The deportation, this morning, of the Vucaj family to Kosovo has been condemned by supporters who have led a vociferous campaign to keep them in Scotland.
The Kosovan family were fighting deportation following a dawn raid on their family home in Scotstoun, Glasgow on 13 September. The Vucajs, who have been living in Scotland since their arrival in the UK in December 2000, were taken from their Kingsway flat and were being held in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, Bedfordshire.
Sixteen immigration officers arrived at 6.00am on 13 September, allegedly kicking down the door, before forcibly removing the family. (Dawn raids of this sort were criticised earlier this month by the Children’s Commissioner for Scotland as ‘terrorising children of failed asylum seekers’.) Father, Isen Vucaj and son Elvis, were handcuffed, whilst according to one onlooker, daughter Saida was led out of the house in her pyjamas. Neighbour Andy Fitton was ‘shocked’ by the force of the operation and voiced his disbelief in an interview with BBC Scotland in which he commented: ‘To have [this] happening right next door to a family that you know well is horrific. I can’t believe that this sort of thing happens.’
The three children – Saida 13, Nimet 16, and Elvis 18 – are said to be distraught at the thought of removal, with the youngest stating that she would be ‘very scared’ to return to Kosovo. They have integrated well within the local community and, having spent the most formative years of their young lives in the city, they regard Glasgow as their home. All three children speak with Scottish accents and have attended local schools St. Brendan’s Primary and Drumchapel High. They are popular at school and their friends and peers are appealing to Scottish ministers to allow the family to remain in Glasgow. In March 2005, the children at Drumchapel High School began a letter writing campaign to defend two other asylum-seeking school friends from deportation and they are now pledging their support for the Vucaj children.
The treatment of the family has attracted fierce criticism from the organisation Positive Action in Housing, which has branded the raid as an example of ‘Nazi style tactics in asylum and immigration matters’. At the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Kathy Galloway spoke out against the treatment of the Vucaj family: ‘The school friends of the family are devastated. In the present political climate, the distress of some Glasgow schoolchildren cuts little ice. But they are not stupid, these schoolchildren. They are enjoined to be tolerant, welcoming, anti-racist, and they have duly been all of these. What they see, however, is that politicians are actually dancing to a much more xenophobic tune.’
Despite an initial silence, on the grounds that immigration is a reserved issue, Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell has also spoken out against the UK asylum and immigration system. He stated: ‘From public bodies to children’s organisations to school friends, there is recognition that these scandalous immigration practices are causing trauma and distress, and blatantly disregard children’s rights. When Scottish society expresses such profound concern, it is right to expect the Scottish Parliament to do likewise.’
Daughter Saida spoke from Yarl’s Wood recalling how she told one immigration officer: ‘I can’t go to detention, I am 13 years old, I am going to school today’. She also commented on her distress at seeing her parents crying and her father and brother forcibly handcuffed. She expressed her desire to return to school in Scotland, fearing that ‘there would be no education for me in Kosovo’. Saida described the mood of her family saying ‘We can’t go out, too many people are sad, my brothers are quiet, my father and mother are too upset. Someone killed himself here.’ Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Newsdrive programme, Scottish Children’s Commissioner Kathleen Marshall expressed her condemnation of the treatment of the family and called for a ‘public outcry’. ‘There must be alternative ways of dealing with this than traumatising children and families in this way,’ she said.
Positive Action In Housing’s director Robina Qureshi has suggested that the First Minister needs to do more to tackle UK immigration and asylum policy in Scotland since the treatment of the family contravenes the One Scotland Many Cultures campaign and the Fresh Talent. ‘Why are Scottish initiatives been trodden over by the inhumanities emanating from Westminster?’ she asks. The Sunday Herald has commented on the apparent paradox between the First Minister’s Fresh Talent initiative, which is a response to Scotland’s declining birth rate and which recognises the importance of immigrants to the country, and the Westminster drive to deport asylum families.
A Home Office spokeswoman refused to comment directly on the Vucaj family case, but told IRR News that removal ‘is always done in the most sensitive way possible, treating those being removed with courtesy and dignity. Detention is an essential element in the effective enforcement of immigration control in particular of our removals strategy. We believe that in almost all circumstances the best interests of children are served in being with their parents.’
The Vucaj family’s solicitor had lodged a fresh asylum claim in Mrs Vucaj’s name, but to no avail. At 4.21am on 29 September, a weeping Saida called Robina Qureshi to say that she and her family had been woken and told to get dressed as they were being deported. Then the line went dead.