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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
21st May 2009


Man’s inhumanity to man

All this week I’ve been very closely involved with the case of an asylum seeker family.  Fatou Felicite Gaye and her four-year-old son Arouna were detained in an early morning raid – the UK Border Agency claims it wasn’t a dawn raid because it took place at 06:45 and dawn raids take place before 06:30, but I’m not sure that the subtle distinction mattered all that much to a frightened young child who was woken by seven burly enforcement officers, dragged from his bed and taken to Dungavel.

Arouna, the young boy, was born in Scotland and has lived here all his life.  He suffers post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his earlier encounters with UKBA and there can be little doubt that his latest encounter will not have helped that condition.  Jim Murphy, Secretary of State for Scotland, in a letter to the Herald, said that he didn’t come into politics to detain children and that sometimes families needed ‘help to go home’ when they had refused to leave.

The lack of common human decency from the Labour Government in London is embarrassing to us all and Jim Murphy’s attempts to excuse himself from responsibility for the detention of a child in Dungavel represent just the latest pitiful example.

In October 2008 Labour said detention of children at Dungavel would stop, but six months later a child was detained and Labour's man in Scotland said that he wants to "reserve the right to take enforceable action to help a family return home".  A four year old child, born in Scotland, suffering from a stress disorder thanks to his last encounter with the UK's Border Agency, is taken from his bed in the early hours of the morning and deposited in a prison and Jim Murphy says he is ‘helping’ the family return home.  ‘Helping’ is not the right word here, Mr Murphy.

In October 2008 the UK Government said it would finally sign up to all of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The detention of children at Dungavel is a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Mr Murphy’s government is detaining a four year old Scots-born child for deportation to the Ivory Coast – detained with no consideration for the health, education or even human rights of the child.  The Foreign Office travel advice for the Cote d'Ivoire warns of terrorism, armed militia, sporadic violence, and the potential for the “sudden deterioration of law and order”, but this is where Jim Murphy wants to send this mother and child.  He claims he did not come into politics to detain children.  His actions say otherwise.

Arouna and his mother have been moved out of Scotland, removed from Dungavel to Yarls Wood detention centre.  I believe that this is an attempt to try to bypass the strong public feeling in Scotland that views such treatment of children as abhorrent, and to avoid the scrutiny of the Scottish courts examining the case for human rights violations.  I’ve been in touch with the solicitor acting for the family and I know that he intends to continue to pursue this as long as possible.  I’ll give him every support, the behaviour of UKBA in this case, as in so many other cases, has been disgusting and I feel ashamed that they were able to do this in my country, in my name, and in direct opposition to the wishes of the Scottish people.

The regional director of UKBA followed up Jim Murphy’s letter with one of his own seeking to justify the actions of his organisation by claiming that they seek to persuade asylum seeker families to leave the country if they have failed to win their case.  He said “Where, over a protracted period of time, the parents make it clear that they have no intention of obeying our courts and our laws, the UK Border Agency has a duty to enforce those decisions.”

This mother and son aren’t failed asylum seekers and they weren’t when they were detained, they were pursuing a legitimate case for asylum.  Fatou’s case was developing in what the Home Office may have regarded as a dangerous manner, given that a full medical assessment of her son's condition was due to be made on June 3.

At issue was whether Arnou, the young boy, had been traumatised by his experience of being detained by UKBA.  Fatou's reporting letter was green flagged, signifying that a person's case is not yet "appeal rights exhausted", her asylum case was not finished, it was still going through the system.  Far from being a failed asylum seeker who was refusing to leave, Fatou was and is an asylum seeker whose case is still ongoing.  The real reason for her early morning detention must be something other than a necessity to force her to leave the country.  She received a refusal letter only when she reached Dungavel – and there is still a court case to go.

Four medical professionals told the Home Office that Arnou was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and a full assessment was coming, but a Home Office official described those medical opinions as "speculative" in a letter given to Ms Gaye.

Fatou fled her homeland in fear of her life.  In Cote D'Ivoire she was married to a successful businessman and was pregnant when her husband’s business was attacked and burned during the civil war there – she does not know whether he is alive or not.  She was gang-raped and imprisoned, escaped with the help of a friend, and came here.  Since she got here and asked for asylum she has done what she can to be useful.  The rules mean that asylum seekers are not allowed to work but she has volunteered to help out in projects like the St Rollox Asylum Seekers Support Project.

From a relatively wealthy existence in Cote D'Ivoire, Ms Gaye could afford to get here.  She might have considered herself to be in a better condition than most asylum seekers – the ones who can’t afford to reach Europe and have to walk across the border into a neighbouring country.  It is to our shame that she and her son have been treated so abysmally in the four years that she has been here – we should not let that despicable behaviour continue in our name, we should be saying that it should end, we should be demanding that it ends.  I’ll continue to do so and I hope you’ll join me in that.

That case will continue and I’m confident that the solicitor will do what he can – I hope it’s enough.  I raised it today at First Minister’s Questions, and SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond expressed his disappointment with the UK Government’s actions and condemned the “unacceptable” actions of the UK Government saying; "It is not acceptable to detain children, in an establishment like Dungavel, in Scotland."

With all of that going on, much of the rest of the week seems trivial by comparison, we’ve seen the continued drip of the expenses scandal form London and the resignation of Michael Martin as Speaker, we’ve been treated to the worst of politics as the tribes in London turned in on themselves, tearing each other apart over the greed of some of them, the grasping avarice that has finally done them in, and they have, by and large, ignored the real issues of the day, the important politics which require attention.  Self interested and self important, they have forgotten why they were sent to Parliament and appear to be ignoring those who sent them there.

Out in the community, meanwhile, I was honoured to present the prizes at the Davie Cooper Sevens on Sunday – the girls’ competition was won by Townhill and the boys’ competition by Newfield – there’s a star or two in the making there – keep an eye out for them.

On Tuesday I was at a benefit night for the NUJ (I know, journalists again) which was great fun and I was told by one of the speakers that I should consider a career in stand-up comedy.  She was referring to the jokes in my speech rather than my politics before you get any ideas!

Into Parliament this week, education committee on the Wednesday followed by Stage 3 of the Additional Support for Learning Bill – Labour members, including those who sit on the committee, still don’t seem to have grasped what the legislation was about, which is a great pity.  Today’s business in chamber was Labour’s business, their flawed motion criticising the SNP for supporting students in better fashion than Labour ever did and trying to insist that we force students to take loans of £7,000 a year.  Some tuition fee that would be.  The debate should be worth watching on Holyrood TV at http://www.holyrood.tv/library.asp?iPid=3&section=31&title=General+Debates – I’m on at 29 minutes and 38 seconds.

I’m off to the Edinburgh Colleges Collaboration Group reception.


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