Failed by the system? Asylum seekers wait to call Scotland home

Glasgow stabbing attack puts a spotlight on the experiences of asylum seekers in Scotland.

When a Sudanese asylum seeker stabbed six people before being shot dead by police one week ago today, the horror put a spotlight on those who dream of calling Scotland home.

Badreddin Abadlla Adam, 28, was one of 100 asylum seekers temporarily placed in Glasgow’s Park Inn hotel at the start of coronavirus lockdown in March.

His victims – who include 42-year-old police officer David Whyte – survived.

But delays to the asylum process are being blamed for causing additional strain on vulnerable people, many of whom are fleeing war, violence and persecution in their homelands.

Badreddin Abadlla Adam stabbed six people before he was shot dead by police.

Adam’s death came two months after a 30-year-old Syrian man’s suspected suicide in another central Glasgow hotel.

Campaigners say the Home Office must deal with cases more quickly. The process was already prone to delays but, like so much else, has virtually stopped due to lockdown.

Immigration lawyer Andy Bradley told STV News that “a sizeable minority are failed by the system”, blaming Home Office “maladministration” and red tape.

This can leave asylum seekers in a state of limbo for years — often isolated and impoverished; unable to work or begin building a new life.

He added: “If there are lengthy delays this can be sometimes very stressful. Now during that period where they are awaiting a decision, their ability to integrate into Scottish society or Glasgow society is very limited.

“Many asylum seekers just now, they’ve not been able to get any interviews for the past three months or so and that does appear to be adding to the problem.”

When someone seeks asylum in the UK, they undergo an initial screening with an immigration official. They are photographed, have their fingerprints taken and given an asylum registration card.

This is followed by a “substantive” interview in which they must prove why they can’t live in their own country due to persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political views or other criteria such as sexuality.

If successful, the applicant is given leave to remain in the UK for five years, which can become permanent.

Around 40,000 people apply for asylum in the UK each year with just under half of those being successful. The Home Office says a decision is usually made within six months. However, many asylum seekers wait much longer.

One such hopeful is a woman from Namibia. She says she fled from her violent father who was trying to force her to marry one of her cousins.

The woman, who we are calling Venu to protect her identity, has been in Scotland for more than two years but has not had a substantive interview – possibly due to a lack of translators who speak her Otjiherero language.

Wellwishers left donations for asylum seekers after the horror attack.STV

Venu is heartbroken at being forced to leave behind her seven-year-old daughter. She also feels guilty as she can’t open a UK bank account to send money to the friend caring for her daughter.

In broken English, she told STV News: “I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m really stressed. I’m suffering from depression.

“You have to support your child, you have to support yourself. It’s very hard, I’m telling you. I want to bring my baby and my friend, I miss them very much.”

Another asylum seeker we have spoken to says that if she was forced to return home, it would likely result in her being murdered due to her political activity.

The woman, who we are calling Leena, fled after she and her son were allegedly targeted by armed gunman in her home nation in south-east Asia.

They have been in the UK for more than three years while their lives have been at a standstill — unable to get a job or contribute to society.

They are appealing against a Home Office decision to reject their asylum bid, on the grounds they could not provide sufficient evidence.

She said: “So I don’t know what to do in that situation. I can’t be filming, I can’t be taking photos. That kind of evidence the Home Office want.

Huge emergency response during last week's incident. Pic: Getty ImagesJeff J. Mitchell via Getty Images

“We quickly pack everything and we run away and flee to Scotland. We can contribute a lot to the country and also can help to lift up the economy by paying tax, by helping I don’t know why the Home Office does not want to consider all these things.”

Others experience hostility and racism — with the Park Inn attack heightening tensions.

Hekma Yagoub, from Sudan, has been in Glasgow for more than two years and has won the right to remain. Since last week’s attack she and her friends avoid going into the city centre.

She added: “Personally I don’t feel safe. Normally I cycle around Glasgow and I feel I need to take extra precautions just to do that. Normally, for example, I don’t take my phone with me.

“But now I think twice before I plan to go out and obviously this is because of this incident.”

While the Park Inn remains a crime scene, the 100 asylum seekers who were staying there have been placed in another hotel by Mears Group — the company that was paid by the Home Office to house and support those seeking asylum. Mears Group declined to comment.

Asked about asylum delays, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Due to the coronavirus outbreak, some decisions have been delayed but we are continuing to make decisions where we have sufficient information.

“We have put in place a range of measures to support asylum seekers during this time.”

The Home Office also reject some campaigners’ accusations that putting asylum seekers in hotels during lockdown is similar to being imprisoned, saying they would be “destitute” but are provided with  “free, fully furnished accommodation while applications are considered”.

They added: “Like everyone else in the country during the coronavirus outbreak, asylum seekers have been asked to stay where they are and to follow social distancing to help fight the spread.

“As such, throughout the coronavirus outbreak, we have put in a range of measures to support asylum seekers who are affected, including standing up accommodation.”