Guest post from Tom Harris: Judgment on the Red Road asylum deaths must be delayed.

| | Comments (8)
Thanks again to Tom Harris for agreeing to swap blogposts on this issue: he's posted both here. I've added mine below as well.

THE TRULY tragic case of the three asylum seekers who committed suicide by throwing themselves from the high-rise block of flats in Glasgow has resurrected the debate on our asylum system.

We still don't know enough about this specific case to be able to make a judgment as to what actually occurred and why. The media have, at various points, described the deceased as Russian and Kosovan. 

One report suggested at least one of them was suffering from severe mental illness. They may or may not have successfully claimed asylum in Canada before arriving in the UK.

The fact is we don't know how much, or if any, of this is true. And it would be irresponsible in the extreme, in the meantime, to make hysterical accusations based on rumours and speculation.

Which is why, presumably, Robina Qureshi has been all over the Scottish media doing just that.

Robina, with whom I've crossed swords before, is the director of a branch of Solidarity housing "charity", Positive Action in Housing, who provide support to failed asylum seekers in Glasgow. Yesterday, in the immediate aftermath of the terrible news breaking, she told The Times that "if the suicides had anything to do with the Border Agency telling the victims that they could not stay in the country, then the agency was culpable".

But despite her qualifying her own conclusions with that "if", she organised a demonstration outside the Border Agency office in Glasgow today, telling Radio Clyde and anyone else who would listen that what happened in Springburn was a direct result of official threats to return the asylum seekers home. She's also called for a public inquiry, although since she's already decided what the facts are, I'm not sure why she needs one. If Robina had her way, every claim for asylum should be awarded and public servants who enforce the law are barbarians.

She also said:

We believe there should be a public inquiry into these deaths, and the impact of the UK Border Agency and its terror campaign - disguised as asylum policy - on the lives of asylum seekers who have lived here for years.

Yes, many of them have lived here for years - illegally and after being told repeatedly thattheir asylum claim had been rejected because there was no threat to their safety in their home country. And by describing asylum policy as a "terror campaign", Robina is demonstrating why no-one other than a few gullible hacks take her seriously.

Even the normally sensible James Mackenzie, who works for Holyrood's two Green MSPs, accused me of a lack of compassion in the comments I made to The Times. Fair enough. I've been dealing with this  issue too long to expect people to approach it objectively and without  recourse to emotive language (see his guest post above).

Even if it emerges that the deceased threatened officials with suicide if they attempted to remove them, surely that threat could not be allowed to be a veto over legal process?

When phoned by The Times yesterday, I knew I couldn't talk about this specific case - apart from the fact that we didn't really know what had happened, the deaths didn't happen in my constituency - but agreed to talk about general asylum policy.

But until the facts, rather than speculation and rumour, hold sway, it would be most unwise to make subjective judgments about this case, however tempting it would be for some to try to make political capital on the back of such a human tragedy.

As for asylum policy in general, my view, having dealt with hundreds of cases since 2001, is very clear: an asylum policy differentiates between those who have a genuine reason to fear persecution in their home country, and those who simply want to live in the UK in order to attain a better quality of life. Those who fall into the latter category must apply through the immigration route. To award refugee status to everyone who claims it would catastrophically undermine its very notion. It would result in an "open-door" immigration policy, and no-one seriously wants that.


Labour pandering to dog-whistle politics on asylum

Nothing tells you more about a government than how it treats the vulnerable, especially those who cannot vote. Labour's most striking domestic failure of this sort has been their approach to people fleeing persecution and torture: successive Home Secretaries since 1997 have sought ever more uncompromising ways to make their lives harder once they get here.

Very few of us will have experienced the kind of mistreatment which is commonplace amongst those seeking asylum. I'm not in danger of being arrested for being in the wrong political party, like my Green colleagues in Rwanda and China are. My family don't come from a marginalised group being subject to ethnic cleansing. I don't know anyone who's seen family members executed for attending peaceful anti-government protests. 

But do the thought exercise: what if that had happened? If Scotland had become as brutal and lawless as the Democratic Republic of Congo, if state-sponsored "disappearances" or a round of ethnic cleansing had begun here, I'd want to know I could seek sanctuary in India or Ireland or Indonesia and have my case taken seriously.

And in those circumstances, I wouldn't want to be spat at in the street or forced to present stigmatising vouchers in supermarket queues to buy the basics. If the Scottish expat community was in Delhi, I wouldn't want to be forcibly settled in Varanasi. It would mystify me to be told I couldn't work and contribute, then read Government Ministers complaining that I'm somehow scrounging off the hard-working locals

If I had kids, it'd fill me with despair to see them locked up in adult detention centres and subjected to levels of brutality that would inevitably remind me of what we'd all been though in the first place. If I'd had Kafkaesque bureaucracies ranged against me at home, a life of endless forms and interviews in a foreign language without proper legal support would seriously jeopardise my mental health: imagine if an irritating call-centre also had the power to deport you back into danger, or if they sang racist songs at you mocking your plight

Yet all of this is the reality of Labour's asylum policy, the legacy of their thirteen years in government. No Daily Mail headline has gone un-pandered to, no dog-whistle to racist voters has gone un-blown - and waiting in the wings is a Tory administration that backed every last clampdown. It's not a casual or frivolous decision to leave your home country and come here to face racist abuse, to become a stock figure of hate for tabloid editors and the politicians who love them, but there is no softer target to demonise, not even those "feral children" we are also encouraged to fear and hate.

