Asylum seekers organise in Scotland

Following a period of relative quiet, brought on partly by consistent protest, the Labour government has resumed dawn raids and deportations. At the same time, the increase in repression has given rise to a qualitatively new stage in the struggle: the formation of a union of asylum seekers. Ironically for the state, it is some of its most punitive policies of containment and ‘dispersal’ of asylum seekers that have provided the conditions in which they are now both forced to and able to unite and organise.

To begin with, the asylum community was disparate and scattered, with national, religious and language barriers preventing asylum seekers from recognising their common social conditions of poverty, destitution and racist discrimination. However, as the numbers ‘dispersed’ to Glasgow significantly grew, the state was forced to put thousands together in the cheapest accommodation available. This created areas in Glasgow such as Pollockshaws, Red Road and Sighthill where thousands now live under almost identical conditions in substandard giant tower-blocks flats, facing the same problems: enforced weekly or monthly signing-on; constant fear of dawn raids and deportation; bad housing; poverty; no right to work; no education or even adequate healthcare for their children. This concrete experience has forged people together in a hundred different ways, establishing closer and closer links and connections, creating an ever more homogenous and stronger grouping. The very purpose of the ‘dispersal’ system, to locate asylum seekers far from the support networks of their individual communities, has been defeated by the creation of a new cross-community unity.

Unity – the asylum seeker union
Throughout 2004/2005 anti-deportation campaigns were waged on behalf of individuals and families, involving many asylum seekers and also drawing in large sections of wider Scottish society, such as students from Drumchapel girls’ school who marched in support of their friend Saida Vucaj, as well as attracting the support of trade unions and MSPs.

In December 2005 Congolese asylum seekers from Petershill organised a march through Glasgow calling for the right to remain and the right to work. This was organised outside of the usual mainstream support structures and supported by the No Borders Network (NBN) and Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI), who were mounting weekly pickets of the immigration Office at Brand Street, Glasgow (see FRFI 189). It was prior to this march, during organic meetings of small numbers of asylum seekers that it became obvious that the community demanded a higher form of organisation, which would enable asylum seekers to organise independently and struggle effectively for basic demands.

In February 2006, asylum seekers from Red Road, with the assistance and support of NBN and FRFI, established the first branch of Unity – the asylum seekers union. Over 100 asylum seekers attended the founding meeting. Inspired by the example of Red Road, similar branches were quickly established in Pollockshaws and Sighthill.

The union’s first action was a mass protest outside the Brand Street Immigration Offices on 11 March 2006. This protest showed the massive reservoir of potential strength in the asylum seeker community. Unity is at a very early stage of development but is nonetheless beginning to forge together and grow in strength. A powerful union of asylum seekers in Glasgow can provide a shining beacon for all those throughout Britain suffering the same conditions. We will help to support and build this movement in any way we can.

No to all immigration controls!
End dawn-raids!
No to deportations!
Support Unity – the asylum seeker union!

Joseph Eskovitchl

FRFI 190 April / May 2006


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