Protests follow deaths in Glasgow


Protests follow deaths in Glasgow

Comment

Written by: Harmit Athwal


Campaigners are calling for a public inquiry following the deaths of three asylum seekers at the weekend in Glasgow.

On Sunday morning, 7 March 2010, the bodies of three Russian asylum seekers were found below a block of flats in Glasgow, all three apparently having taken their own lives by jumping from the fifteenth floor.

All were members of one family, unofficially accounted for as Sergei and Tatiana Serykh and Sergei’s 21-year-old son. Information is slowly emerging about the background of the family. But with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and the local Strathclyde police revealing few details, few crucial facts will probably emerge until a fatal accident inquiry (FAI)[1] is held into the deaths and that usually takes years to be held and then only if the authorities deem it necessary to hold one. The police have already commented: ‘there does not appear to be any suspicious circumstances’. So three people killing themselves simultaneously is not suspicious?

The family apparently jumped from the fifteenth floor of Block 63 of the Red Road flats complex in the Balornock area of Glasgow – flats built in the 1960s and due for demolition but considered suitable for asylum seekers. The blocks which are ‘damp’ and ‘rundown’ are let to a local housing association which in turn sublets them to the YMCA which houses vulnerable asylum seekers under contracts with the UKBA.

According to unverified reports, the family had been granted refugee status in Canada but refused citizenship. And following disputes with authorities, had left and travelled to Europe, eventually seeking asylum in the UK which had been refused. The family were housed at the Red Road flats, along with many other asylum seekers. The father, Sergei, is also reported to have suffered from mental health problems. The family had apparently sought help from their local MP Willie Bain.

A candlelit vigil was held at the flats this week, attended by many asylum seekers and people from the local area, and a demonstration was held outside UKBA offices in Glasgow – another is due this Saturday 13 March.

Local groups working with asylum seekers have expressed dismay and concern at the deaths and are calling for a public inquiry to help answer the many unanswered questions: did the family have adequate access to healthcare and proper legal advice? Were they facing imminent deportation? Did the UKBA or police officers call at their home on the day the family died or in the days prior to their deaths? Could anything more have been done?

Other deaths of asylum seekers in Scotland

Numerous other asylum seekers have died in Glasgow (and across the UK) either as a result of the pervading racism in our society – the result of racially motivated murders or of the harsh asylum system in the UK – which disperses asylum seekers and forces them into destitution and despair. (The IRR has documented these deaths in its 2006 report: Driven to desperate measures.) Below we list the deaths that have occurred in Scotland:

  • March 2007 – Uddhav Bhandari (40), an asylum seeker from Nepal who died eleven days after setting himself alight at the offices of the asylum and immigration tribunal in Glasgow. Uddhav’s asylum application was rejected as a judge deemed the threat he faced in Nepal as not sufficiently serious. Having been in the UK six years and terrified of being sent back, he set fire to himself as he was about to launch his final appeal.
  • August 2006 – Wei Wang (41), a Chinese asylum seeker who died in hospital twelve days after being attacked in a ‘totally unprovoked’ attack just yards from his home in the Sighthill area of Glasgow. He had been in the Glasgow area for three months after being dispersed from London. In May 2007, Paul Brown was sentenced to life imprisonment (at least 17 years) for murder.
  • August 2006 – Zamira Sadigova (51), an asylum seeker from Azerbaijan who jumped to her death from her eleventh-floor flat in Glasgow as health officials and police officers tried to break down her door in order to section her (under the Mental Health Act) for treatment. Her asylum claim was rejected as was an appeal and benefits were withdrawn in April 2005. Medical reports stated that she was ‘vulnerable’. In the last few months before her death Zamira was surviving on £20 a week, given to her by a mental health charity.
  • July 2004 – Tran Quang Tung (35), a Vietnamese asylum seeker who was found hanged in Dungavel removal centre in Scotland days after being transferred from Harmondsworth removal centre after a disturbance in July 2004. A fatal accident inquiry in May 2005 was told how he arrived in the UK in April 2004 and claimed asylum though he had already tried to claim asylum in Germany. Medical staff at Dungavel who examined him were unable to communicate with him. When an immigration officer served him with his removal notice, for 27 July, she did not have an interpreter with her. A solicitor saw him on the day he was found hanged and was unable have to any ‘meaningful’ discussions as Tran spoke such little English.
  • May 2004 – Zekria Mohammed (27), a trainee dentist from Afghanistan who was found hanged from a makeshift noose behind the door of his flat in the Dennistoun area of Glasgow. Zekria had been living in Scotland for four years and was destitute after his asylum claim had been rejected and weekly £38 benefits had been stopped.
  • September 2003 – Vasiliy Todchuk (24), a Russian national who had deserted from the Russian army in Chechnya, who was found hanged on a building site in Govan, Glasgow. He had been detained in Polmont YOI on criminal charges in early 2003 and attempted suicide on the day before his release. Several weeks before his death he had been advised that he would be deported.
  • May 2003 – Liu Jin Wu (35), a Chinese asylum seeker who took his own life while on remand at HMP Barlinnie in Scotland. It emerged during the FAI that he was a Mandarin speaker who only had access to an interpreter three times during his ten weeks in the prison. He had been told he faced deportation regardless of what happened during the criminal proceedings as his asylum claim had been refused. Staff also failed to check on him hourly as was required when he was found to be suicidal. But the FAI concluded that his suicide was due to mental health problems rather than any failure by the prison authorities.
  • August 2001 – Firsat Dag (22), an asylum seeker dispersed to the Sighthill estate in Glasgow where he was stabbed to death as he returned home.

Related links

Download the IRR’s report on the deaths of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants Driven to desperate measures (pdf file, 401kb)

Read the IRR’s Factfile on the Roll call of deaths of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, 2005 onwards

Positive Action in Housing

Unity Centre Glasgow

Read a Guardian – Comment is free article by Melanie McFadyean: ‘Our asylum system’s fatal failures’


[1] FAIs are similar to inquests which are held into suspicious deaths in England and Wales.


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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