Dungavel: Scotland’s Shame

In recent days, the question over how to handle refugees and asylum seekers has reached a boiling point. With the far right in ascendance all over the world- from Hungary and Poland, to the USA and UK- and refugees from war, famine and climate change likely to increase, it seems that the victims of circumstance are going to be left in an increasingly hostile world with nowhere to go.

In the US, Trump’s nativist rhetoric might be shocking to some, but far more damaging to immigrant communities have been institutions like ICE that have existed for longer than Trump’s administration has allowed him to put his rhetoric into practice; founded under Bush Jr, later expanded and used by Obama to enforce mass deportations of groups like the Haitian community, under Trump ICE has been accused of enacting sterilisation of immigrant women in concentration camps. A disgusting practice that is currently being investigated by the US government, but hardly surprising considering Trump’s own comments on refugees and asylum seekers, all in the backdrop of the USA’s long history of bigotry.

This isn’t to say that the American public are, to a number, happy with the policy of their government; cries of “Abolish ICE” have been heard at protests across America, and an attack on an ICE facility was carried out in 2019.

In the UK the debate over what to do with asylum seekers is being answered by the Tory party, an organisation with it own long history of racism that had attempted to rebrand as a modern party under David Cameron, but now led by Boris Johnston, a man prone to bigoted statements that won his election with a manifesto that specifically targeted British Roma by promising to seize their property. Perhaps a party winning an election on a promise to target an ethnic group that was a prime target during the holocaust should have raised more of an alarm among the public, but now this party is the one in charge of determining the UKs policy concerning asylum seekers.

The answers these amoral ghouls are coming up with are as suitably evil as you would imagine: Priti Patel considering shipping asylum seekers to Ascension– an island in the South Atlantic with a population of just over 800, that’s closer to Brazil and Nigeria than it is to the home isle- was a particularly egregious highlight. Being around 6400 kilometres from the UK, the primary reason this was argued against wasn’t on the moral grounds of turning an island in the middle of nowhere into a concentration camp, but instead the costs involved in the morally vacant venture.

The idea of having offshore detention centres to process migrants is heavily inspired by the Australian system of processing migrants, and the idea itself appears to be gaining traction in the UK, despite the failure of the Ascension plan. The idea itself is not without controversy with any such plan meaning the UK would need to withdraw from both the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights to avoid violating the law. The fact that a policy that is widely detracted as based on racism and denying basic human rights violations is being calmly debated simply because another English speaking nation has already put it into practice demonstrates just how far into xenophobia the UK has fallen.

What then about Scotland? We have always portrayed ourselves as the more humanitarian part of the union but how much does that really hold up to inspection? These tensions between those who want to welcome immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees and those who would instead embrace xenophobia definitely exist in our own nation. One saving caveat, at least, is that our government is not seeking to ignite these tensions for political gain. For example, after the tragic attack in June this year by asylum seeker Badreddin Abadlla Adam the Scottish government’s response was to challenge the Home Office for the way it had been treating asylum seekers.

Nicola Sturgeon even chimed into the debate down south around the possibility of offshore detention centres by saying that “They [Westminster] can rest assured that any proposal to treat human beings like cattle in a holding pen will be met with the strongest possible opposition from me”. Is this true however? 

In South Lanarkshire, near Strathaven exists Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre. This facility is operating on Scottish soil, for profit by a private company in the name of the Home Office, housing those who have had their asylum pleas rejected, while they wait for deportation. Currently the capacity of the site has been reduced from 249 to 125 at the start of the year, but this might already be too little too late. A recent outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in fresh calls to close the facility by refugee rights groups, who say the facility has a history of poor treatment for the people it houses, evidenced recently by the death of a man in the facility in 2017. With detention already putting a strain on a person’s physical and mental health one can only imagine the stress a covid outbreak could cause in a facility like this. I would also like to remind readers that these people haven’t broken any laws, they have simply been denied asylum by the Home Office, and that nearly two fifths of the people housed in this facility are reported as being vulnerable. At the time of writing the Home Office have not released the numbers of those infected by and who might have died from Covid-19 at this facility, and even refuses to give exact numbers on the total number of people held there currently.

