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.
Maryhill Integration Network’s dance piece ‘Lullaby Spirit’ is one of the events to be seen in
DOCUMENT – the ten day festival on human rights issues in Glasgow starting on Friday 19 October.
The beautifully choreographed piece by Natasha Gilmore, centres on sleep and is interpreted by people from around the world who have arrived in Maryhill for a multitude of different reasons. Those different reasons are seen and understood even without one word being spoken. Produced by award winning author Remzije Sherifi, the dance is skilfully shown by adults and children who are touching on their own experiences.
That is just one of the stunning events and 85 films on offer at DOCUMENT which celebrates its tenth year now.
Another local contribution will be the special screening of ‘Roma of Govanhill’ with a guest audience of Govanhill residents.
Most of the films and events take place at the Centre of Contemporary Art (CCA) at the Charing Cross end of Sauchiehall Street but some are scheduled for Glasgow University’s Gilmorehill Centre at the foot of University Avenue near Kelvin Way.
Festival Director Mona Rai said: “A visit to DOCUMENT Film Festival is like time-travelling through a decade of world events from the comfort of an armchair.”
A special award presented by an international jury has been created for the best film. In the form of a glass sculpture featuring Glasgow’s Duke of Wellington statue, complete with his famous traffic cone ‘hat’, it will be handed over during the final gala night on Sunday 28 October in the CCA. The winner will be one of the 11 films which have already won a category at the Festival. All of them will be screened in Glasgow. On the same evening Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh will receive the Festival’s DOCUMENT Lifetime Achievement Award. His films explore the state of Cambodia in the aftermath of years of genocide.
Other events include ‘Harry Horseplay’ a tribute to cartoonist and social commentator Harry Horse performed by actor Tam Dean Burn.
The festival programme will also feature a debate on Israel and Palestine, with a screening of films made by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, in association with The Guardian newspaper.
Other film highlights include ‘The Redemption of General Butt Naked’, about former Liberian warlord Joshua Milton Blahyi who reinvents himself as a Christian evangelist preacher.
‘The Sisterhood’ tells the story of Hope, Rollie and Pietie, South African vineyard workers and drag queens.
Full details can be found at http://documentfilmfestival.org/doc10/
All screenings are free for OAPS and asylum seekers / refugees. Since visiting international film directors from Germany, Poland, Italy, South America and elsewhere will be attending DOCUMENT is a Festival where there is a lot going on. Don’t miss it! See their website: www.documentfilmfestival.org
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.
A sizeable crowd protested outside Glasgow City Chambers today (Thursday 17 May) at the eviction of asylum seekers from their homes in the city, leaving them to sleep on the streets.
Councillors from all parties spoke out, just before they attended the first full Council meeting of the new administration.
One of at least six people left destitute is Ako from Kurdistan. He explained how he returned to his accommodation provided by Ypeople, to find the lock had been changed without any warning. ‘This was a most stressful and dangerous situation for me,’ said the human rights activist and journalist. ‘I can never forget this. It has destroyed me. It is important to press the system and the government because this should not happen again.’ He says he was lucky and got to sleep in a church hall which is being used as a temporary night shelter for destitute asylum seekers.
A few days later, after long negotiations with Ypeople, he was given a key to the new lock and allowed back into the flat where all his possessions were. Others are not so lucky and still wait for their personal things to be returned to them.
Margaret Wood of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees said: ‘Some of the most vulnerable should be eligible for help from the Social Work Department. It is indecent this is happening at all,’ she said. ‘We will continue to fight.’
A massive demonstration had been planned for Saturday 9 June but will be postponed as that is the day the Olympic torch is due to go through Glasgow. Said Margaret: ‘That is not a disaster. It gives us time to build and have a nationwide demonstration.’ She added: ‘We should be asking the serious question – is this the kind of society we want in Scotland? Do we want to provide a safe haven for people who have had to flee terrible treatment in their own country or do we want them to be treated like rubbish and dumped on the street? This has been a most disgraceful episode but we will fight on alongside the trade unions and the inspiring destitute asylum seekers themselves. We have to win for this society will not be worth living in until we do.’
The Westminster Government is not listening to what the people of Glasgow are saying. Over many years, our citizens have made it clear – anyone seeking sanctuary here is welcome.
The caring city has pledged repeatedly that it will look after the vulnerable ones. Neighbours have won awards and citations for alerting the community to the arrival of the early morning posse of officers whose unpleasant job it is to take people out of their beds, out of their houses and put them on the first plane back to their own country – and in many cases – the likihood of torture or death.
