E&L is posting an article on the attacks and killing in Glasgow and a letter about the killings in Reading. Both address the issues raised by the treatment of asylum seekers. The article written by Mike Picken (Socialist Resistance, SSP and Renfrewshire RIC) addresses the stabbing of six people and the police killing of the attacker, Badreddin Abadlla Adan, originally from Sudan. The letter was written by Jim Cook of Reading, where Khairi Saadallahas, an asylum seeker from Libya, killed three people. It was first published by Weekly Worker.
GLASGOW KILLING RAISE MAJOR QUESTIONS ABOUT TREATMENT OF ASYLUM SEEKERS
In a major event in Scotland, one person was killed by armed police in a Glasgow hotel used to accommodate asylum seekers. The call ‘not to politicise’ the incident from SNP and Labour politicians is completely misplaced.
As the dramatic events unfolded on the afternoon of Friday 26 June, the BBC first reported that three people had been killed in a knife stabbing incident. This turned out to be untrue: six people including a police officer were seriously injured and hospitalised, while the apparent perpetrator was shot in a rapid and large armed police response in Glasgow city centre.
Interviews with eye-witnesses seemed to indicate that while all the 100 residents of the hotel were asylum seekers, there were also hotel staff on duty who may have been victims. Motivation for the knife attack and details of the victims other than the police officer are not yet confirmed at the time of writing, though Sky News is reporting that the perpetrator was an asylum seeker about whom mental health concerns had already been reported.
But while everyone will wish the victims a speedy recovery, the events raise important political questions about the use of the hotel and the treatment of asylum seekers by the UK government and its private contractors.
Glasgow’s Hotel Asylum Seekers
The incident happened at the Park Inn Hotel, one of six in Glasgow used by a large outsourcing private company, the Mears Group plc, on behalf of the UK government Home Office. They Mears agreed a ten-year long contract with the UK Home Office in 2019 worth over one billion pounds to provide accommodation for asylum seekers.
At the beginning of the UK’s lockdown, the Mears Group had relocated nearly 400 Glasgow asylum seekers who had been living in the city as part of a longstanding Home Office ‘dispersal’ policy. This policy dates back 20 years to the Blair Labour government and moves asylum seekers who usually arrive in south east England to other locations across the UK, such as Glasgow, described by a Tory minister in 2015 as “areas where there is a greater supply of suitable and cheaper accommodation”.
With only a few minutes’ notice to pack their belongings, the hundreds of asylum seekers living in a wide range of properties across Glasgow were rounded up in April and moved into six major city hotels empty during the lockdown. Positive Action in Housing (PAiH) , a Glasgow-based charity working to support asylum seekers, raised concerns in May with both the UK Home Office and the Scottish Government  over the treatment of the asylum seekers by the Mears Group.
They particularly highlighted that relocating hundreds of people in vans carrying three or four people at a time appeared to breach completely the Scottish Government’s then imposition of a total lockdown and the strong message to “Stay Home”; that people should only move if absolutely essential for medical or other reasons. PAiH argue that it was completely unnecessary to move the asylum seekers. The previous landlords accommodating the asylum seekers were simply told that they would no longer be paid in circumstances in which it was clearly almost impossible for them to get new tenants.
PAiH Director, Robina Qureshi, raised numerous complaints about the treatment of asylum seekers in the hotels including the lack of social distancing during meal times, the inability to open windows, the danger of air conditioning circulating the Coronavirus and other infections, and particularly the withdrawal of the weekly payment of £35.50 – meaning that residents were unable to purchase , toiletries, fruit and other necessities. Including mobile phone credit to stay in touch with family and representatives
The situation escalated when a Syrian asylum seeker, 30 year old Adnan Olbeh, was tragically found dead in one of the hotels prompting local press coverage.
Robina Qureshi explained the treatment of the Glasgow Hotel asylum seekers to the public:
“The “hotel asylum seekers” are very isolated. It’s true they are treated as less than human, a number, one of many. Many people, men and women are suffering from severe mental health conditions.”
and in a letter to the First Minister she went on to say
“Levels of depression are increasing. Many people are survivors of trauma and torture and suffering mental health problems because of the length of time they have been in the asylum system. People are growing increasingly desperate.”
PAiH were also concerned about the welfare of hotel workers and transmission of the virus:
“Hotel employees may also be subjected to an increased viral load in the workplace and then must go back out into the general community for a variety of essential purposes.”
By Wednesday 17 June, so desperate was the situation that a demonstration was called to protest about the conditions of Glasgow Hotel asylum seekers in nearby George Square, outside the Glasgow City Chambers, offices of the SNP-led Glasgow City Council. However, that demonstration also coincided with a gathering of far-right “loyalist” activists who claimed to be “defending statues” in the Square and opposing the Black Lives Matter movement.
