Glasgow Central Mosque will be among several which will be honoured next week in Parliament. They each raised massive sums quickly to help the most pressing humanitarian needs in 2010 when the floods hit Pakistan.
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has sent his personal thanks to each mosque which answered the call to action and contributed to the Pakistan Recovery Fund (PRF) and they will be presented with a limited edition medal produced by the Queen’s own mint makers. The Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP will host the ceremony in the House of Commons on Wednesday 8 February and the medals will be presented by HRH’s senior representative and Chairman of the PRF, Mr John O’Brien.
MP Khan is the first cabinet member of Pakistani descent. He said: ‘The work done by the Pakistan Recovery Fund has been quite simply incredible. I travelled to some of the flood-affected areas and met dozens of victims who had lost friends, family members and their livelihoods. I am extremely proud of the hope the British public gave to thousands of people through such generous donations. Many people feared that the tough economic climate would limit the amount donated to the Pakistan Recovery Fund, but we saw just the opposite – despite the difficult times the British public faces at home, they haven’t lost their sense of humanity.’
The fund was convened by the British Asian Trust which is one of Prince’s charities. It has been operating with local partners in the Punjab and the Sindh regions to provide homes, education, health support and livelihoods to those who lost all. Westminster MP Anas Sarwar who was elected for Glasgow Central seat and followed in the footsteps of his father Mohammad Sarwar who was the first Muslim MP at Westminster said: ‘As a member of the House of Commons International Development Committee, I saw the devastating effect the floods had. In the weeks and months that followed, I also saw the tremendous generosity of the British people – especially those from the British Pakistani and British Muslim communities. They worked tirelessly to raise funds and send emergency supplies to help the victims of the floods. The Pakistan Recovery Fund is a fantastic initiative led by HRH to support the people of Pakistan after the greatest natural disaster ever to have hit that country.It is a huge honour and privilege for the organisations and the individuals involved – including Madrasa Taleem ul Islam from my own constituency – to have their efforts recognised in this way.’
A spokesman for Madrasa Taleem ul Islam said: We had collected some donations before this appeal but decided to make another appeal to join the efforts of HRH. We may not feel the heat of hunger or homelessness in the UK, but the flood in Pakistan was devastating. We thought we had to try again to collect a little more. So we made another request to worshippers. We are sure that even this little help will make a big difference to the people affected by the flood. We are committed to providing support to people in natural disasters and always stand with other people when needed.’
As part of an Amnesty International Day of Action, the Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia will hold a rally, information day and vigil on Friday 22 July starting at 11am at the Donald Dewar Statue at the top of Buchanan Street, Glasgow.
It co-incides with a Gambian national holiday called Freedom Day which has been celebrated since President Yahya Jammeh took over the running of the West African country in 1994 after a bloodless coup. Speakers in Glasgow will include Westminster MP for Glasgow Central, Anas Sarwar; National Union of Journalists Past President, Pete Murray and Green Party elected representatives Patrick Harvie MSP and City Councillor Danny Alderslowe.
Said Campaign Chairman, Arthur West: ‘We hope the event will be well supported. The main purpose is to raise awareness of the very worrying human rights situation in the Gambia at present.’
Amnesty International has compiled a dossier on the situation. People who were selling t-shirts with a political slogan for a legitimate political party recently, have been charged with sedition. Politicians,
journalists and other community leaders have disappeared, been jailed, tortured and murdered. The only common thread seems to be they have said or done something to upset the government which is controlled by the President. ‘This has created a climate of fear in the country,’ said exiled journalist Alieu Badara Ceesay. He added: ‘Fear, intimidation, torture and killing have no place in a democracy. The Gambian people deserve a free media and to live in a plural society with open debates and freedom of expression. We hope the efforts of Amnesty International, the international community and civil society groups around the world will lead to tangible reform in The Gambia.’
With music, poetry, film and words, the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia launched its first social evening which was enjoyed by more than 100 supporters at the CCA in Glasgow on Tuesday 18 January.
In his welcome, John Matthew, chair of the Glasgow Branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) which is actively promoting the campaign, said: ‘Everyone is welcome – and an especial welcome to anyone sent here by the Gambia Government or Security Service. Here, you will hear the truth!’
The truth about people who had been imprisoned, tortured, disappeared or killed in cold blood for saying things that were constitutional but critical of the present regime, was related in a variety of ways.
Exiled journalist Alieu Ceesay outlined the reality of life in the sunny West African country. Not only is he on a ‘wanted’ list which is checked at every point of entry to the Gambia, but last week the country’s own Justice Minister Edward Gomez, threatened him and the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights. ‘We will wait here for them to come,’ said the Justice Minister. And warned they would be prosecuted on arrival in Gambia.
Amnesty filmed interviews of a woman writer who was imprisoned and whose baby was taken from her and put into an orphanage and of a male politician who was tortured and witnessed others being tortured and killed in prison, were screened.
A messages of support was given by Peter Swindon, assistant to Westminster MP Anas Sarwar (Labour) who has had 27 cross-party MPs signing an Early Day Motion condemning the abuses of human right in the Gambia. Through the MP, the Campaign has made contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee to inform their cause and the UK Government’s responses and policies.
