As Immigration Officers were banging on the door and the YMCA were preparing to evict them, the family who were escaping from the attentions of the Russian Secret Police, decided to end it all. In any other situation this would be a situation where charges of manslaughter or muder were brought. As it is nothing has been done nor will it be done legally by those responsible for the Serhki's deaths.
What makes this worse is that the YMCA, a ‘Christian’ organisation, was a partner in this murder. And murder it certainly was. This was no assisted suicide. The family was forced into taking their lives because their situation was, as seen by them, so hopeless.
Of course one doesn’t expect newspapers like the Express and Daily Hate Mail to print stories about how successful their campaign against bogus asylum seekers is, but one would expect the ‘anti-racist’ Guardian and Indie to have something to say, although to be fair the Indie has an excellent reputation for hard hitting coverage.
The YMCA though should hold its head in shame. It apparently has a ‘no eviction’ policy towards asylum seekers. This ‘policy’ was demonstrated to be observed in the breach when a young Afghani asylum seeker from the same block of flats came to the demonstration by local residents and refugees in memory of the Serkhi family. As he was at the demonstration, the YMCA ordered its cleaners into his room and dumped his belongings in the nearest rubbish bin.
As the excellent Robina Quereshi, from Positive Action in Housing, one of the few charities who have been wholly anti-racist and supportive of asylum speakers, said in the letter below, you wouldn’t treat an animal like this. Yet Joe Connolly and his fellow administrators at YMCA are more attracted by the money they screw from the British state to ‘house’ asylum seekers than they are by the idea that they might be helping the most wretched on this earth.
The YMCA has long form on this. They have collaborated with the State repeatedly over workfare schemes. Their only principle is to make as much money out of the poor as possible. As for their ‘Christianity’ we shouldn’t be too critical. After all they come in a long tradition. In 1933 the Protestant Church split with the majority at first going into what was known as the Reich Church led by a Hitler supporter, Bishop Muller. It found scriptural authority in the Bible for Hitler’s biological racism, in much the same way as the Orange Free Church in South Africa found justification in the Bible (the story of Ham) for Apartheid. Or just as the leader of the Southern Baptists in the US, John Hagee (who is visiting Britain soon) believes that the holocaust is god’s work and just as Zionists agree with him, both on this and the biblical right they have to take over and steal other peoples’ land and farms.
It will be interesting to see if the Church of England has anything to say about one of the main ‘Christian’ charities in Britain. Another good article is on Socialist Unity.
10th March 2010
FAO Joe Connolly
25 Daba Street
Glasgow G51 2JA
Dear Mr. Connelly,
TREATMENT OF ASYLUM SEEKERS AT YMCA ACCOMMODATION
Last night, while attending a candlelit vigil in memory of the Serkhi family alongside over 200 residents of the Red road flats, myself and representatives from the Scottish Afghan Association, Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees were approached by a young Afghan man, Saeed. He explained that he had left his YMCA flat on the 21st floor to join the other residents at the vigil.
After about an hour, he returned to the flat whereupon he found that his room completely cleared of his belongings and was told by the YMCA staff cleaning out his room that his stuff was gone and he couldn’t return to the flat because the room was “for someone else” He asked us for help and was clearly distressed. When we were approached by the young man, a crowd of people gathered round around 25 to 30 who were clearly distressed and upset and angry for the young man. There was a small police presence of around three officers and we were in a potentially flammatory situation. We took him aside and went with him to his flat. It was empty as if he had never been there. The cleaners hoover and cleaning materials were in the flat. He looked in cupboards, drawers, all his things were gone. We witnessed this first hand and were quite shocked and went with him to speak to your staff at reception. Saeed was casually told that his belongings were in the bin. Saeed was stood before us at eight o clock in the evening with a set of keys he could no longer use, the clothes he was wearing, and a letter from the YMCA telling him to leave. All his papers and personal belongings were ‘probably in the bin’. He had no money, papers, clothes and no means to support himself. This man was treated worse than an animal. For someone to just come into his flat and throw out all his personal belongings while he steps out for a few minutes displays a complete lack of respect, compassion or humanity, and particularly at such a sensitive time in the Red Road community.
