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.
In a whirlwind day in London, representatives of the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia made ‘useful progress’, according to Vice Chair Austin Sheridan.
Through Westminster MP Anas Sarwar, who has kept his pre-election promise to support the Campaign, Austin Sheridan, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) and committee members Alieu Ceesay and Grace Franklin met with Parliamentary coordinator for Human Rights, Nicole Piche, Paul Welch who is team leader for the West Africa desk and Agnes Annels from the Foreign Commonwealth Office Human Rights department.
The Campaign updated the officials on their events, past and future, to tell people in Scotland about the increasing number of Gambians ‘disappearing’ in the Gambia, or who are imprisoned and tortured because they say something which offends the President.
They include journalists, opposition party leaders and many ordinary citizens.
The Scottish Campaign is backed by the National Union of Journalists and Amnesty International which has published a report on the situation in the West Africa country which is a popular holiday destination.
A further meeting in the offices of Amnesty International enabled the Scottish Campaign to see where their work fitted into the 17 cities around the world which are also active in pressing for Human Rights to be restored in the Gambia. Until recently, Gambia had a Constitution and a Legislature which protected its citizens. But increasingly draconian laws and edicts from the President’s Palace – including the activating of the death penalty this month – have brought fear to the nation. The legal system has been corrupted with mercenary judges from Nigeria hired by the President to impose his will.
Currently the President Yahya Jammeh, is encouraging hereditary Chiefs to campaign for him to be made King of Gambia.
The Scottish Campaign’s next public meeting will be in Edinburgh on Thursday 16 December at the Justice and Peace Centre and hosted by that organisation.
In the Scottish Parliament, Patrick Harvie MSP has put forward a motion condemning the catalogue of human rights abuses in Gambia including the case of the missing journalist Ebrima Manneh and urges government pressure to be put on the Gambian Government in defence of human rights. By Thursday 18 November, fifteen MSPs had signed the motion.
A campaign to highlight human rights abuse in the sunshine West African country of the Gambia was launched last night in Glasgow.
Backed by Westminster MP Anas Sarwar and the President of the National Union of Journalists( NUJ) Pete Murray, the new group will bring the issues to a wider audience.
‘I didn’t know about people disappearing, being tortured and murdered in the Gambia till I heard details at a vigil two years ago,’ said Austin Sheridan a 17-year-old, elected member of the Scottish Youth Parliament. He has brought the situation and an Amnesty International report ‘Gambia: Fear Rules’ to the attention of that Parliament’s International Committee.
Anas Sarwar, MP for Central Glasgow, said when he was campaigning to be elected, he had attended the same vigil and met an exiled Gambian journalist. ‘I promised him then, that if I was elected I would do all I could to highlight the human rights issues in the Gambia. I am keeping that promise,’ he told the meeting in the STUC.
He went on to offer the NUJ the opportunity to hold a meeting at the House of Commons to inform even more people.
NUJ national president Pete Murray, said his union was proud to support the campaign. ‘Not just because journalists are affected by the abuse of human rights but because they are being detained and tortured simply for doing their job and are being forced to flee their country and seek asylum here.’ He outlined the NUJ’s campaign to persuade the UK government to allow asylum seekers the right to work and the right to stay.
. ‘Hundreds of people are incarcarated,’ he said, ‘Not just journalists.’ He said the new Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia would press for an end to human rights violations in his country and for those responsible for such violations, to be brought to justice in fair trials.
A cheerful and well dressed Charles Atangana, attended Glasgow Branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Thursday 2 September, to tell about his incarceration at the hands of the UK Borders Agency (UKBA)
‘The support of everyone in the Union has been a great strength to me,’ he told the meeting. In a quiet and drole way he described how he whiled away time and kept boredom at bay by imagining what the civil servants trying to process his case were having to do.
An economic and current affairs journalist, Charles fled from his homeland of Cameroon more than six years ago after being detained and tortured. He has been an asylum seeker since, based in Glasgow. He was refused leave to stay after six years of waiting and detained in June this year. Since then he has been kept captive in three different deportation centres and twice been within three hours of being forcibly repatriated.
A major campaign by the NUJ at branch and national levels has provided solace, support and legal assistance and he was allowed out on bail. Said Charles: ‘There is something seriously wrong with the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK. Many of the people I met in the Colnbrook (next to Heathrow airport) and Dover removal centres have no lawyer or external supporters. The UKBA can pretty much do what it likes with people in that situation. We must make sure that changes.’
Charles believes that the NUJ high profile campaign has made it impossible for the UKBA to try to deport him through the anonymous, silent, unreported bureaucracy which shrouds hundreds of other asylum seekers. ‘This campaign has already done more than any others like it, I think, to help expose what goes on inside the UKBA,’ he said.