After a lot of agitation, the dawn raids were – we were told – to stop. Then, while everyone is concentrating on what to do about the 140 or more asylum seekers who will be turfed out of their home to sleep rough in the streets, they are re-started.
The family who will almost certainly be on their way back to Azerbijan, include mum who is five months pregnant and only two weeks away from the airline cut off point to carry a preganant woman, the husband and a young son who will have to live with the nighmare of opening his eyes to witness strange men in bullet proof vests pinning down his hysterical mother.
Is this really how we want our country to be treating people? It would be good if everyone who believes dawn raids and destitute asylum seekers are morally wrong would speak out and say that.
As Pastor Martin Niemöller said:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
John Wilkes, Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council has issued a strongly worded statement at the end of a dramatic week for asylum seekers.
He said: ’News this week that that up to100 refused asylum seekers are to be evicted from their accommodation in Glasgow brings into sharp focus the shocking reality and inhumanity of how the UK Government treats people who have sought sanctuary in our country.
They are being forced into abject destitution because our asylum system has failed them.
These are men and women who have come from countries with appalling human rights records and well documented conflicts or oppressive regimes such as Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea. But their claim for sanctuary has been refused.
The public has been led to believe that asylum seekers whose claims are refused have somehow ‘abused’ the system. Yet, many refused asylum seekers would have qualified for some form of protection had they applied in another country or had they applied for asylum in the UK in the past.
Now they are existing in limbo. They cannot go home – either because it is not safe or because it cannot be logistical arranged, due to lack of co-operation from the governments of their countries of origin.
But yet as refused asylum seekers in the UK, they are entitled to nothing – they receive no financial support, no accommodation and of course, are not allowed to work. That means they have to rely on friends, family or charity just so that they can eat and find somewhere to sleep.
The reality is that there are already well over 100 destitute asylum seekers living on the extreme margins of society in Glasgow. They face a daily struggle to simply survive.
Charities have had to step into support them; they shouldn’t have to.
Grass roots organisations and faith groups are already stretched beyond their means whether they are providing food packs, accommodation in night shelters, tracking down volunteer hosts to put people up for the night or hosting drop-ins where people rely on the free lunch as much as the emotional support on offer.
The Scottish Refugee Council has teamed up with British Red Cross to offer emergency advice surgeries for people affected by the current situation. The British Red Cross is also funding Refugee Survival Trust so that they are to provide small grants, given out by the Scottish Refugee Council, to offer financial aid when it is most needed.
The UK Government urgently needs to face up to this unacceptable, appalling and inhumane policy.
We are calling once again on the UK Government to restore integrity, pride and humanity in our asylum system by returning to a more inclusive approach to its assessment of who is in need of protection.
People seeking asylum should also be allowed the dignity and right to work to support themselves and contribute economically to Scotland while they wait for a decision on their claim. If they can’t work, they should receive support from the point at which they make their claim to the time that they either recognised as refugees or are returned to their home country.
Only then can we all have faith and pride in our asylum system.’
Following a meeting at the Scottish Parliament with MSP Humza Yousaf, the Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia is gaining support among Members. At the time of writing, 16 MSPs from various parties have signed a motion MSP Yousaf launched.
Having heard Gambian exile Alieu B. Ceesay speak at a fringe meeting at the SNP conference in Inverness recently, Humza invited him to Edinburgh to discuss the issues in detail.
Said journalist Alieu: ‘There was an election last month in The Gambia. The President was re-elected as expected. Opponents were not allowed to campaign except for 11 days before voting. Some opponents were jailed in advance of the election. In recent times people have disappeared, been tortured and killed if they displease the Government. People are afraid even to talk about the election result because they don’t know who might be listening.’
According to Amnesty International there is a ‘climate of fear’ in The Gambia. They recently updated their report on human rights abuse in the sunny, West African country and said the situation was getting worse.
MSP Yousaf commented: ”I will support the call for Human Rights in the Gambia. The country is a part of the Commonwealth and also receives financial support from Europe. It must observe the conventions it has signed and its international obligations, that is why I have put forward this motion. Scotland should be a beacon for human rights across the world and we owe a duty to those who seek asylum in our country.’
The motion reads: ‘That the Parliament expresses concern at what it considers the dire human rights situation in Gambia; understands that the Gambian Government refuses to abide by its international human rights obligations, with cases of enforced disappearance remaining unresolved, perpetrators of unlawful killings not being brought to justice and torture still widely used by security forces; further understands that those who report such abuses, particularly in the media, are in grave danger, and expresses solidarity with the human rights defenders of Gambia, many of whom have been granted asylum in Scotland, in their struggle for basic human rights.
