“Nearly 80 million women, children and men around the world have been forced from their homes as refugees or internally displaced people. Even more shocking: 10 million of these people fled in the past year alone.” António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General
June 20th is World Refugee Day.
The consequences of the Covid19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on the lives of all of us but especially the most vulnerable in our society.
Refugees and those who have been displaced from their homes are in that vulnerable group but they have also shown their resilience in the face of this deadly infectious virus.
In camps across the world refugees are working as nurses, doctors, scientists, teachers and other essential workers.
At the close of World War 2 people displaced by the war, by new regimes and the destruction of their homes in Europe , resulted in the setting up of the United Nations Refugee Agency – UNHCR. Established in 1950 and intended to only last 3 years, the need for the work of the UNCHR is even more necessary today.
The UNHCR agreed rights that all of us have in this world and which its member states have agreed to. These rights mean that countries have obligations in the countries where the fleeing and displaced people find refuge.
One of these is ‘the right to housing’.
In July 2018 SERCO announced it would evict 300 people from their homes. (Letters: “Serco were responsible for the hundreds of callous evictions of asylum seekers in Glasgow.”)
It may amaze people in the Northern Isles where SERCO runs the Northlink lifeline ferry service to find that they also have the UK Government contract for the provision of accommodation for vulnerable asylum seekers. In Scotland this contract is run by the Mears Group.
To prevent this abuse of human rights a group was set up The Stop Lock Change Evictions which is a coalition of charities, lawyers and individuals.
They secured a short ‘pause’ on evictions because of the Covid19 pandemic.
People who have been housed in temporary hotel accommodation in Glasgow held a small peaceful protest at the conditions they were living in, the paucity of the money they have to survive on and of the death of their friend Adnan Olbeh.
” in April, Adnan was one of hundreds of asylum seekers forcibly evicted from their flats and transported in vans (without any observance of physical distancing) to hotels. According to evidence which Mears gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee, the whole operation of eviction and relocation was the implementation of a Home Office directive in response to the pandemic.” ADNAN OLBEH: KILLED BY THE STATE
The people evicted at short notice and placed in these ‘hotels’ had the little cash they had received replaced with ‘ a fully catered and supported service ‘.
The forcible removal of men, women and children from their self-contained flats in Glasgow where they had a small personal allowance to buy essentials, to run down hotel rooms, took place when Scotland had gone into lockdown. They were given minutes to pack and were hustled together in groups to be transported to the ‘hotels’.
The peaceful protest in Glasgow was attacked by racist thugs who also hurled abuse at the police officers in attendance.
Describing the scenes as ‘horrifying’ and ‘disgraceful’, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said in the Scottish Parliament:
“It was caused by a bunch of racist thugs seeking to pour out their vile prejudice against asylum seekers and refugees. That is not what Scotland is about. Welcoming refugees and asylum seekers is a part of who we are, and we should stand against the scenes that we saw in Glasgow. In my view, those who broke the law should face the full force of it.”
Police Scotland issued a statement by Chief Superintendent Hazel Hendren, Divisional Commander for Greater Glasgow.
“The disgraceful scenes we have witnessed recently in George Square, Glasgow, are completely unacceptable.
“Police Scotland will not tolerate this type of threat to public safety or the appalling physical and verbal abuse suffered by our officers.
“We will police peaceful, lawful protests appropriately, however the thuggish behaviour by those intent on causing violent disruption will simply not be tolerated.
“Officer deployments are being stepped up as part of our robust response to this organised violence and anyone breaking the law or becoming involved in unlawful protest should expect to be arrested.
“Our priority is always to keep people safe and we will not hesitate to use the full force of the law to ensure that people feel safe on our streets anywhere in Scotland, whether that is those taking part in peaceful protest, or simply going about their daily lives during these challenging times.
“We will also continue to work with partners, including Glasgow City Council, to keep our streets safe for those who live in and visit our city.”
The Scottish Refugee Council is asking people on World Refugee Day to take some time to understand what people seeking safety are going through.
Link: World Refugee Day 2020 where you can view campaigns, events, stories and reports.
Here’s one to think about:
Reporter: Fiona Grahame