The tragic death of a mother left destitute in a Glasgow flat “must never be allowed to happen again”, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK has said, as Scotland’s First Minister called for a complete reform of the UK’s “deeply inhumane” asylum system.
Nicola Sturgeon said she is “consumed with sadness” and anger at the death of Mercy Baguma, who was found dead next to her starving baby in a Glasgow flat
The Ugandan woman’s body was discovered by police in Govan on Saturday 22nd August and the Scottish First Minister has now called for a complete reform of the UK’s “deeply inhumane” asylum system.
The Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) charity said Ms Baguma’s one-year-old son was “found crying beside his mother’s body, weakened from several days of starvation”.
He has since been released from hospital into the care of his father.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “I find myself consumed with sadness but also with real anger at the death of Mercy Baguma and first and foremost my thoughts – and I’m sure the thoughts of all of us – go to her family and friends following her tragic death.”
Asked about the incident by Scottish Green co-leader Alison Johnstone, Ms Sturgeon continued: “We knew this before this tragedy, but it is underlined by this tragedy – the UK asylum system is not just broken, it is deeply inhumane and it must be changed.
“People who come to Scotland because they need a place of safety should have our support, and that is even more true right now at this time of crisis.”
Ms Sturgeon said her government has repeatedly raised concerns about the Westminster-reserved asylum process and added: “We need wholesale reform of our asylum system and we need to start from the principle of dignity, of empathy and of support for our fellow human beings who come to this country, seeking support at desperate and dismal times of their lives.
“I would appeal to the UK Government to look into their hearts as a result of this case and finally make the changes that are needed to housing.”
Ms Sturgeon added she would support all efforts to investigate Ms Baguma’s death, including backing the PAIH charity’s calls for an inquiry into the accommodation situation faced by asylum seekers in Glasgow during the coronavirus pandemic.
In response to the tragedy, JRS UK expressed concerns at how easily it could be repeated, as it branded the asylum system “woefully inadequate”.
“As we reflect on the tragic death of Mercy Baguma, and our thoughts go out to her child and family, it is terrifying to realise how easily it could be repeated. At JRS UK we work with people who have fled here for safety, but are forced into deep destitution,” said Naomi Turner, JRS UK communities of hospitality co-ordinator. “We regularly speak to people who are in extreme poverty – without enough food and constantly worrying about where they are going to sleep that night – as a consequence of government policy. And for those theoretically entitled to asylum support, the systems in place to facilitate it so often prove woefully inadequate.”
JRS UK said it understood that Ms Baguma had been left destitute following the loss of her job after her limited leave to remain expired and had been relying on donations of food from friends and charitable organisations.
‘People seeking asylum and those without immigration status, are routinely barred from working and cannot access the benefits system,’ JRS UK said in a statement. ‘In our experience, people are left with no way to meet their basic needs and can be left in this situation of limbo for many years. Forgotten by society and wholly reliant on the generosity of others and the support of charities like JRS UK.’
Ms Turner added: “This must never be allowed to happen again. A new approach that truly focuses on ensuring sanctuary seekers get the support they need, and allows them to work to support themselves, is badly needed.”
Sophie Cartwright, JRS UK’s policy officer, added: “The tragic, preventable death of Mercy Baguma sits at the feet of a system that manufactures poverty among those seeking sanctuary here. Now, we are reminded that this system poses a grave danger to human life. It is long past time to end destitution, and replace it with a culture of protection that supports the participation of all.”
Picture: Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA).