It is difficult to think of many things more contemptible than a protest which intimidates and violently attacks asylum seekers and refugees. The last thing someone who is just trying to get a safe place to live, and may well be experiencing trauma having been forced to flee war or social strife in their homeland, needs is a bunch of marauding racists in their face. It is bad enough that people seeking refuge are not given rights to live a dignified life, where they can work and have financial autonomy, and live in safe and secure housing, but that they should not be able to protest and assert their right to have rights without fear of physical assault from people doing Nazi salutes and shouting “fenian bastards” is not something that any person who wants to live in a civilised society should accept.
The events in George Square last night bring shame to a city with a proud anti-fascist record. When the ‘National Defence League’ first appeared under the guise of the Scottish Defence League about a decade ago, tens of thousands marched through Glasgow to show there was no place for racist thuggery in the city. Since then the far-right have appeared sporadically, but the last time such scenes of fascist violence were seen in George Square was the day after the 2014 independence referendum. Again there was a familiar “rule Britannia” loyalist imagery and songs on show as yesterday. We should not give these people the credit of building them up as a bigger force than they really are, but neither should we be naive to the fact that the hatreds they draw strength from are deeply rooted in Scottish society and we need to be vigilant about confronting them.
We should also be clear about the reasons why No Evictions Glasgow felt they had to organise a protest in George Square during a pandemic in the first place. Mears Group, the UK Government’s contractor for asylum accommodation in Glasgow, had moved over 400 asylum seekers from homes into hotels during the Covid-19 crisis, given them no notice and doing so based on no vulnerability assessment of those they were moving. Living in hotels, asylum seekers have had no means to physically distance, no access to adequate food, no financial support and irregular access to healthcare. One asylum seeker, Adnan Olbeh, a refugee who had fled the Syrian Civil War, died in McLays Guest House on 5 May, after committing suicide. Adnan’s friends say he had been pleading for help in the weeks prior to his suicide, that he did not wish to enter the hotel accommodation and made numerous complaints to Mears about the impact it was having on his health. We should be clear that the treatment of asylum seekers in Glasgow by the outsourced arm of the state is a form of violence and racism in itself. There is nothing more racist than denying people the basic rights we enjoy simply because of who they are and where they are from. State racism is what emboldens racist thuggery on the streets.
If the huge moral force of the Black Lives Matter movement can turn its attention to demanding all refugees have equal rights, and that detention centres like Dungavel are shutdown, it can win a lasting victory, and show the racists that they are and always will be defeated.
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