It is my understanding that Strathclyde Police deliberately reduced the numbers of police officers to ease tensions within the community and particularly amongst vulnerable people in the depths of despair about their asylum cases. If this is the YMCA’s standard practice when treating asylum seekers, then it is nothing short of flammatory to the Red road community and a disgrace to civilized society.
On a separate note, we would be grateful to know the following:
1. What level of cooperation does the YMCA afford to the UKBA enforcement removal team
seeking to remove asylum seekers from the YMCA flats?
2. How much money does the YMCA receive per asylum seeker for its UKBA contract at the Red
3. We suspect many asylum seekers are being driven to desperation by the combination of
inhumane practices being perpetrated by the UKBA and the YMCA to the point they have said
firsthand that they fully understand why the Serkhi family threw themselves from the 15th floor
of one of your flats. Will the YMCA be evicting any more asylum seekers during this troubled
time at the Red Road when so many people are in the depths of despair and hopelessness?
I would be extremely grateful for an immediate response.
VIGIL AND PRESS CONFERENCE
11 AM FRIDAY 19 MARCH 2010
UKBA, BRAND STREET REPORTING CENTRE
200 BRAND STREET, GOVAN, GLASGOW
PLEASE ATTEND A VIGIL AND PRESS CONFERENCE IN SUPPORT OF 18 YEAR OLD SAEED, WHOSE BELONGINGS AND ROOM WAS CLEARED OUT BY THE YMCA ON THE NIGHT OF THE VIGIL FOR THE SEHRYK FAMILY AT THE RED ROAD FLATS. WE ARE CONCERNED THAT SAEED MAY BE DETAINED AND ASK SUPPORTERS TO COME ALONG AND SUPPORT SAEED AT BRAND STREET REPORTING CENTRE AT 11.00 AM AT BRAND STREET . A HIGH LEVEL OF SUPPORT AND PRESS COVERAGE IS ANTICIPATED.
Many people will be aware of the story of the asylum seeker whose belongings were cleared out of his room at the Red Road flats by the YMCA while he was at a candlelit vigil for the Sehryk Family alongside 250 other residents at 63 Petershill Drive , Glasgow on Tuesday 9th March 2010. Saeed had received a letter from the YMCA telling him to leave his flat but he has nowhere else to go.
There was clearly a lot of tensions and sadness following the Red road suicides and for this to happen at all, never mind on the night of the vigil, showed, in our view a clear lack of humanity or compassion. Tensions could have flared as 25-30 people gathered round to see what the young man was upset about.
People were clearly distressed and upset and angry for the young man, especially after what had happened to the Sehryk family, clearly there was an incredulity in the air about the depths to which our “civilised” society could sink at a time of such despair and hopelessness in this community.
To calm things, we went with the young man, Saeed, to his flat. The events were filmed. The flat was indeed completely cleared out except for the cleaner’s Hoover (marked Cynthia) and cleaner’s trolley. We followed Saeed and a representative of the Scottish Afghan Society, Mohammad Asif, spoke to the staff at reception, two men. The two men rummaged amongst bags of other people’s clothes and called out names to Saeed. These were clearly not his. They then told Saeed in the presence of six witnesses that his stuff was probably thrown out or in the bin. Saeed was stood before us in the clothes he wore, with a pair of keys and a letter from the YMCA telling him to leave. (See attached).
On Wednesday 10th March, we sent a letter to the YMCA by email dated Wed 10/03/2010 18:46 expressing our shock at the way this young man was treated. We made it clear that if this is the YMCA’s standard practice when treating asylum seekers, then it is nothing short of flammatory to the Red road community and a disgrace to civilized society.
In a reply to Positive Action in Housing dated Thursday 11 March 2010, the YMCA’s Chief Executive Joe Connoly denied receiving our correspondence and stated that our account of events were “defamatory and offensive”. Mr Connoly went onto state that YMCA Glasgow has a “no eviction” policy.
This does not tie in with Saeed’s experience or those who witnessed what happened to him. If you get a letter telling you to leave by the YMCA and then find that all your belongings have been cleared out, then in our estimation, Saeed was evicted.