To follow the progress and see who has signed up to this motion check out the following website and insert reference number S4M-01460 or Humza Yousaf’s name: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx
The Campaign for Human Rights in The Gambia will hold a fund-raising concert in the CCA, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow on Tuesday 25 October at 7:30.
Local musicians have agreed to perform and VIP guest speakers have been invited. Film of recent activities by the Campaign to bring to public notice in the UK the fact that people are ‘disappearing’ and being killed without trial in the West African sun spot, is also expected to be shown.
Exiled journalist Alieu B. Ceesay recently conducted two successful workshops at a seminar in Edinburgh on ‘Reporting International Development’ which was jointly organised by Amnesty, ‘Take One Action’, NIDOS and the National Union of Journalists.
Internet reports show that a Gambian lawyer had been sentenced to two years hard labour by a Nigerian judge in The Gambia on a charge of ‘giving false information to a public servant’ (http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/gba-condemns-moses-richards-conviction). The Gambia Bar Association had called a week long strike in protest . (http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/lawyers-protest-moses-richards-conviction).
Westminster MP Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) is the latest to bid for Labour Party leadership in Scotland. He’s set his sights on the deputy leader post and joins Westminster senior colleague Tom Harris (Glasgow South) and MSPs Johann Lamont (Pollok) and Ken Mackintosh (Eastwood) who had earlier declared their interest in being leader.
Sarwar, who has been a constant supporter of the Glasgow inspired campaign for human rights in the Gambia, put his hat into the ring this weekend in time for the Labour Party conference in Liverpool (Sat 24/Sun 25 September) when the Scottish rule changes will be debated. He said: ‘I want to work with the Party leader to make sure we are an electable force again, working for the whole of Scotland.’ He pledged to travel throughout the whole of Scotland to listen to people ‘from all walks of life’. He said the vision had to be one of confidence in the future of Scotland. With ‘honest analysis’ of where Labour is in Scotland and what its message is and how it project it, he said: ‘I want to make sure we are an electable force again, working for the whole of Scotland.’
Labour Party rule changes allowed Westminster MP Tom Harris to declare his interest in the campaign which had previously been restricted to MSPs. Aiming to replace present Scottish Labour Party leader Iain Gray - who sought refuge in a sandwich shop when confronted with pensioners asking him to challenge the Tory tax cuts – Tom Harris was clear about his strategy. ‘We need to appeal to people beyond the Labour Party. The battle to win votes will be won in the workplace, the high street, the tv studio, the council chamber, the board room and in the home, not just in a single debating chamber. As a Party we need to have a strong vision and a positive outlook to appeal to new voters.’ A constant Twitter contributor, has already taken his campaign out and is meeting groups of young people unconnected with politics, who use the social media networks he is already familiar with.
At Holyrood, Johann Lamont has been a noteable fighter for the Labour Party cause. And locally in Pollok, she has been an active elected representative. She said: ‘First, we have to re-build confidence and trust across Scotland. It can’t be a case of Labour telling others what to do. It has to be Labour listening. These are tough times and there are lots of challenges. We have to pull together and we need a strong Labour voice to protect the young and the vulnerable and to hold the Government to account.’
Ken MacIntosh was born in Inverness of a Gaelic speaking father from Skye and a mother from Peebles in the Borders. Early in September he led a campaign against a waste incinerator in Newton Mearns.
He said a new, positive, vision for a strong Scotland is needed. ‘Devolution is the reason I got into politics. I believe the Scottish Parliament is there to build a stronger Scotland, but our Party needs to do more to harness the potential of devolution to improve the lives of the Scottish people – this is my priority if elected leader.’
He added: ‘It’s time to change the Scottish Labour Party. We need to be less top-down, have a strong positive vision and we must use the new young talent we now have. This contest is not just about leading the Scottish Labour Party. I want to win the hearts and minds of Scots to win the next election and become the next First Minister.’
A special Scottish Labour Party conference will be held on 29 October when the formal campaigns will be launched. The new Leader of the Scottish Labour Party will be announced by 17 December.
The Scottish/Gambia Human Rights campaign will have a speaker at the Irvine May Day rally on Saturday 7 May. In Glasgow there will be a stall in Buchanan Street on Sunday 22 May at 1pm to mark International Day of Action and a rally in George Square on Friday 22 July.
A video of a debate on the issues of human rights in the Gambia at the STUC’s annual meeting can be viewed on YouTube.