Unbelievably, in the very week when protests are growing at asylum seekers being made destitute, the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) has dawn raided a family from Azerbaijan. The family is currently in the Cedars family detention centre in Sussex and scheduled to be removed on a flight leaving at 8am on Saturday 14 April.
The 29 year old woman Endalina is five months pregnant and suffers from high blood pressure.
Immigration officials broke into the family’s home on Duke Street in the East End of Glasgow at 7.30am on Wednesday morning while the family were still in their beds. Their two year old son woke up to see his mother crying and shouting and immigration officials wearing stab-proof vests On the phone to Unity, the Glasgow support group for asylum seekers, Endalina’s husband Emil said she was so distressed about being forcibly removed to Azerbaijan where their lives will be in danger that she suffered a thirty minute long panic attack when she was restrained by four immigration officials and could not breathe. She now has badly bruised arms.
Said a Unity spokesman: ‘Endalina is now experiencing severe pain in her stomach, showing a discharge and has been advised by the nurse in Cedars to lie down and not to walk about. We are extremely concerned about her and her baby’s well-being.’ He said Unity was calling on the UKBA to immediately suspend the removal flight and to release the family.
He added: ‘Endalina is only one or two weeks away from being too heavily pregnant to travel as most airlines will not take women who are more than 28 weeks into their pregnancy and the UKBA’s own guidelines state that a medical certificate must be issued showing the mother is fit to fly.’ He urged concerned Glasgow citizens immediately to contact Theresa May, the Home Secretary to urge her to stop the family’s removal from the UK. The Home Office reference number is M1389212 and the email addresses are:
Fax: 020 7035 4745
A volunteer is needed to co-ordinate the work of supporters who feed and house around a dozen destitute asylum seekers every night in Glasgow.
Brian Cottrell the present co-ordinator
who has done the job willingly and without pay since the Glasgow Destitution Network’s Night Shelter was opened last December, has to return home to Australia for a lecture tour on his work. He said: ‘Ideally the co-ordinator would have 40 volunteers who’d each be able to do one night at the Shelter each month. We had 25 but right now we have only about 10 people who can give that commitment and that is nowhere near enough.’
Brian expressed serious anxiety that the night shelter in Glasgow wouldn’t be able to cope with the large influx of new destitute asylum seekers expected in the next few weeks when Ypeople’s contract runs out and new accommodation provider Serco takes over.
All the destitute asylum seekers are referred to the Night Shelter by agencies such as the Scottish Refugee Council. Open from 8pm till 8am, the Night Shelter provides a safe, warm and welcoming place in the city centre for people who are left with nothing and nowhere to go. As well as a bed for the night, each person has an evening meal and breakfast and is given a takeaway lunch pack the next day. The food is halal.
The volunteers signpost asylum seekers to alternative, safe places of refuge to enable each individual to re-connect with the legal system and give them hope of being granted leave to stay. According to Unity, a charity which looks after the human rights of asylum seekers, almost 90% of asylum seekers are refused on their first claim. Said a spokesman: ‘There are serious flaws in the UKBA’s asylum process. Many people do not want to reveal personal or intimate details of how they’ve been attacked, raped or tortured, to immigration officials. There are many good reasons people hold back crucial information initially. As a result, many are not believed by immigration officials who operate in a cynical ‘canteen culture’ of disbelief,’ claims Unity.
As Ypeople’s contract to provide accommodation for asylum seekers comes to an end, they must hand over the properties to the new contract holder Serco. Most of the property contracts end in May. The Ypeople charity allowed many asylum seekers to remain in their lodgings for longer than the actual contract time paid for by UKBA. This enabled the individual to continue the legal processes which usually ended with their being granted formal leave to remain in the UK. But as each property is handed over to the new accommodation provider, the present tenants must get out. Already dozens have received letters telling them their door lock will be changed in the next few days. At that point, the only place many asylum seekers can think of to go, is the streets. It is illegal for an asylum seeker to allow another asylum seeker to stay with them. The one providing the sofa or the bed for the night, can have their own legal case thrown out for taking a friend in.
