Third tragedy hits Glasgow refugee community

Positive Action in Housing has reiterated its demand for a full independent inquiry into the accommodation provided to asylum seekers in Glasgow during lockdown after a mother was found dead on Saturday.

Mercy Baguma, an asylum seeker from Uganda, was found dead beside her baby in her flat in Govan by police.

According to the charity, friends had not heard from Mercy since Tuesday, August 18. Her one-year-old baby son was released from hospital yesterday and is now under the care of his father, who is understood to be seeking asylum from a different country and resides elsewhere in the city. 

Ms Baguma had he lost her job after her limited leave to remain expired and she was no longer allowed to work.

The tragedy is the third to affect Glasgow’s refugee community in less than four months, prompting more calls for an investigation, one which has the support of 1,500 eminent organisations and individuals from across civic society. Syrian asylum seeker Adnan Olbeh was found in a Glasgow hotel room in May, and an incident at the Park Inn Hotel saw six people stabbed and the attacker, Badreddin Abadlla Adam, shot dead by police.

Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, said: “This is the third tragedy to affect the city’s refugee population in as many months. Mercy contacted our charity on August 11 and said she was not getting any financial support yet had made an application to MigrantHelp. Had she lived she would have been a high priority for a crisis payment from our Emergency Relief Fund like hundreds of others left functionally destitute by the asylum system.

“The question remains, why are mothers and babies being left to go hungry in this city, why is it being left to charities and volunteers to pick up the pieces? Does society have anything to say about that other than call them a drain on society?

“The fact is there is no safety net if your a refugee or migrant. You are left destitute and without resources. And you’re left silenced by far right rhetoric for being forced to ask for help.

“Would this mother be alive if she was not forced out of her job by this cruel system that stops you from working and paying your way because a piece of paper says your leave to remain has expired? I’m sure Mercy’s son will want to ask this and other questions once he is old enough.”

Last week Glasgow’s seven MPs condemned the Home Office for its proposed evaluation into the impact of COVID-19 on asylum-seekers, with the group walking out of a second meeting with government officials.

Chris Stephens, Alison Thewliss, Carol Monaghan, Anne McLaughlin, Stewart McDonald, Patrick Grady and David Linden cited “no confidence” and supported calls for a full independent inquiry.

The group previously walked out of a meeting with John Taylor of Mears Group on June 26, citing “trust issues”, a few hours before the Park Inn incident.

MPs had expected to contribute the experiences of their constituents as part of the proposed evaluation, but the Home Office reportedly refused to confirm if MPs would see the report, let alone discuss it publicly, leading the group to walk out.

Ms Qureshi added: “All our efforts since lockdown began have been focussed on trying to help people just survive and retain hope. Home Office asylum policy has created unimaginable hardship for refugees and migrant households in this city. People are literally depressed – and the system seems designed to break spirits.

“It’s a matter of when – not if – the next tragedy occurs and this reinforces our resolve for a public inquiry and get rid of any pretence that the Home Office wants to find out the pain it’s causing with its evaluation which seven Glasgow MPs are now boycotting.”

Updated on September 4 2020

Clarification: Although she had no recourse to funds, and was forbidden to work, Mercy had a network of support to sustain her during this difficult time. Mercy sought help for a crisis grant from Positive Action in Housing. The charity assisted her the next day. She also had support from other charities because she was effectively destitute, forbidden to work after her limited leave to remain ran out. She received food from an African food bank and the restaurant where she used to work. The reference to Mercy’s baby “starving” was in relation to the window of time from August 18 to 22 when nobody had heard from her and the child was alone without food or drink for 3 to 4 days, according to her father. It was not a reference to the mother and baby’s general condition before August 18.

Eric Nnanna has issued the following statement:

“On behalf of our baby son Adriel, I wish to thank the kind people of Glasgow, Scotland and all over the world for so generously donating to the CAF and GoFundMe appeals. All funds raised will go into a trust, after Mercy’s funeral costs are met. This money will be used firstly to pay for Mercy’s funeral costs. After this, it will be used to ensure Baby Adriel’s future welfare, hopefully and God willing here in Glasgow, Scotland. A trust fund is being set up with an established firm of solicitors here in Glasgow, for the benefit of Adriel. I wish to thank the Radiant and Bright charity; the wonderful staff of the NHS and Adriel’s health visitor; the police officers who attended on Saturday 22 August; Robina Qureshi and Positive Action in Housing for bringing Mercy’s plight to the public’s attention in the first place and raising questions about what happened. I am also grateful to the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon for speaking out strongly in condemnation of a hostile immigration policy that destroys lives. I hope that she can meet Adriel when the time is right. As we are grieving for our loss still, I would ask that any and all media enquiries are directed to Positive Action in Housing who are acting on behalf of me and my family.”

Statement from Positive Action in Housing

“Had we not broken this story, no one would know Mercy Baguma’s name today. Neither the Home Office, Mears nor Police Scotland had issued a statement. We had to piece together bare information. On Monday 24 August, we agreed to assist with raising burial costs. We achieved this and more. We ran a separate appeal in order to claim Gift Aid and add 25% to the donations. The circumstances of Mercy’s death subsequently went viral and it became impossible to argue with the Twitter-storm of misinformation, though we tried. People should not be left without money or support in this country. We are grateful to those who supported the fundraiser for Baby Adriel and raised a debate about the racist hostile environment emanating from Westminster in Scotland. We are a small charity working on the ground (when few others are) in the midst of a humanitarian crisis affecting asylum seekers in Glasgow. Mercy’s death is the third tragedy in four months where questions need to be asked of the Home Office Asylum contract in Glasgow. Baby Adriel’s father has questions about Mears involvement. Mercy’s family too want answers. Our focus remains firmly on a fully independent public inquiry into the deaths of Adnan Walid Elbi, Mercy Baguma and the Park Inn Incident, and the deadly accommodation crisis for Glasgow’s asylum seekers.”

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