Yes, we need a system which checks individuals' claims, not one which accepts everyone who just says the magic word. But the priority with this system should be to ensure no-one gets sent back to face torture. The price of someone without a decent claim being accepted by mistake is low if unfortunate, but the price of a false rejection could be someone's life. The system should move quickly to a fair decision, but we should bend over backwards and help those who apply to make their case. 

We Scots fancy ourselves (especially in our Tartan Army incarnation) as responsible visitors to other countries, and like to think of this as a welcoming country. In many ways it is, but without an end to Labour/Tory domination of asylum policy this will never be the whole truth.



I'm a Labour loyalist, but not on this issue. You are right, and Tom seeks to deflect.

My views on Labour and children in detention at with links to more general thoughts on Labour's performance in this area.

I mostly agree with you that the UK asylum system lacks compassion and is now basically designed to appeal to a Daily Mail reader.

However, your scenario about Scotland became a despotic state fails to highlight a key point about what most asylum seekers do as opposed to economic migrants which is that they go to the nearest safe haven. If Scotland went all Zimbabwe on me I would go to England, Ireland or France.

If England closed the borders, in theory the Scandanavian countries would be better for me in terms of welfare support but Germany may be a better bet economically. Culturally the US would be ideal. But none of that would matter. I would want out first and foremost. I would take what I could get.

How is it that the UK is a destination for people who have to go through several safe countries to get here? I can undertand the odd person or family seeking asylum here flying direct from places like Russia due to political differences but there are plenty of safe havens before the UK that, if asylum is the key concern, should be good enough.

Hi Douglas,
It's an interesting question, and I can see why it looks odd.

But once you're out, why should it just be neighbouring countries who take the responsibility? With Zimbabwe that's either South Africa or some even poorer countries.

If there was a big Scottish ex-pat community in Greece, surely you could understand a preference to go there? And you might go to France, but others who don't speak French might prefer to go to Canada or Australia.

Perhaps you already have family somewhere else? Perhaps adjacent countries are safer but not much safer. Perhaps the European country you first arrive in is somewhere like Italy with an appalling track record of racism.

Also, neither of us have been in this situation, so I'd rather not judge people who travel further for asylum.

Finally, Paul, what would it take on this issue for you to stop being a Labour loyalist? Your blog post is very compassionate, yet your party is anything but.

You are right, since we have not been in the situation where we have to flee our homes we cant be sure of how we would react.

However, if I was leaving my house in the middle of the night for fear of the police coming to get me, I am pretty sure an immediate safe haven would be my desired destination, not some diaspora somewhere.

Even if a country like Italy has a racisim problem it is nothing compared to what is being left behind. Compared to some places in Africa, every Mediterranean country is like heaven on earth.

Hmm, speaking personally Douglas, if I was leaving my house in the middle of the night for fear of the police coming to get me, I am pretty sure I would want to get as far away as possible...

Interesting that you mention Italy Douglas.

Rima Andamarian is an asylum seeker from Eritrea who is seeking refuge in Glasgow. She's 17. The UKBA believe she is over 20, she is currently in a loving, middle class family. The UKBA want to send her back to Italy through the Dublin Convention, as that is a "safe" country. Rima would rather be sent back to Eritrea than return homeless and destitute in Italy- she has a family in Scotland, she has a family in Eritrea, but in Italy she has nothing. Yet that, according to the UKBA is where she should be returned to.

Sometimes its less about getting away to anywhere, but getting somewhere you could perhaps call home.

Bramble - I would want to be somewhere safe. Distance is not a consideration.

Stuart - Dont know the case. The UKBA do need to do their job better and with more compassion. I think one of the most telling pieces of research that could be done would be into the consequences of that agency deporting people. The evidence given at the recent Westminster parliament committee shows an organisation that has real management and compassion problems.

However, I have to ask - if she is willing to go back to family in Eritrea then why is she here? Without having gone through the fear and desperation of fleeing my country I cannot be sure, but I think I would only leave if there was no other option, including the knowledge that I would never return unless it was safe to do so.

Hi Doug

Rima is a teenager. Of course she would want to be able to see her mother and other siblings again. My comment was that she would LIKE to go back home, but if she went back now, she would no doubt face extreme punishment from the Eritrean authorities.

Leave a comment

Your Links At Last


Other Politics



Friends and Stuff I Like

If I've forgotten to link to you, let me know. If I don't want to link to your blog I'll pretend I never got your email.

The party's site of which I am rather proud

Along with Jeff (formerly SNP Tactical Voting) and Malc (formerly In The Burgh), I now co-edit Better Nation, a group blog. Stuff will still appear here, but more will be there. Better Nation

Post History

This page was published on March 9, 2010 3:38 PM.

The medium is the massage. was the previous entry in this blog.

Put up a parking lot. is the next entry in this blog.