The far-right attacked the asylum seeker protest demonstration in scenes the First Minister described as “appalling”. The police largely stood by, though eventually arresting around six people believed to be far-right thugs. But the Scottish Police Federation issued an awful statement saying that both sides were to blame and that the police were caught in the middle between “statue attackers” and “statue defenders”. An emergency demonstration was called in George Square on Saturday 20th June to protest the attack on the asylum seekers demonstration, but SNP politicians called on people to stay away .
SNP calls “not to politicise” wrong
In response to the killing and stabbing incidents SNP politicians such as Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, told the BBC:
“I would absolutely urge anyone not to politicise this, not to use this to divide the city.”
While Aitken obviously has genuine concerns about the far-right mobilising on Glasgow streets, this is the completely wrong approach, but one shared with the Scottish Labour Party whose spokespersons issued similar responses.
Important political questions need to be asked now about the UK Government/Home Office of Priti Patel and Mears Group policy of relocating the Glasgow asylum seekers to empty hotels during the middle of a pandemic. This also means questioning why the SNP at Holyrood and Glasgow City Council apparently did nothing about the “powder keg” situation.
Even a retired former senior police officer told Sky News in an interview on the morning after the incident that “we have got to question” the putting of hundreds of asylum seekers from stressed backgrounds, “packed” into such an environment. Robina Qureshi of PAiH highlighted in a radio interview for the BBC that there were no proper risk assessment procedures for the asylum seekers and that it was the “cheap” accommodation that was the motivation, not their welfare.
The UK Government’s privatisation of accommodation for asylum seekers through organisations like the Mears Group also needs to be challenged. Its predecessor in Glasgow, SERCO, also attracted massive criticism and then they moved on to a lucrative contract for the UK government’s currently privatised and failing contract-tracing service for coronavirus. While Mears claims to be a “social” landlord and outsourcing organisation, it is also a public limited company, trading shares on the stock market and making a profit for its shareholders. One of the directors of Mears is a former Chief Operating Officer of the massive profit-making insurance concern, Lloyds Register, and a leading light in the privatised water industry in England. Such people do not have the interests of asylum seekers at heart, only the pursuit of profit. As the official opposition in the Westminster UK Parliament, the Labour Party have an important responsibility to challenge the Tory government on the issue of private firms running public services.
Rather than calling for the situation not to be “politicised”, SNP and Labour politicians should be looking to face down the far right actions by mobilising public demonstrations of support for asylum seekers, seriously challenge the Tory UK government’s “hostile environment” over immigration, and question the role of private companies in running public services for profit rather than public good.
27 June 2020
 Positive Action in Housing [PAiH] http://www.paih.org/ “is an independent, anti-racist homelessness and human rights charity (SC027577) dedicated to supporting women, children and men from refugee and migrant backgrounds to rebuild their lives. We believe in a society where everyone has the right to live safe and dignified lives, free from poverty, homelessness or inequality.” (PAiH website).
In May 2020 it issued three important statements detailing the Glasgow Hotel Asylum Seekers issues:
- a) Letter to the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, 11thMay 2020: https://www.paih.org/letter-to-the-home-secretary-about-the-death-of-syrian-refugee-adnan-olbeh-in-glasgow/
- b) Letter to the Scottish First Minister, 13thMay 2020 https://www.paih.org/letter-to-the-first-minister-about-glasgows-hotel-asylum-seekers/
- c) Protest statement about press coverage of the death of a Glasgow Hotel Asylum Seeker 11thMay 2020 https://www.paih.org/statement-about-mr-adnan-olbeh-syrian-refugee-who-died-in-glasgow/
 Under the UK’s complex devolution arrangements, the UK Government of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel are responsible for immigration and borders policy/control including asylum seekers, while the Scottish Government of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the social democratic/nationalist Scottish National Party (SNP) are responsible for policing, housing, health and other local services and has overseen dealing with the pandemic and lockdown. The two governments disagree about policies on a wide range of issues including immigration and asylum but have generally tried to minimise such differences during the pandemic crisis.
Comment by Mike Picken
Statement by the Glasgow No Evictions Campaign:
The No Evictions Network is extremely concerned to hear reports from MORE – Migrants Organising for Rights & Empowerment that after the events of yesterday, residents of the Park Inn hotel were left distressed, some waiting in the street for hours with little communication about their fate until late last night. Due to their financial support having been stopped by the Home Office, they were unable to purchase even a bottle of water, and are completely reliant on receiving support from others.
This meant in the hours following the incident, people who were shocked and traumatised by the events, were left without basic needs such as shoes, adequate food or medicine. Over and above practical needs, many of those being accommodated in these hotels have experienced past trauma, so it is absolutely imperative that they are given proper treatment and support for their wellbeing.
