Last Thursday night was not your typical Thursday night for me as I was attending the second of two discussion events titled “This is Glasgow: Turning oppression into opportunity for refugees.” The first of these events took place on Monday 15th June at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art. Thursday’s talk not only allowed me to take part in such an interesting and important talk, but also gave me the opportunity to make my first visit to Woodside Library, the largest Carnegie library in the city.
The talk takes place during the Refugee Festival Scotland and was set up by Fuad Alakbarov and Davy Irvin. If you’re thinking “shouldn’t that be Refugee Week?” you’d almost be right as there are now so many events, that they couldn’t all be squeezed into a single week. The Festival now runs between 3rd – 21st June, and this year includes the Scottish Refugee Council’s 30th anniversary.
The theme for this year’s Festival was ‘celebrate’; not only intended as a celebration of the contribution that refugees make to our cultural life and local communities, but also that Scotland is a place that offers protection to those people who come here to rebuild their lives away from persecution and conflict.
The celebration is more poignant this year as the Scottish Refugee Council continues to call on the UK government to do more to help save the lives of migrants trying to enter Europe via the Mediterranean. As it was recently reported, Germany is resettling 30,000 Syrian refugees, Norway 8,000 and Canada 10,000. The UK scheme will not exceed 1,000.
In addition, the recent deportation and subsequent disappearance – presumed death – of Majid Ali, a student at City of Glasgow College, has highlighted the change in Home Office policies. Mr Ali had applied for asylum in the UK in 2011 after accusing the Pakistani authorities of raiding his family home in Balochistan, and killing his uncle and cousin because of their political beliefs. His case was turned down, after which he was moved to Dungavel. After his appeals had failed, Majid was transported back to Pakistan on a non-commercial flight. As yet, his friends and lecturers have been unable to contact him.
This meeting’s attendance was smaller than the previous one, but had the advantage of being live streamed, by the now ubiquitous Independence Live. A link to the discussion can be found at the end of this article. I have to say, it was lovely to finally meet Ali Hendrick and her very able stand-in camerawoman Linda Anderson.
The talk itself started with Amal Azzudin, the human rights activist, who came to prominence as a part of the “Glasgow Girls”. She outlined her own story and that of the Glasgow Girls and how they and their local community worked together to support asylum seekers and refugees. Personally, I was shocked to find that since Nick Clegg’s announcement in 2010 that children would no longer be held in detention centres, such as Dungavel, that 664 children still have been. However, the reintroduction of Home Office dawn raids was not a surprise, as both David Cameron & Teresa May have both seem to take pleasure in taking part in a photo ops that took place after one such raid.
The positive side of Amal’s talk was how she said that many people, especially young people, have been engaged by the Glasgow Girls musical and documentary. She believes that by stepping up campaigning strategies and increasing awareness with the public, pressure groups can help devise more humane policies.
The second speaker was Ali Hendrick, artist and human rights activist, on “Art and migration”. She aims to create spaces through which refugees and asylum seekers can tell their stories, and also become aware of their human rights. She is another who became politically active during the referendum last year, and was even in George Square on 19th September with Hope over Fear posters.
As “The 45 Storm” Ali has set up a “tweetstorm” every week for different campaigns. She said “When one person speaks out, it encourages others to do so”. (I have real life friends on Twitter, who do not tweet much but are quite happy to join in the tweetstorm each week.)
She has a great deal of enthusiasm for the new media and its ability for individuals and groups to forge links and support one another, in addition to its ability to educate and activate engagement.
The CommonSpace journalist, Liam O’Hare, spoke on “Refugees from perspective of the media”. He was the only journalist to cover the hunger strikes taking place in Dungavel, and regularly reports on the conditions there. He said his drive comes from anger at the lack of coverage from the mainstream media, who accept Home Office statements rather than investigating the situation themselves. He added that, as the Home Office has a policy of not commenting on individual cases – and that every case is individual – they have a get out for never commenting.
He had praise for the SNP’s rhetoric on asylum and hoped that the increased number of MPs would be able to apply pressure on the UK government. Fuad Alakbarov, human rights activist and talk organiser, raised the “Impact of refugees in Scotland”. I found his very first comment was striking “migration is not a crime”, in that it is something that humanity has been undertaking throughout its history. He then explained his own story of how he came to Scotland, and the changes that have happened within Azerbaijan since 1993, resulting in 1 million refugees.
Despite all the negativity and the growth of anti-semitism, islamophobia and sectarianism, Fuad still voices a positive message of unity, and that we should “be more tolerant, that all lives matter”.
Scotland, as a nation, needs more immigration, going against the general UK media narrative. Many of the post-industrial countries, with their ageing demographics, require more young people and families to rebalance their populations. Asylum seekers face a varied number of psychological pressures; from the fear of being deported, racism in their day-to-day lives, to frustration with the system, sometimes to such a degree that they end up requesting to go home despite the risks there.
Scotland may not be the perfect welcoming place that we would like it to be, but the vast majority of refugees have integrated into Scottish society and have added a rich diversity to our communities, culture and food.
I for one hopes it continues.
Link to Independence Live video of discussion http://livestream.com/IndependenceLive/events/4133031
Amal Azzudin: @AmalAzzudin
Ali Hendrick: @The45Storm
Liam O’Hare: @Liam_O_Hare
Fuad Alakbarov: @Alakbarov_
you can also follow Simone Charlesworth on twitter at @