The campaign in Glasgow to defend refugees has helped bring refugees and people living on the housing estates, together and stopped a number of people from being deported.
A surge in the forced deportation of asylum seekers, who have been picked up in dawn raids on their homes or whisked away from immigration offices at a moments notice, has increased the anger many feel.
Between 1 April and 20 September, 112 enforcement home visits were carried out in Scotland — the vast majority of these visits were to the homes of “failed” asylum seekers.
The deportation of the Kosovan Vucaj family to Albania at the end of September sparked an upsurge of protest.
Noreen Real, a neighbour of the Vucaj family at the Kingsway Court flats in Scotstoun, told Socialist Worker, “I got very friendly with the Vucaj family. I was invited in for tea and helped Saida with her homework. Her mum introduced me as her ‘Scottish sister’.
“The raid on Mrs Vucaj’s house really hit me. They were taken away at five in the morning. The father and 17 year old son were handcuffed. The men were put in one van, the women in another.
“I went to the demonstration at Brand Street, the immigration office in Govan where asylum seekers have to sign a register, to voice my anger at the treatment of the Vucaj family.
“The whole treatment of asylum seekers stinks. What have these people done? Nothing. I have asylum seekers next door to me and I thank god they’re there. I feel, and many others feel, that once asylum seekers have been here for a year they should be allowed to stay.
“It is inhumane to have someone in this country and then take their education and security away from them. Many other families in the block are facing the same threat of deportation.”
A group of schoolgirls at Drumchapel High School won a high profile award last week following their campaign in support of fellow pupils facing deportation.
Jennifer McCarron, Rosa Salih, and Evelina Siwak began their work in the spring, when the Murselaj family in Scotstoun faced removal to Kosovo after their asylum applications failed.
Accepting the award Jennifer McCarron, 16, said, “This is not just for us, it’s for the communities and for the people who understand where we are coming from. This is not just going to be a pat on the head for us, we are going to keep going till we get a success.”
Margaret Woods is a member of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, which has played a major role in bringing hundreds of people together to defend refugees. She said, “The campaign has been active in defending refugees for a number of years.
“With the opening of Dungavel detention centre and the increasing number of deportations of refugees over the last few months the campaign has begun to pull more and more people in.
“The campaign has had a number of successes. Pastor Daly’s case became a cause celebre at the beginning of the year when he was taken into detention and threatened with deportation to Angola. We stopped that.
“In April we we got Anastasia Ndyia and her family and Maglore Sanou released from detention. We have also won a number of other cases. We have organised demonstrations of hundreds of people, including 1,000 against the deportation of the Vucaj family.
“We also organised a massive demonstration outside Dungavel during the G8 summit. This moved things forward and gave people a feeling that we could win.”
Rosie Kane, a Scottish Socialist Party MSP who has been heavily involved in the campaign, said, “There are hundreds of skilled men and women in Scotland who would dearly love to work but who are currently banned from doing so.
“Not a week goes by when we don’t either hear about ‘asylum scroungers’ or about the economy falling apart through skills shortages or an ageing population.
“You would think Labour first minister Jack McConnell might have worked it out by now.
“Instead of forcing people to remain in asylum limbo for years, the executive should be going to the home office to demand that asylum seekers be given the right to work.
“Asylum seekers should also be given the right to study full time, removing the 16 hour barrier that prevents many from participating in education and learning new skills.”
Film director Peter Mullan made a film in support of the Vucaj family after visiting them in Albania.
Sandra White, Scottish National Party MSP, told Socialist Worker, “I have been involved with refugees for six or seven years now. There were so many asylum seekers sent to Sighthill but there was no support for them.
“It is important to make a stand against the dawn raids and we stopped the operation for a whole day. It is important everyone takes up the case of refugees.”
Marion Hersh, the treasurer of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, said, “We have received a lot of money from the trade unions. My branch of the AUT lecturers’ union has affiliated along with several other AUT branches.
“The firefighters’ FBU union, the EIS teachers’ union, the National Union of Journalists, the T&G union and the Unison union have all been very supportive.”
‘The people are welcoming, but the home office isn’t’
The reality of asylum seekers living on the housing schemes in Glasgow has changed many people’s attitudes. A number of networks have been set up across the city to bring together asylum seekers and local people.
Jassim Johe, a refugee support worker at the Kingsway Court flats in Scotstoun, told Socialist Worker, “There have been no major incidents involving asylum seekers since I started working here in 2003, even though this is a deprived area.
“When the BBC were interviewing a refugee worker after the deportation of the Vucaj family a group of Scottish born people walked past. They started shouting that the Vucaj’s should be allowed to stay.
“There is still a racist element, which the media has played a big part in.
“But people’s attitude is changing. At the centre I work in we are working towards integration — people playing football together, dancing classes and rugby.
“Activists have used the centre as a meeting place for the demonstrations. When leaflets were distributed to over 1,000 flats only two people said they didn’t want leaflets.
“Locals were very concerned and angry about the Vucaj’s deportation. Many people said they were ashamed to be Scottish after it. Local people have been great.
“You now see asylum seekers’ teenage children mixing with white teenagers. Families have barbecues and picnics together. That wasn’t something I saw when I first started working here.”
As one Algerian asylum seeker put it, “The people here are welcoming, but the home office isn’t.”
“I am married to an asylum seeker. I have had friends taken into detention.
“People are being taken away in the dead of night. One days you’re playing with the kids and the next day they’re gone.
“The protests are making things decidely uncomfortable for the home office.
“Working class people are stopping unjust and unequal treatment — that shows we are powerful.”
“I came here with my three boys from Kosovo. The people who come here have been through hell and think they have come to a safe country. Now, with the dawn raids, they don’t know what to expect.
“Families are waking up at 4am so that they are not asleep when the authorities come. Local people have welcomed refugees here. “They have no power to change immigration policy, but they are helping us.”
Join the STUC’s St Andrew’s Day No Place for Racism march and celebration, Saturday 26 November, assemble 10.30am, Blythswood Square, Glasgow