Time for change (or why I joined Just Citizens)

By Pinar Aksu, Just Citizen panel member 

Life is not easy for people seeking sanctuary and legal protection under the current hostile environment. People seeking asylum routinely suffer from due to destitution, detention, not being legally permitted to work, limited access to education and racism, and most often a combination of several of these.

Add on top of that a global pandemic, and as you might expect conditions could not get worse. The policies and the immigration system allowed more deaths to take place at borders and in communities.

What has happened here in Glasgow in recent months is why I joined forces with others, who like me have experience of the asylum system, to form Refugees for Justice.

Stark tragedy

In Glasgow, we have witnessed stark tragedies. People seeking asylum in the city were moved from their flats into hotels across the city, taken out from their accommodation with just thirty minutes notice, put into vans without proper PPE, then into hotels across Glasgow in large numbers.

Concerns continued to be raised by the people and organisations for people’s health and wellbeing but nothing was done. Sadly, in May we heard the death of Adnan in one of the hotels- a young person, with a life ahead of him. If his basic rights were adhered to, if he was not placed under such distressing conditions, Adnan could still be alive today.

Campaigners and organisations asked for an immediate end to these displacement policies. But then another major and more high-profile incident occurred involving a knife attack in one of these hotels. This tragedy was also avoidable – issues could have been solved humanely and perhaps we would have avoided yet more tragic loss of life.

The city did not want further pain, but it came anyway. A mother, an engaged member of her community and someone with a future with hopes and dreams, Mercy was found dead in her flat, her distressed toddler at her side.  Another tragedy. We keep wondering if things could have been different. What would happen if our government held itself accountable and respected human dignity to at least its most basic level?

Independent investigation

In June, Refugees for Justice was formed, a campaign and a movement organised by people who are refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow in response to the inhumane treatment of people who seek asylum in the UK.

It is calling for a full an independent investigation at every level of accountability to ensure that lessons are learned and this never happens again. It is time for failures of the system to be exposed, and justice done.  This is only one example of response to incidents which effected the whole community and you can read the full manifesto here.

I have been campaigning for human rights and refugee rights for many years now. After experiencing detention at a young age with my family, I realised how unjust and unfair the immigration system is.  Since, I have been involved with many campaigns and wear different hats for different roles. I currently work with Maryhill Integration Network (MIN), creating space for dialogue, engagement with the communities and raising awareness at different platforms. My other roles and involvement includes; Active Inquiry, World Spirit Theatre, Right to Remain, Royal Society of Edinburgh, and International Detention Coalition.

I want change. And I want this change to happen now- together with many others. I will be sitting on the Just Citizens’ Panel with many others to share ideas, and create a case for improved migrant rights for all, right here in Scotland. I will be joined by a member of MIN’s Voices community group, who is still experiencing the injustice of the asylum system first hand.

Our current system openly allows for human rights abuses. The system must change. We need a humane, dignified, and respectful immigration system and it needs to be introduced now. It must be underpinned by basic respect for human dignity and human rights, not arbitrary and problematic numerical targets that put at risk thousands of deaths and cause unimaginable suffering.