Socialist Worker

What's the truth about Sighthill?

Issue No. 1762

AFTER RACIST MURDER IN GLASGOW

What's the truth about Sighthill?

SIGHTHILL IS a poor housing scheme with over 6,000 residents on the edge of Glasgow.

It has recently seen a series of brutal racist attacks. Two weeks ago Firsat Yildiz, a Kurdish asylum seeker, was stabbed and murdered by a group of white men.

On Tuesday night of last week Davoud Rasul Naseri, an Iranian asylum seeker, was attacked as he put out the bins.

He was slashed with a knife by a group of white men who called him a "black bastard". One response from the top of society was to write off everyone in Sighthill as scum.

Michael Kelly, the Labour former Lord Provost of Glasgow, wrote, "In Sighthill ignorance is their excuse for everything. They smoke, drink to excess, laze around on bad diet, and so the rest of us are left to pick up the debris of their lives because the one thing they do know how to do is bleat when things go wrong. They've got plenty of time on their hands, having turned down most of the jobs offered to them."

Sighthill is not seething with racists.

A good proportion of the residents, perhaps a quarter of them, are absolutely clear that they will get nowhere if they are fighting one another rather than uniting to demand improvements in their lives.

Marie Donnelly from Sighthill says, "When the government first started sending refugees here last year I admit I was a bit hostile. Then I met a few of them and I realised they were even worse off than us. They might have got a fridge or a cooker from the council, but I don't think people have travelled halfway across the world to get that and live in these blocks. It all came together for me in the last few days when I heard what Michael Kelly had said. I realised that these people at the top despise us all-black, white, Scots, refugees, employed, unemployed. I really do feel that we have to come together to get something better. I've had arguments with other people about how much refugees get. My neighbour really did think a single person got �150 a week and loads of stuff off the council. I took her round to see some asylum seekers I know. Well, they did have a bit of furniture, but just one change of bedding, one set of towels. They were a family of five and they had just the five knives, five forks, five spoons. Now she doesn't believe that the refugees live in luxury."

There is a small minority on the estate who repeat vicious lies about asylum seekers.

Scapegoating flourishes where people are bitter and without hope. Sighthill is such a place.

The official unemployment rate is 14 percent, but the reality is much worse-20 percent for women, 30 percent for men, 50 percent for young people. Sighthill has twice the (terrifyingly high) average Scottish rate of lung cancer, heart disease and child illnesses.

Damp is rife in the flats, and repairs never seem to get done. There are plenty of teenagers in Sighthill who have been firmly stamped as failures by the education system.

They feel they are on the scrap heap before they've even started to look for a job.

"I'm hoping to get a job at a bakery at �4 an hour. It's the best I can look forward to," says 17 year old Gerry. "I've been for other jobs but you're struggling when they know you're from Sighthill."

It's not just the young people who feel written off by society. There is also a big section of middle aged Sighthill men who will never work again.

Harry Hume is 48. He has been unemployed for three years and does not expect to get a job ever again. "On our block there's a group of us in our forties and fifties without work. We're finished. That's quite a harsh thing to say, quite a judgement on yourself and others, but it's true. I worked in the pits at one time and then in steel at Ravenscraig before I ended up here. Lots of us are ill and on invalidity. We don't come up on the unemployment figures. We're the ghosts. I don't blame the refugees for what I face. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think it was the asylum seekers who shut my pit. I don't think it was the asylum seekers who closed the Craig. But the council could have handled the asylum issue much better. When the asylum seekers came there was no explanation of what they had come from. We're not stupid here. People can change when they hear the truth. At my granddaughter's school they had one of the refugees read out her life story. She was from somewhere in Africa. The wains were all really shocked by it and were much more sympathetic. They also told their parents about what she'd said. We need lots more of that sort of thing."


Record spreads lies

THE DAILY Record, Scotland's biggest selling daily paper, set out to smear the murdered refugee Firsat Yildiz.

Soon after his death its front page denounced him as "a conman who came to this country to make a fast buck".

It recycled material from the Turkish embassy designed to cover up the fact that Kurds face daily oppression.

The underlying message was that Firsat Yildiz should not have been here. Did he therefore only have himself to blame for the fact that he was stabbed? On Thursday of last week the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees demonstrated outside the Record's building.

Mark Brown from the campaign said, "The Record's coverage is dangerously close to incitement to racial hatred."


CAMPAIGNING CAN OVERTURN PROPAGANDA

MOST SIGHTHILL people are neither wholly supportive nor wholly against the refugees. They are pulled between human compassion and the lingering effects of every filthy witch-hunting article pumped out by the newspapers.

People say how nice some refugees are-but they think that others are knife-wielding maniacs.

They say how poor a lot of them look-but that others have two cars and are dripping with jewellery (not that anyone has actually seen this).

Government policy towards refugees has fed these myths.

Poisonous propaganda does have an effect, but it can be overturned. Last week the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) set up stalls in the area and received a good response. The SSP also mass-leafleted Sighthill on Thursday of last week.

Keir McKechnie, a Glasgow SSP organiser, told Socialist Worker, "We have to mobilise the majority of decent people in Sighthill and isolate the small racist minority. We want to build some hope in the area and show a way forward."


Refugee stab victim speaks out "I WAS happy in Sighthill for the first two months. But then I began to experience a feeling that people were hostile to me and other asylum seekers. The actions of the people were being fuelled by what politicians were saying in the press and on television. Everything that was said about asylum seekers was negative.

They were talking only about ways of stopping asylum seekers coming to Britain rather than dealing with issues about how their rights could be properly dealt with and how they could be properly accommodated in the meantime."

DAVOUD RASUL NASERI, an Iranian asylum seeker who was slashed with a knife outside his flat on Wednesday of last week, speaking through an interpreter


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Sat 18 Aug 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1762
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