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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
'Economic jealousy' divides community
Sighthill residents visit the fruit and vegetable stall
Residents visit the fruit and vegetable stall at St Rollox
By BBC News Online Scotland's Graeme Esson

Asylum seekers find themselves in Glasgow for many different reasons, but the majority have one thing in common - they arrive with nothing.

Families can be brought to the city with little more than the clothes they are wearing.

The deprived Sighthill area has become the home for 1,500 of the 4,000 asylum seekers who are currently housed in Glasgow.

Their starting points have included the Balkans, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, the Middle East, Sri Lanka and a number of African countries, such as Rwanda.

Tribute to Firsat Yildiz
A candle is lit at the church in memory of Firsat Yildiz
"Sometimes they come with the clothes they stand up in," said Elspeth Jones, the wife of local Rev Gwynfai Jones and one of those in the community who have been working to help them in a new country.

"In the very beginning, people came in with shoes hanging off their feet.

"They go into a house that is furnished, which is the main grouse that the local people have got - but there has been a misunderstanding.

"Yes it is furnished, but it is very basic.

"If it is a family of four, there are four knifes, four forks, four spoons - and then they live on the equivalent of 70% of income support.

"Statistics have said that you can't have a decent diet living on 100% of income support, but these people live on 70% - and most of that is vouchers."

We are going to work and work at this, and we are going to have a community where both sides will no longer consider themselves to be both sides

Elspeth Jones
Not all shops accept the vouchers, and those that do are not allowed to give change.

To help the asylum seekers - and anyone else in the local community on a low income - St Rollox Church allows its premises to be used by a co-operative, run by student volunteers from Glasgow University, which offers cheap fruit and vegetables every Tuesday.

The following day the church is home to an initiative tied in with the Glasgow the Caring City charity, where clothes and other items are distributed for free.

The majority of the people using both services are asylum seekers, and their needs are varied.

Most of them arrive with very little and are only issued with one change of bedding, so items like sheets and towels are always in demand.

Sighthill flats
The refugees are housed in nearby flats
Toys, prams and high chairs and also needed by those with families, and those involved try to track down any specific items the asylum seekers may need.

"We do our best to help them any way we can," said Rev Jones, who has been minister at St Rollox Church for 34 years.

However, there are tensions in an area where more than 90 racially-motivated attacks have been reported to the police this year.

These came to the surface in the aftermath of the murder of 22-year-old Turkish Kurd Firsat Yildiz, a crime in which police have refused to rule out a racial motive.

Asylum seekers staged a protest after Sunday's killing, which was followed on Monday by a demonstration involving 100 local residents who were alleging favouritism towards asylum seekers.

Economic jealousy

Rev Jones said he understood why such incidents had created fear within the area's refugee community.

"They don't speak our language, they don't understand our ways and they are obviously frightened - in most cases unnecessarily," he said.

But he stressed: "We do not have racism in Sighthill - we have economic jealousy."

And he said the attitudes tended to change when people got to know the stories of those who have fled their homes and ended up in Glasgow.

Rev Gwynfai Jones and his wife Elspeth
Rev Gwynfai Jones and his wife Elspeth outside the church
"While they have got their grouses and complaints about this perception of unfairness, when they understand the background of these people they feel sympathy for them."

Mrs Jones gave the example of one woman whose husband helped her leave her home country with their children.

She did not know at the time that she was pregnant and did not find out until she contacted her family back home that her husband had been killed after she fled.

"With people like that, what else can you do but help them?" she asked.

An example from one of the local schools also showed the impact when people are told these stories.

"One girl had been through quite a lot and at the end of the term she wrote an autobiographical essay.

Message of hope

"The class teacher asked permission to read it to the whole class and the teacher said the kids were stunned to realise where they were coming from," said Mrs Jones.

She said a lot of barriers had been broken down in the area since the first asylum seekers arrived last year - until the murder and its aftermath brought things back to square one.

But she had a message of hope for the future.

"We are going to work and work at this, and we are going to have a community where both sides will no longer consider themselves to be both sides," she said.

See also:

07 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Asylum policy remains after stabbings
05 Aug 01 | Scotland
Murder hunt for Turkish man's killer
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