Last week, Mercy Baguma, a 34-year-old asylum seeker originally from Uganda, was discovered in a flat in Glasgow, dead. Not too far from her lay her one-year-old malnourished and starving baby in his cot, crying for his now lifeless Mother.
Refugee charity, Positive Action in Housing have since disclosed that Ms Baguma had been living in “extreme poverty” and had contacted them just weeks prior, stating that she did not have enough money for herself and her child. Having lost her job after her limited leave to remain status expired, she was also relying on food deliveries from the charity African Challenge Scotland.
Her death is still being investigated. Whatever the cause of her death is – be that from stress arising from not being able to feed her baby, or from actual starvation herself – her death is an absolute tragedy.
And her death isn’t an isolated tragedy concerning asylum seekers in Scotland either. Just as recently as in May 2020, a 30-year-old Syrian refugee, Adnan Walid Elbi, was found dead in his room at the temporary accommodation he was staying in, in Glasgow.
What has transpired in these cases is fundamentally inhumane.
Ms Baguma wasn’t a ‘lazy immigrant’. (I don’t read newspapers like The Daily Mail – are asylum seekers still being branded that)? Given the opportunity, she would have worked to provide for herself and her young child.
So what does her death say about the U.K.’s asylum system – one that denied her the opportunity to earn a living, and in doing so signed off a death warrant that left her poor baby without a Mother?
says yells: “THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN!”.
Quieter still, it pleads: “Please someone fix it”.
This week, I am writing to the Bar Council. They regulate the standards of work carried out by legal professionals and they also work with the British Government to overcome challenges that the U.K.’s legal services face.
While the Home Office investigates Ms Baguma’s death, I am putting forward my own case for legal reform pertaining to cases like Mercy Baguma’s.
These cases highlight a need for reform in this area of law because at present, asylum seekers are all too easily, most precariously slipping through the cracks of the U.K.’s failing asylum system. This failing system sees asylum seekers plunge, or should I say, has their young dependants almost starve rather, to their deaths.
The law’s current position is that asylum seekers can apply for a right to work in the UK only after they have waited twelve months for a decision on their asylum claim. Until then, they are not permitted to work but are instead entitled to government benefits of £35.75 a week…that averages to just about 5.10p a day.
It’s utterly ridiculous to think this is enough to survive on for one person, let alone that this amount of money would be enough to support one in raising a family. While we’re on the topic of money though, let’s discuss the fiscal cost of banning asylum seekers from working in the UK.
That cost comes to approximately £98 million every year (from lost tax and national insurance revenue). The human cost of banning human beings with potential from entering the work-force is also something to consider. The human cost of asylum law compromises one’s dignity and mental health and forces them into poverty.
In the current climate, with the outbreak of Coronavirus having steered Britain into a recession for the first time in 11 years, now more than ever is the time to allow diverse skilled workers to improve shortages in sectors such as health and social care which are in desperate need of key-workers.
Before one considers the economic value asylum seekers can contribute to our society however, it is important first to look at asylum seekers as humanly as possible. That is to say, one must recognise that stood before them is a vulnerable person who has crossed an international border in search of protection but whose claim for refuge status is still pending.
Because that’s the type of vulnerable person an asylum seeker is. And we should be mindful of that and of their vulnerability when considering them.
I am going to be mindful of this and mindful of Mercy Baguma’s case when I’m writing to the Bar Council this week.
In the mean time, I want to let my readers know that if any of you have been saddened to learn of Ms Baguma’s death last week, your sadness is perfectly normal and well-founded.
You don’t have to be a lawyer to hear of Mercy Baguma’s case and see that there’s something wrong with the U.K.’s asylum system. You don’t even have to be an empath. Just human. Her tragic death and her child’s entirely preventable malnourishment will strike a chord with you, if you’re reading this and you’re human.
While I write to the Bar Council urging them for a systemic change to the asylum system and try to push forward legal reform which allows asylum seekers to work, my readers are welcome to support the late Mercy Baguma. A Gofundme page has raised over £40,000 for Ms Baguma’s funeral and I believe some of this money will go towards the upbringing of her child.
You can contribute by donating at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/mercy-baguma039s-furneal-fund.
If that isn’t for you, that’s fine too. But maybe you can engage in dialogue about the U.K.’s broken asylum system or write to a person of power in your community to open up such a discussion at a local level?
In lieu of that, my readers are encouraged to stay up-to-date with my website, where I’ve no doubt I will keep you posted as and when I hear back from the Bar Council.