Recent reports have highlighted widespread human rights abuse by the authorities in Cameroon. The UN last month demanded urgent action to halt extrajudicial killings, end torture in detention and lift draconian restrictions on the media.
NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear said:’Though this is just one step in the campaign to prevent Charles’ deportation back into the hands of the regime that has already imprisoned and tortured him for his brave reporting of corruption at the heart of the Cameroonian regime. The campaign to stop his detention will now intensify – but with Charles himself at the forefront of the campaign.’
NUJ President, Pete Murray who attended the meeting in Glasgow said: ‘Winning bail for Charles gives us a six-week window in which to bring the full might of the labour movement to bear to finally remove the threat of deportation now hanging over him.’ During the bail timen special permission was granted for Charles to travel to Glasgow and stay for two days.
Jock Morris of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and Asylum Seekers congratulated the NUJ and said: ‘You are pioneers, unique in the trade union movement by including and supporting asylum seeking journalists here. The NUJ’s work in this respect would, if followed by other unions, provide the energy and strength to change the UK Government’s way of handling these cases.’
For more details of Charles’ situation and what you can do to help, see the NUJ website under ‘Campaigns.’
Glasgow asylum seeker, Charles Atangana’s deportation back to Cameroon has been delayed, for the second time. The journalist has been moved to a new detention facility.
Charles was due on an 8pm flight on Monday 2 August. Instead, after pressure from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Glasgow, he has been granted temporary reprieve, and moved to Dover Immigration removal centre. Previously he had been held at Colnbrook Immigration detention facility, near Heathrow.
On Monday, around 50 people had gathered outside of the Border Agency offices on Brand Street, in an NUJ organised protest against his deportation.
Charles fled Cameroon six years ago, arriving in Glasgow in 2004. As an economics journalist, Mr Atangana wrote articles criticising the government and exposing top level scandal. In response, he was jailed and tortured. He managed to escape and flew to the UK. His wife was also jailed and interrogated. Now she and her family are in hiding.
A report by The Medical Foundation on torture in Cameroon alleged human right violations towards journalists and their families to be ‘ as regular as morning coffee.’ The report adds: ‘If you have been tortured in Cameroon, you are probably dead.’
Charles believes that a return to Cameroon would, almost certainly, lead to his death.
He was scheduled to fly out on Monday 2 August after his application for Asylum was rejected, for a second time. Since arriving in Glasgow he has continued to voice criticism towards Cameroon’s incumbent government, where President Paul Biya has been in power since 1982.
According to Pete Murray, National President of the NUJ, there is an atmosphere of both hope and dismay surrounding Mr Atangana’s future.
Said Pete: ‘We are only at the first step – protesting this decision to send Charles home. But we remain hopeful. He has a good case, but the signals from this new government are not good. We have to hope that these demos make a difference.’
Margaret Woods, from the Campaign to Welcome Refugees, also spoke at the protest in Brand Street. Pointing towards the Border Agency she said ‘they are the power’. Pointing towards the people of the protest she said ‘and you are representatives of the truth’.
Margaret called for power and truth to work together. Mr Murray added that the UK Government would have ‘blood on its hands’ if it allowed Charles to be sent back to Cameroon.
For the time being, Charles has been granted a reprieve, but the danger of his imminent removal remains. The NUJ, via their website said: ‘The NUJ is pleased to report that there has been a last minute, temporary reprieve for Charles. But he may still be deported soon. The UK Border Agency and Government solicitors agreed that Charles will not be deported as planned at 20.00 Monday 2 August.’
Via mobile phone, Charles listened to the lobby on Brand street, from the Colnbrook detention facility. At the end, all present joined in to send him this message: ‘Good luck Charles, let’s see you back in Glasgow soon!’.
by Elyas Hussain
Glaswegians crossing George Square on Thursday 22 July got an insight into human rights abuses in the Gambia.
A rally, on what was Gambia’s national Freedom Day, highlighted the travesty of conditions there.
Co-ordinated by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International and supported by the National Union of Journalists, the gathering heard from Labour MP for Glasgow Central, Anas Sarwar. He said: ‘I am pressing the Westminster government to address the human rights issues in the Gambia. And I am fully behind the Gambian journalists and their supporters who demonstrated in Glasgow today.’
Glasgow was one of 19 cities throughout the world which publicised the harrowing and deteriorating situation in the Gambia.
There were powerful and impassioned speeches from: Pete Murray, President of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ); John Matthews, Chair of the Glasgow NUJ branch; Arthur West, Amnesty International Chairperson in Ayrshire; Jock Morris of the Campaign to Welcome Refugees; Alieu Badara Ceesay, exiled Gambian journalist.
Local citizens and members of the supporting organisations were urged to continue to demonstrate until the rule of fear in Gambia is stopped and the rule of law is re-instituted.