Calls for an inquiry into a series of asylum seeker deaths are intensifying as Glaswegians prepare to mark the first anniversary of the tragic events at the Park Inn Hotel, where a Sudanese man stabbed six people before being shot dead by police.
Pinar Aksu from Refugees for Justice, a grassroots group which formed in response to the events of last June, is helping to organise an act of remembrance at Glasgow’s George Square on Saturday, encouraging locals to bring flowers and candles.
“This was a tragedy for everyone in this city, and people are still looking for answers. We need an inquiry into why these people were abruptly uprooted from homes, setting off this tragic chain of events.”
Last summer, outreach workers raised concerns about the spiralling mental distress of hundreds of asylum seekers who were moved en masse by the private housing provider Mears from longer-term accommodation into hotels at the beginning of lockdown.
They had all financial support withdrawn leaving them unable to supplement what some complained were extremely poor quality meals with bottled water or fresh fruit, unable to buy hand sanitiser or period products, or to top up phones for vital communication with family and lawyers.
On 26 June 2020, 28-year-old Badreddin Abadlla Adam attacked a police officer, hotel staff and fellow asylum seekers following what friends have described as a serious deterioration in his mental health.
A month before that a Syrian asylum seeker, Adnan Walid Elbi, also 28, was found dead in an apparent suicide at another city centre guest house.
A year on, at least 170 individuals remain in hotel accommodation which Mears chief operating officer, John Taylor, acknowledged was “challenging” last June. There are fresh concerns about mothers and babies being moved into cramped bedsit accommodation.
Mears confirmed moves out of hotels were continuing “every day”, with the aim of completion by the end of July. They said the use of “good quality hotels for contingency accommodation” was an approach in line with the rest of the UK and with Glasgow city council’s support for homeless people during the pandemic.
But Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “There are still around 240 people in hotel rooms across Glasgow, and in January 2021 Mears opened a cramped and unsuitable mother and baby unit for more than 20 expectant or new mothers in Glasgow. We are part of the Freedom to Crawl campaign, pushing Mears to stop making the same mistakes again – in the short term, they need to carry out vulnerability assessments and commit to not moving any new mothers into the unit. In the long-term, we want to see an end to the UK government putting profit before people’s health and wellbeing.”
Last month, Scotland’s children and young people’s commissioner, Bruce Adamson, wrote to Mears demanding it “urgently review” the unit after he visited mothers there and was shown the severely restricted space for babies and toddlers to play safely, with cots crammed in beside cooking facilities and no space for co-sleeping.
Mears said the unit was a “dedicated facility to support mothers, babies and vulnerable woman” to provide a “positive setting for [those] who could otherwise be isolated in the community.” But many of those moved into the unit report they had developed good connections in their previous accommodation.
Referring to the extraordinary scenes in Glasgow last month, when a peaceful crowd prevented the immigration detention of two of their neighbours, Zazai added: “Glasgow will never forget Park Inn, but we know after Kenmure Street that our community is strong here. People in the asylum system are part of this community. No matter how hard this government tries to break these bonds, these are our neighbours.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the welfare of those in our care extremely seriously. All asylum seekers in hotels are provided with full board accommodation with three meals a day served as well as all other essentials”.