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Something remarkable

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2007 12:42 pm    Post subject: Something remarkable Reply with quote

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The arrival of asylum seekers in Glasgow's poorest areas has fostered a new community spirit

Robina Qureshi The Guardian Friday April 13, 2007,,2056067,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=27

On the doorstep of Yoker, a deprived area to the west of Glasgow, is the biggest private regeneration programme in Europe. Along the banks of the Clyde, luxury apartments and penthouses are being sold for upwards of a quarter of a million pounds. Shipbuilding was big here until the 1980s. Then long-term unemployment hit, and never left. From the windows of Yoker's Plean Street high-rises you can see the north bank of the Clyde glitter in the mid-morning sun. But across the street in Kingsway, another deprived area, the residences are not so plush. A lot of the flats there lay empty and were considered "hard to let" - until the asylum seekers were moved in.

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Last week, an Algerian woman and her baby were subjected to a sickening assault on a cycle path in Yoker. Eight days later she went to the police, who announced that they believed the attack to be racially motivated. Two things are out of character here. Usually you have to drag the authorities kicking and screaming into admitting any racist motivation for an assault. Secondly, the attack is not characteristic of the attitudes of the local community, despite its many social problems.

Since 2000, the government has forcibly dispersed hundreds of asylum seekers to the area. It made sense. Put asylum seekers into the flats no one else wants to live in, and the council benefits from the council tax revenues. There were inevitable racist tensions, and the usual myths about the incomers getting free fridges. But then something remarkable happened. Locals and asylum seekers began to interact. They stood together at bus stops, and their kids sat side by side at school. They played - and fought - together. Before people knew it, locals and asylum seekers were in and out of each other's homes.

And then the realisation dawned that these new neighbours didn't have it so easy after all. Firstly, they are forbidden to work, forced to live below the official poverty line, and are subject to the xenophobic rantings of the tabloid media and Westminster. Secondly, locals witnessed first hand the terror tactics of dawn raids, taking place on their doorsteps, as battering rams were employed and children screamed while being dragged from their beds, their parents handcuffed, in the very early hours.

Immigration snatch squads, escorted by police, have conducted a series of dawn raids on Scottish asylum families over the past few years. Finally, last October, local people gathered alongside asylum seekers early one morning in Kingsway in peaceful protest at the raids. At around 6.30am an immigration snatch squad turned up to take another family. Over 150 members of the community linked arms and demanded the squad cease immediately. After a 40-minute standoff, the chief of police announced there would be no raid. To this day, the community has been on constant vigil in the hours before dawn.

The arrival of asylum seekers in Glasgow's most deprived areas has given back a sense of community in a way no government initiative has ever done. Scotland has the fastest declining population in western Europe. Despite a Fresh Talent initiative that seeks to attract 8,000 new workers every year, the Scottish Council Foundation issued a report last month saying we need 13,000 new migrants. Right now, we have 1,100 established asylum-seeking families living in Glasgow who are part and parcel of our communities. We do not take kindly to the barbaric policy designed to send away Scotland's future lifeblood.

The attack on a young mother was a shameful thing. But let us not lose sight of how the majority of residents came to welcome their new neighbours.

Robina Qureshi is a human rights campaigner and director of Positive Action in Housing
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