If Scotland wants to maintain its reputation and self image as a land of tolerance and understanding we have to confront the reality of Dungavel, because a tolerant society can not tolerate a facility like this on its own soil.

Connecting Communities: Poland to Ayrshire

One thing that seemed to have been made clear by the EU referendum was that in general Scotland has a more open and relaxed attitude when it comes to immigration. The reality, however, is something a bit more jarring. The frequency of xenophobic attacks are on the rise and it seems the lies about immigrants being lavished with tax payer money and given houses and cars for nothing (yes this is an actual claim that I have heard made before) are never ending, with more and more poor people in this country being convinced that their problems stem from poor people from other countries.

Scotland and Poland have always had a strong connection. Ever since Polish divisions were stationed here during the Second World war there has always been some kind of Polish community present in Scotland. There is even a 50m x 40m 3D outdoor scale model of Scotland on the grounds of Barony castle that was built there by a Polish WW2 veteran as well as a small group of Polish workers and exchange students. A testament to the country that had provided Jan Tomasik with his wife and a career as a hotelier in the years after the war.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to ask a few questions of some of the Polish people in our community and find out what life is like for people who came here with the hopes of a better life.

JamesSo what made you decide to leave Poland? What brought you to Ayrshire?

Ewelina – I left Poland in 2007. In June that year I finished college and decided to study at Jagiellonian University (in Kraków). At the time I was basically a single parent, my partner at the time had been recruited for a job in Kilmarnock from a Polish work agency. I must add, at the time in Poland the economic situation was very bad. Most people, including my family, lived on the edge of poverty and there was no welfare system. In few words, it was hard. My partner suggested that I joined him along with my son and that’s how we came to be in Ayrshire.

Monika – I left Poland 10 years ago, for economic reasons mostly, but I always wanted to live in the UK. At the time, as a single mother in Poland I struggled to support myself and my daughter, even though I worked full time and had family helping with childcare, etc. My dad was already living in Ayrshire so I chose to come and stay with him.

Magdalena – The economic situation in Poland, difficulties in finding a job and a lack of prospects for the future is why I decided to leave. My husbands parents had been living in Ayrshire already so we decided to join them.

James – Has life been any easier for you since you moved to Ayrshire?

Ewelina – I thought living in Scotland would be a dream come true but it was really hard in the beginning. For some reason Polish people were seen only as cheap labour. We would be hired to do work that people here didn’t want to do and in general we’d be paid less to do it. Despite this I still earned more than a bookkeeper in Poland by washing dishes in a restaurant so in a way life was better! I had to go to college again in Ayrshire to gain some qualifications and learn new skills and now I have a better job.

Monika – Life is easier in Scotland for us. As a single mother I’m able to support us and even save a little, which I wasn’t able to do in Poland.

Magdalena – A little bit yes, but it’s not as good as we expected it to be.

James – Has it been easy to make friends here or do you tend to gravitate more towards other Polish people?

Ewelina – Scottish people are very friendly (most of them!) and open. In my opinion it is easy to make friends here as long as you’re fair and treat people how you would like to be treated, with respect and understanding. I’ve got roughly the same amount of Polish and Scottish friends, I like them all!

Monika – I have family here who I spend most of my time with and a few friends/ colleagues that are both Polish and Scottish. Language is not a barrier for me though, so I think it’s a little easier for me.

Magdalena – Due to the hobby that I have (Dog training) I’ve met quite a few people and made friends with a couple but generally we just keep to ourselves. I only have a few Polish friends but I’m not looking for more.

James – Have you encountered any prejudice during your time here?

Ewelina – Unfortunately yes. Usually in my places of work with random people who would ask me questions like “why don’t you want to go back home?” or say things like “your country must be empty as so many of you left!”. Also my children were bullied for being Polish so we had to change schools. Now we don’t have problems. I know that behind behaviour like that are parents who live in a world of illusions. They believe any lies they are told.

Monika – I have… In real day to day life not very often and nothing major. Just people expressing their opinions on immigration but it’s mostly on TV, online or in the papers. My daughter has witnessed incidents on the playground at school where Polish or Muslim kids were bullied for being foreign.

Magdalena – Luckily, No

James – Has Brexit affected how you view this country?

