The Home Office’s Video Boasts About Deporting Migrants In The Same Week Asylum Seeker Mercy Baguma Has Died

This is what can happen when the system has been designed to create a hostile environment and remove safety nets.


by Anna Silverman |
Updated on

Yesterday, the Home Office released a video boasting about deporting people, saying 'we are working to remove migrants with no right to remain in the UK'. They blamed 'activist lawyers' for 'delaying and disrupting returns.' This comes at a time when the nation is still in shock at the death of asylum seeker Mercy Baguma, a mother who was found dead in her flat in Glasgow on Saturday.

Beside her lay her one-year-old baby, Adriel, who was alive and found crying and malnourished by police. He was taken to hospital, his body weakened from several days of hunger. Mercy's death is currently being treated as unexplained, but not suspicious, by the police.

Sadly, the situation that led to this tragedy is more common than we might think. It looks like Mercy, a 34-year-old from Uganda, was living in extreme poverty and relying on charity donations. She had lost her job after her limited leave to remain expired. She contacted the charity Positive Action in Housing for help.

The charity’s director, Robina Qureshi, said Mercy had recently claimed asylum. She had told them she was not getting any financial support yet and that she’d made an application to Migrant Help.

‘Had she lived she would have been a high priority for a crisis payment from our emergency relief fund like hundreds of others left functionally destitute by the asylum system,’ Robina said in a statement.

We like to think the Dickensian way of living in utter destitution belongs in the past, but it’s happening now because we marginalise vulnerable people and call it patriotism.

This is the sad truth about what can happen when we live in a society obsessed with creating hostile environments - a mother in poverty left to die, and her baby left without a parent. Mercy’s case isn’t a blip in an otherwise smoothly-running machine, the system has been purposely designed to shut people out and remove safety nets in the hope it will deter people from seeking asylum or refuge here.

While the Home Office has had more to say on deportations and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has had more to say about the lyrics of Rule Britannia recently, it’s Mercy we should all be talking about. And she’s not the first case of this kind. According to Robina, this is the third tragedy to affect the refugee population of Glasgow alone in as many months.

‘Since Lockdown began, we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis in Glasgow,’ she said recently. ‘Very few other agencies are working physically on the ground. We are working on the ground with the support of volunteers and see first hand the misery being created by the asylum process.’

Charities shouldn’t have to be responsible for the lives of desperate families living in this country. We like to think the Dickensian way of living in destitution belongs in the past, but it’s happening now because we marginalise vulnerable people and call it patriotism.

'The Home Office needs to focus on establishing safe routes to the UK and protecting the asylum seekers who are here, not on spewing out what can only be described as grossly misleading and dangerous anti-immigrant propaganda,' says Tanja Bueltmann, a professor of migration history at the University of Strathclyde, on the Home Office's video.

Tanja also points out the video is misleading and parts of it are factually inaccurate.

'The bottom line is: asylum seekers have a right to be here, and the Home Office should not imply otherwise.' She thinks the bigger issue is what it says about lawyers.

'It is an attack on the legal profession that undermines the rule of law,' she adds. 'The video uses the term "activist lawyers" to refer to immigration lawyers who provide legal advice to migrants. This is clearly done to imply that, somehow, these lawyers undermine the law to keep undesired migrants in the UK. In actual fact, what these lawyers do is of course their job: to advise migrants or refugees on their rights under the laws that Parliament created. That’s it. They are meant to do this. Yet the Home Office video implies this is somehow wrong and actually a threat to upholding the law. This is very dangerous territory.'

Ultimately, she explains the problem is that there are essentially no safe routes left to the UK: she says they were shut down by the government. 'So little wonder that desperate people, those fleeing war or torture and perhaps wanting to reunite with family, will take desperate means to get here. The answer lies in establishing safe routes again to let them do that. This is a human question. Misleading dog-whistle-style tweets designed to politicise this question would be bad enough coming from anyone. Coming from a government department they really are inexcusable.'

With a government that tries its best to deter asylum seekers and offers them little help when they're here, it's no surprise tragedies like Mercy's death can take place in the sixth richest country in the world. Worst of all, it could happen again tomorrow. Unless we change attitudes which lead to a culture of mistrust, tragedies like this will be commonplace. We need to show compassion instead of demonising immigrants.

To donate to Mercy's funeral fund click here.

To donate to Positive Action click here.

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