Prior to this incident, they have had their financial and social autonomy stripped from them in a series of Home Office decisions and systemically unjust hostile environment policies. This means access to healthcare, privacy and social support is extremely difficult. We believe that the Home Office, now more than ever, needs to treat people in the asylum system like human beings – beginning with reinstating and raising financial support immediately along with moving people to safe, secure housing.
We, and other NGOs are doing everything we can to help, however this should not have to fall on volunteer-led advocacy groups. Ultimately, the duty of care must lie with those responsible for their care.
This article was first posted at:-
THE READING KILLINGS
Readers will be aware that on the evening of Saturday June 20 there was an horrific attack by a lone knifeman on innocent folk who were enjoying the company of their friends and the sunshine in a popular town-centre park in Reading, where I happen to live. This tragic event led to the death of three people and injuries to another three. Friends, family and sympathisers expressed their shock, horror and sadness at the loss and, of course, politicians and the media – national and local – piled in.
The local paper boasted of “36 pages of coverage” and had a wrap-around cover, which included a quote, “Reading weeps. But Reading roars”. The ‘roaring’ referring to a large statue near where the killings took place, which is often cited as a symbol of the town. The local paper says, “The lion was placed in memory of soldiers who had died in 1880 fighting for their country …” One might add that they died in a bit of a blowback from British efforts to kill Afghanis – not for the first or the last time.
Priti Patel came to Reading (could it get any worse?) and she echoed the words of Boris Johnson (yes, it could) by stating, “If further action is needed, we will not hesitate.” As he said, “If there are lessons that we need to learn … we will learn those lessons and we will not hesitate to take action when necessary.” Apparently, not wishing to be left out, “Labour demands answers,” according to The Guardian. Any lessons and actions are certain to be the ones that have failed in the past.
But there are hints as to possible “lessons” from the attacker in Reading, Khairi Saadallah. He:
- was granted asylum in the UK after fleeing Libya;
- along with his family, suffered anti-Muslim abuse in the UK;
- had mental health problems.
Firstly, Libya. The Guardian states: “British relations with Libya and its diaspora have been coloured by the British government’s often ambivalent relations with Gaddafi, the UK’s active support for his ousting in 2011…” Gaddafi for all his many faults was, not surprisingly, an anti-imperialist: his greatest crime in British government eyes was his support for the IRA. At a later stage the “government’s often ambivalent relations” allowed Tony Blair and Jack Straw to enable the rendition of two families to Gaddafi for torture (something for which we are still awaiting their suspension from the Labour Party, while it investigates).
But Gaddafi was “ousted” in 2011, perhaps to bring “freedom and democracy” to Libya. It’s a shame that all that was accomplished was wrecking the country and leaving them a civil war.
Secondly, Anti-Muslim abuse? Black lives matter – on any public platform anyway – but Muslim lives don’t matter very much to, for instance, the political leaders in the UK. So, if children tease a classmate or a neighbour, so what? They only echo the prime minister and his pals. Further, the Equality and Human Rights Commission doesn’t think it matters either.
And, thirdly, Saadallah had mental-health problems, amounting to, “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and an emotionally unstable personality disorder”, The Guardian understands. It also learned “that he was under the care of NHS mental health services”. This is not very surprising, but it doesn’t seem to have done much good.
Mrs Thatcher went for ‘care in the community’ during her reign (or ‘couldn’t care less in the community’, as it might be better termed). Treatment with drugs and with little therapeutic care (and with that ‘little’ diminishing over the years) was much cheaper than what went before: besides, there were all those great big asylums and their grounds to sell. It has been noticed that the police are now often the first responders to those with mental health problems and prison is where they so often end up.
Mental health problems seem to be quite common. They were cited to explain the stabbing of six people in a hotel housing asylum-seekers in Glasgow. Coincidently we had the sentencing of the chap who threw that poor kid off the viewing platform at the Tate Modern. There seem to be a lot of sufferers – perhaps it’s because of the world they live in and the indifference of their politicians.
So what lessons could Priti Patel and Boris Johnson learn? Don’t invade or bomb countries for no good reason and expect gratitude in return? Work to oppose prejudice against minorities, of any colour or religion? Properly fund the NHS, so they can provide decent mental-health care? Probably not, this is all much too expensive. Better to ‘lock them up and throw away the key’.
The main lesson that they will continue to avoid learning is that these attacks do not come out of nowhere.
This letter was first posted at:-
- ITALIAN DOCK WORKERS SHOW SOLIDARITY WITH MIGRANTS
- INDICTMENT SUBMITTED TO THE PERMANENT PEOPLES’ TRIBUNAL
SESSION ON THE VIOLATIONS WITH IMPUNITY OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANT AND REFUGEE PEOPLES (2017-2019)
“HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT ON TRIAL” LONDON HEARING – 3-4 November 2018