle to maintain a balance. It costs money to run newspapers and pay sufficient journalists to find the news. When the number of workers is dramatically reduced, as it has been in Glasgow in recent times – those remaining have to work twice as hard to maintain the daily – or hourly momentum. Going out to FIND and CHECK stories becomes a luxury. What is in hand, provided by public relations people from companies who can afford them, is used as the easy option. Often such releases go out after the event, so that journalists don’t have the opportunity to attend even if their bosses wanted to send them. The opportunities to FIND news and meet real people whose lives are the actual story, are reduced considerably. Uncovering anything that has been hidden or may be corrupt takes a lot more time, people and resources than now exists in media offices across the land.