Ewelina – “BREXIT” that big scary word that everyone wants to run from! Yes, I’m scared, distracted and just tired. I have everything here, family, friends, my job… Life! It doesn’t seem fair that you can just come and tell people “OK! It was nice having you here but now is your time to leave.” It’s unfair. I’ve paid for permission to live and work in Scotland, paid all of my taxes and now if I’m denied settlement status I have to go! Just like that. It is sad that the British/ Polish people have been deceived in this way. Now everyone will be affected.

Monika – It has. I felt at home here and now I don’t. It changed everything. Before the referendum we never even considered going back to Poland. Home was Scotland, but now it’s more than a possibility. My daughter considered herself Scottish – now she wants to go back to Poland. We’re tired of it all, this governments rhetoric on immigration most of all. They aren’t giving us any assurances and we don’t trust anything that they say. The settled status is a sham. When we came here 10 years ago I had to pay (a lot) for my right to work. A year later they scrapped it. Now they want us to register again. And the scheme doesn’t guarantee anything because the Home Office can revoke your settled status at any moment – that’s if you even get it in the first place. They’re not exactly known for their competence either. How can anyone live like that? And what would a no deal Brexit mean for us? Do we just become illegal overnight? It’s been so stressful, but it’s not as easy as just packing our suitcases and leaving. We’ve built our lives here. We have responsibilities, friends and family.

Magdalena – Yes as it’s a lot of uncertainty now. We don’t know what to expect and how our life will be afterwards.

I would like to thank Ewelina, Monika and Magdalena for the insights they have provided and I hope that whether leave or remain, we can take note of the chaos this situation has caused in the lives of fellow working people who have brought more to this country than they are given credit for, in spite of what some would have you believe when they talk about the “dangers” of immigration.

Connecting Communities: Ayrshire to Vietnam

by James McLean

Over the next few months the ACU plans on highlighting some of the people that are a part of Ayrshire that have made the big decision to leave everything behind and move to a different place. Whether that is someone that has moved here to join our community in search of a better life or as is the case with the subject of this weeks article, someone who has grown up in Ayrshire but decided to move elsewhere in the world for various reasons.

So why, you might ask, would someone want to move to Vietnam of all places?

Well Vietnam is really one of the most dynamic emerging countries in East Asia. The economy in Vietnam is growing and strengthening, this is supported by a robust domestic demand and export-oriented manufacturing. The world bank predicts that this growth will continue into the future with poverty in the country declining further as the labour market conditions continue to be favourable.

To find out why an Ayrshire boy would decide to move to the other side of the world we decided to interview Ian Lamont. Ian grew up on a farm in Ayrshire but has lived in Vietnam for the past two years teaching English. The following is a transcript of our interview.

J – So, first off just a bit of background for the readers, how long did you live in Ayrshire and what was the last thing to were doing before you left?

I – I’ve lived in Ayrshire almost my entire life – for about 24 years. I moved to Glasgow for Uni for a bit but most of my life was spent here. Before I moved, I was working as a bartender at a couple of hotels/ Restaurants.

J – Great, so what was it that made you want to move to another country?

I – Really, I moved away because I wanted to experience somewhere completely different and I wanted a bit of adventure.

J – What would you say is a difficulty of living in Ayrshire that you don’t have living in Vietnam?

I – A problem I had living in Ayrshire was that it was very difficult to find a relatively well-paying job. It’s much easier to find good work in Vietnam.

J – Is there anything that would make you want to move back to Ayrshire or are you planning on staying in Vietnam for the foreseeable future?

I – If the job market improved, I’d definitely be tempted. Also, most of my friends and family live in Ayrshire so I would probably move back to be closer to them.

J – And finally, is there anything you’d like to say to others that might be considering a big change similar to yours?

I – To others I would say, save up some money and go for it – don’t hesitate. You can always move back if it’s not enjoyable.

I’d like to thank Ian for his time and please do leave a comment on our Facebook page if you think you’d like to emigrate and try something completely different!

Next in the Connecting Communities series we will be taking a look at the Polish community in Ayrshire and specifically why one woman decided to move here in the first place.

photo courtesy of Ian Lamont