Anyone interested in being a volunteer at the night shelter or who would like details of what the co-ordinating post involves, should contact: Brian Cottrell 07411766540 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Within days of telling a conference in Glasgow that the UK Borders Agency was ‘more compassionate with a new family returns process that was fair,’ the Director of Asylum at UKBA, Emma Churchill, was proven wrong.
A 7am raid by seven officers of the Agency broke down single mother Funke Olubiyi’s door as her five-year-old son, Joseph, slept and she was undressing to step into a bath.
The mother and child were removed from their flat in Govan, taken to nearby Brand Street where, eventually, the child was allowed to have something to eat. Then the family was taken by road to the Agency’s new family detention centre ‘Cedars’ in the village of Pease Pottage close to Crawley in Sussex. They are believed to be the first family from Scotland to be taken there. That was ‘home’ for three days and nights as last minute attempts were made to get an injunction on medical grounds.
Speaking from Nigeria, Funke described how nine immigration officials, guards and a doctor accompanied the little family aboard a plane which took them back to Nigeria. According to UNITY, a volunteer network of asylum seekers and friends, Funke said she was OK and staying with friends. She thanked everyone who had tried to fight for her.
A day earlier the UKBA had detained another single mother and her baby during a dawn raid but she managed to convince the immigration officials to release her after being held at Brand Street for more than seven hours.
Said a spokesman at UNITY: ‘These two raids mark the return of dawn raids to Glasgow following a period of several years when the UKBA had almost totally stopped raiding asylum seeker families. Despite holding Funke and Joseph for three days and three nights in their ‘pre-departure accommodation’ at Cedars which with its 2.5 metre tall perimeter fence is run by security firm G4S, the UKBA still insist: ‘We do not detain children.’
To protest at this return to inhumane actions, everyone who is concerned by the UK BA’s recent dawn raids is asked by UNITY to support a rally outside the UK BA’s headquarters in Festival Court, Brand Street, Govan on Monday 21 November from 10am. ‘We want to make it clear once and for all that the UKBA using dawn raids and the detention of families is just not acceptable.’
The United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day is on Sunday 20 November and is supposed to be set aside to promote the welfare of the children of the world.
Gary Christie, Head of Policy and Communications at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: ‘We are very concerned. After the UK Coalition Government promised to end child detention in 2010 the Home Office undertook to improve the way in which children and families were treated in the asylum process. The new Family Returns Process (FRP) was intended to treat families with children more humanely if their case had been refused. We have grave concerns about how this process is being rolled out in practice.
‘We are not convinced that all the steps of the process are being followed here in Scotland.
‘We are also highly concerned that individuals, communities and organisations working with asylum-seeking families are not being fully informed about the new process by the UK Border Agency. This has meant people in Glasgow are yet again filled with fear and panic over what could happen to them and their children.
‘It is absolutely vital that the UK Government sticks to its commitment to improve child welfare within the asylum system; and that the UK Border Agency staff working on the ground treat families and children with respect and care in all stages, particularly the end of the process, when families may be at their most vulnerable.’
Two vulnerable asylum seekers have been given less than 24 hours’ notice to move out of their accommodation.
This has happened despite assurances by the UK Borders Agency that families would receive a minimum of three days’ notice before being removed and despite Immigration Minister Damian Green’s promise that people would be given 14 days’ notice.
In one case, a single mum from Iran with two school age children, has lived in her Glasgow City Council accommodation for two years. She has been told to go to YMCA accommodation. In the other case, a single man was told to leave his council flat and move into Angel property.
Said a spokesperson from Unity, an asylum support agency: ‘It is shocking that anyone would be treated in such a way but reprehensible that it should be done with no regard to their medical background.’
Robina Qureshi, Director of Positive Action in Housing, said: ‘Despite assurances, the UKBA are carrying on regardless with their inhumane tactics. We call for the actions of the UKBA to be investigated by the Scottish Affairs Select committee. The UKBA’s behaviour is nothing less than contemptuous.’
The situation has arisen because the housing contract between Glasgow City Council and the UKBA agency has been withdraw by UKBA.