We should make it clear that we have filmed evidence of the events that unfolded on the night of Tuesday 9 March 2010 and sworn statements from Saeed and other witnesses. Furthermore, we have other service users who have received letters telling them to vacate YMCA accommodation. Yet they have nowhere to go.
In a separate piece of correspondence on Thursday 11 March 2010, the YMCA stated:
“The person [Saeed] is with his belongings, accommodated by YMCA Glasgow and, in accordance with our no eviction policy, will remain so until the Scottish Refugee Council are able to provide him with the assistance he requires”.
According to Saeed, this is simply not true. On Wednesday 10 March, he stayed at another asylum seekers flat, sleeping on the sofa. The following day, Thursday 11 March, a YMCA staff member searched for and found Saeed at the other asylum seeker’s flat, and hurriedly reinstated him in his original room that had been cleared out. The YMCA staff member then handed him a bag of dirty, scorched clothes, and told him, "Your problem is over". His dead family's photographs are still missing.
Unfortunately it was not over, for two reasons. Firstly, the bin bag of clothes that Saeed was given were not his. In fact, to add insult to injury, the clothes he received back were dirty, scorched and not even his size or style. Secondly, the following day, Friday 12 March, Saeed went to report at the UKBA Brand Street Reporting Centre. UKBA staff told him that he must report every week instead of the usual fortnightly reporting. Saeed is very worried about this sudden change in frequency of reporting, and thinks it is because he has attracted attention by talking about the way he was treated.
On Tuesday 16 March, Positive Action in Housing gave Saeed a little bit of money from our hardship fund to buy food as he has no other means of support. Yesterday, Wednesday 17 March, Saeed's lawyer advised him to report the missing belongings to the Police. We contacted Strathclyde Police who spoke to the YMCA. Today, Thursday 18 March, Saeed informed us that a YMCA member of staff visited him to find out what was missing and to begin a search of his missing belongings. As yet, Saeed’s belongings remain missing.
At 11 am, tomorrow, Friday 19 March, Saeed will attend a press conference prior to going into Brand Street to sign. The conference will provide an update to Saeed's extraordinary circumstances.
Saeed fled Afghanistan to escape the Taleban because they were forcing young men and boys in his neighbourhood to become suicide bombers.
This is not the first time that the treatment of asylum seekers by the YMCA has come under public scrutiny. As early as June 2000, the Sunday Herald reported that:
“More than 20 representatives of a group of 102 asylum-seekers housed in the YMCA building in Springburn said they were living in fear, being supplied with inadequate food and were discriminated against by the building's staff, who would not allow visitors. Ola Adewale said he arrived in Britain two months ago. He fled his Nigerian home in fear of his life, after earlier being detained and tortured by security services for speaking out against the government. He told the Sunday Herald he had been victimised by senior members of the YMCA's staff. "Up until last week, most of them were not treating us like human beings," he said. "I was in the building's reception and I picked up a magazine to read. A senior staff member said, 'Get away from that place, it is not for asylum seekers'.
In July 2000, the Herald newspaper reported that :
“Asylum seekers called on MSPs to take action over conditions in their temporary accommodation which make them feel like 'prisoners'. Seven Glasgow-based refugees met the politicians to give them accounts of their difficulties and submitted a 70-signature petition describing their 'deplorable' conditions. The refugees, who were mostly professionals in their home countries, spoke of their fear and anxiety living at the YMCA centre in Sighthill, and said they had been attacked in their rooms and in the street. Their 'plea for support' expressed gratitude for 'providing us with a safe place in which to hide after our escape from almost certain death, torture and other forms of persecution'. It added that Glaswegians had 'consistently shown us a lot of love and a spirit of friendliness which we have found astonishing'. However, it went on to say that the YMCA accommodation was 'ridden with problems' because of inappropriate diet and meal times, and many asylum seekers were suffering weight loss problems. The petition accused the YMCA of treating the refugees like 'prisoners', although it conceded that they were at least now allowed visitors. It described as 'incomprehensible' the decision to place four women - including one who is pregnant - and two children, aged eight and nine, among 90 men in what could be a tense and aggressive atmosphere.”