Said Peter: ‘We have been inspired by the courage and bravery of people like Alieu Ceesay and exiled journalist Charles Atangana from the Cameroons. These voiceless people need us to stand up and shout for them.’
MSP Patrick Harvie (Scottish Green Party) detailed how he has brought forward a similar early day motion in the Scottish Parliament which has been signed by 25 MSPs from the different parties. He emphasised that such human rights were a fundamental part of any democracy. MSP Anne McLaughlin (SNP) also pledged support.
NUJ President, Peter Murray, explained how important it was for a journalist to be able to investigate and circulate their stories especially when a government is corrupt. ‘This is at the heart of good journalism,’ he said. ‘Informed people are strong people.’
Amnesty International representative Arthur West, who is chair of Ayrshire Branch, told the meeting that asylum seekers like Alieu and Charles have been rejected by the UK. ‘We are encouraged to continue the fight for fairness and justice when we hear what people like them have to say and what they have experienced.’
The information was interspersed with poetry, music, song and laughter.
Karina and Ben set the tone of the evening with voice and keyboard. Babs MacGregor followed with some old and new Gaelic songs. Tawong Sithole a poet and musician from Zimbabwe, played the traditional music instrument, mbirg, to wonderful effect. His poems of critical assessment of self and others, were powerful. He and some of his colleagues entertain regularly at the CCA at the Charing Cross end of Sauchiehall Street under the name: Seeds of Thought. An uplifting set from the Parsonage Choir keep the mood bright and enabled everyone to leave with a song in their hearts and with some serious information in their mind.
Photograph by Stuart Maxwell
Last month, more than 1300 asylum seekers were threatened with ‘removal’ at very short notice from their accommodation in Glasgow after the UKBA abruptly cancelled a contract with Glasgow City Council which had been providing the housing.
This week, Scotland Office Minister, David Mundell, attended a round table discussion in the City Chambers to hear, first-hand, the distress caused by the UK Borders Agency when it cancelled the housing contract.
He had been invited by Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar who said: ‘Hundreds of vulnerable people who came to Glasgow seeking refuge have been placed under enormous, unnecessary, stress as a result of a rushed decision to axe a contract to house and support them. It is vital that government ministers are aware of the huge impact this mishandled decision has had.
‘It’s clear now that the transfer of the contract from Glasgow City Council to Ypeople will not happen before the 2 February deadline. UKBA has accepted that. Now we need UKBA to come up with a realistic timetable for a transfer that will not involve any more upheaval for 1,311 people who have suffered enough. It’s also vital that this timetable is communicated effectively to all concerned.
I’m pleased that David Mundell has agreed to take these objectives back to immigration Minister Damian Green.’
Mr Mundell told the LOCAL NEWS: ‘These difficulties are no reflection on the quality of service Glasgow City Council has provided nor of the welcome that has been extended. That has been outstanding.’ He added that a Parliamentary enquiry would be held into how the situation arose and that he would report back the day’s discussions to Damian Green.
Glasgow City Councillor Matt Kerr, Executive Member for Social Care, said: ‘It was a constructive meeting. I’m pleased that UKBA acknowledged that the 2 February transfer deadline will not now be met. As a city council we’re obviously hugely disappointed that this contract has been terminated by UKBA despite the fact that we came back with a reduced offer when the initial offer was rejected as too costly. However, we have a duty of care to asylum seekers and we will continue to support them through this transition process, however long it takes.’
Simon Hodgson, director of policy and communications at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: ‘Over the last two months, hundreds of vulnerable people have been thrown into unnecessary distress and panic over the cancellation of the Glasgow City Council housing contract – so we welcomed the chance to sit down with the Under Secretary of State for Scotland and other elected representatives to find the best way forward. We welcome moves to provide clearer information on exactly when and how people will be affected by the housing contract transfer, which we will then be able to pass on to our clients.
‘We were also heartened to see the commitment shown today to Glasgow’s important role as a city of safety and refuge for people who’ve fled war and persecution.’
Added Ian Davidson, Glasgow South West MP: ‘We were able to explore the costs of this and need to find out how they will be met. It isn’t right that Glasgow Council tax payers should pick up the substantial bill.’
There are also at least 40 jobs of people who provide the vital support services to the asylum seekers. ‘These jobs cannot be terminated so fast,’ said Councillor Kerr. ‘There is a process and a legal time scale so there is no way a deadline of 2 February could have been met.’
Glasgow MP Anas Sarwar has secured a commitment from David Mundell, Scotland Office Minister, to meet with asylum seekers affected by the axing of a UKBA contract with Glasgow City Council to house and support them.
During Scottish Questions on Wednesday 1 December, the Westminster MP for Glasgow Central asked the Minister to visit Glasgow to gain a greater understanding of the stresses that asylum seekers are facing so that he can effectively communicate their immediate needs to the Immigration Minister, Damian Green.
Anas Sarwar said: ‘Hundreds of vulnerable people who came to Glasgow seeking refuge have been placed under enormous unnecessary stress as a result of the decision to axe a contract to house and support them.
‘It’s vital that government ministers are aware of the huge impact that this mishandled decision has had; so I’m pleased that David Mundell has agreed to come to Glasgow to meet all affected parties.
‘I hope that he will then report the immediate needs of all parties back to the Immigration Minister so that this sorry episode can be resolved as soon as possible.’