PAIH’s supporters are being asked to contact elected representatives and other key people, to demand an investigation and assurances that no more 24 hour eviction letters will be sent out to the remaining 600 refugee families.
More information on: Twitter: http://twitter.com/PAIHLTD
Words and Photograph by Stuart Maxwell
Anger is mounting in Glasgow after the UK Government terminated a contract for Glasgow City Council (GCC) to house asylum seekers.
Around one hundred asylum seekers turned out to protest outside Glasgow City Chambers on Monday 15 October. With banners raised they listened as politicians and campaigners railed against the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA).
The UKBA terminated the £10 million annual contract with GCC on Friday 5 November, resulting in 1300 asylum seekers having to be re-homed. So far, hundreds have already received letters from the UKBA warning them of imminent removal. It is yet unclear where or when this group of people will go.
The protest in George Square was arranged by the asylum seekers’ union, Unity, and the Campaign to Welcome Asylum Seekers. MSP Sandra White addressed the crowd of several hundred: ‘This decision is an absolute disgrace. These letters are an absolute disgrace. The Government in Westminister is scared of Glasgow’s successful, integrated society.
‘This decision will decimate communities and it will decimate the education of many children.’
Sandra showed a letter from an asylum seeker who has received warning from the UKBA of imminent removal. The man remains anonymous because, he said: ‘I am scared now that my interview is published, Home Office can take serious action against me and can threat me (sic).’
He writes: ‘We families are shocked to know that (this removal will take place), because our children are studying in schools and we parents are studying in colleges. We have to change our children’s school and they are not happy to leave their friends and teachers. We have to change our doctor and all neighbours which we integrated (with) for many years. I have more than 20 families with me to protest against this decision and I know many more.’
Margaret Woods from the Campaign to Welcome Refugees, said: ‘The Tory Government wants to break up communities in Glasgow. They’ve picked this as one of their first fights. They’ve picked it with us and we’ve been fighting for a long time. We know how to defend our communities.’
Councillor James Dornan addressed the crowd: ‘In Glasgow we look after our own’. He pointed his finger at the crowd. ‘You are our own and we’re going to look after you.’
In response to the anger stirred, UKBA’s Scottish Regional Director Phil Taylor said: ‘Letters have been sent to all asylum seekers currently housed by Glasgow City Council, explaining what could happen if they are required to move accommodation and further communication is planned to keep asylum seekers advised of future developments.
‘We are very hopeful that the majority of the asylum seekers affected by this change of contract will remain in their current accommodation. If a move to new accommodation is required we will aim to give at least 14 days notice, where possible, and the costs of the move will fall to the new accommodation provider and not to the asylum seekers themselves.’
The next stage for the protest is Brand Street, Govan, the UKBA Glasgow Headquarters, on Saturday 20 November at 11am. Here asylum seekers intend to throw their letters from UKBA onto a bonfire.
Further down the page on the letter from the asylum seeker to MSP Sandra White the writer said: ‘Can you please look into this matter deeply. We are not cattle.’
The Unity Centre is holding a winter fair with a difference this year, with live music and an eco-fashion challenge to aspiring designers.
The date is 12 December and the venue is the Glasgow Social Centre at 66 Osbourne Street in the city centre.
Run in conjunction with the Radical Independent Book Fair and Student Action for Refugees, the day kicks off at 11am with sales of books, music, clothes and homemade produce.
The eco-fashion show, which starts at around 8pm, will showcase the work of the Unity Art Fashion Group with outfits made from recycled clothes and other materials and a winner will be chosen by the audience on the evening.
The fashion group meets every Tuesday at 4pm in the social centre and will, from January 2010, have a professional textile artist leading the group in projects, with materials provided by Unity’s shop in Govan.
The evening will end with a fundraising gig to benefit the work of Unity and its campaigns. Acts, DJs and details are yet to be finalised.
Organisations wishing to set up a stall at the Unity winter fair should contact Glasgow Social Centre through their website glasgowsocialcentre.org.uk and email email@example.com.