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Last Updated: Monday, 5 March 2007, 17:50 GMT
Asylum seekers targeted by gangs
Stephen Stewart
BBC Scotland news website

Clad in the youth uniform of shellsuits, baseball caps and trainers, the teenagers swig from half empty MD 20/20 bottles.

The scene in the shadow of a decaying tower block is played out in towns and cities across the UK by bored youngsters hanging around on street corners.

Swastika graffiti

But this is Scotland's largest city and these youths are part of a worrying new trend - self-styled street gangs which increasingly target asylum seekers and refugees.

Some of those now terrorising housing schemes in Glasgow have allegedly formed tentative links with Nazi groups and display a fevered determination to attack refugees and asylum seekers.

Glasgow's gangs are nothing new. They have a long and violent history dating back to fearsome battles fought over long-forgotten streets during the 18th century.

As the city positions itself as a post-industrial success story, many would rather forget the city's notorious street gangs and their appetite for Clockwork Orange-style "recreational violence".

But this new breed of (predominantly) teenage thugs has been quick to capitalise on the sinister opportunities offered by the internet.

Gang websites and online forums proliferate with links to extremist groups such as Combat 18 and loyalist paramilitaries. Notorious gangs such as the Toryglen Nazi Circus, the Young Toryglen Toi and the Bowery Wee Mob have websites daubed with Nazi insignia and links to far-right discussion forums.

Glasgow has a long history of violent gang culture

In the south side of Glasgow, one gang member, who asked not to be named, said: "Why shouldn't we give them a hard time?

"They (asylum seekers) are dropped in here from all over the place and end up with the best houses in the scheme.

"We just give them grief and it can get a bit mental."

Groups, such as the BNP, have already used recent flashpoints such as the Kriss Donald murder trial to fuel racial hatred.

The case, one of Scotland's most high profile racially motivated murders, became a cause celebre for gang members who use message boards to discuss attacks on asylum seekers and refugees.

Several gang web pages, complete with pictures of gang members in various states of intoxication, are linked to another series of websites billing themselves as a forum for "national socialists worldwide".

An entry from Glasgow used a number of racial epithets and issued an ominous warning about the Kriss Donald murder.

It said: "It's a disgrace. Imagine if it was an ethnic child who was snatched off the street, tortured and killed.

"Gone but never forgotten, wee man, justice is coming."

Gang signs

Some of these gangs have a fearsome reputation for violence and are quick to defend their territory against "outsiders".

It would appear for many of them, that asylum seekers and refugees have formed an easily identifiable target.

One area in Glasgow has more than 300 asylum seeker and refugee families.

While some members of the community have welcomed asylum seekers with open arms, gangs of youths have also tried to make their lives a misery.

The area is dotted with aging multi-storey flats and run-down shop fronts. Most of them are emblazoned with gang signs and racially offensive graffiti.

As a group, asylum seekers and refugees are easily 'othered'
Dr Susan Batchelor
University of Glasgow

One local community activist said: "There were some real problems and at one time we thought the asylum seekers would have to get bussed in and out.

"It's a youth problem. These kids have nothing to do and they are fiercely territorial. Drink is often involved too.

"Then when you add a group of asylum seekers or refugees who in some cases look different or have a different cultural background, these gangs can react.

"You do get swastikas daubed on shop fronts and that type of thing and it is totally unacceptable.

"Whether that is part of youthful bravado and an attempt to look tough or of something more sinister remains to be seen. It is very worrying."

Fears of a growing politicisation of gangs and the specific targeting of ethnic minorities comes at a time when there is already a massive exodus among asylum seekers.

Gang website
A street gang's website is dotted with far-right insignia

Nearly all of Scotland's asylum seekers are based in Glasgow, but research has shown two-thirds leave the city once the Home Office has approved their claims.

A Scottish Executive study labelled the levels of racial harassment "shocking".

Dr Susan Batchelor, a leading criminologist at the University of Glasgow, said asylum seekers and refugees were an easy target for young gang members.

She said: "These gangs are very territorial. Some of them are quick to chase out anyone who enters their patch and asylum seekers would fall into that category.

"As a group, asylum seekers and refugees are easily 'othered'. They perhaps speak a different language or have a different culture and it is very easy for them to be singled out.

"I have met some of the people involved in gangs and they were very insular. I interviewed young people from Possil in the north of the city and yet they had still never been into the city centre.

"Gangs are about belonging, and race and ethnicity are a very quick way to differentiate people."

'No evidence'

However, Strathclyde Chief Constable Willie Rae said he did not believe there was a significant problem of gangs making links with right-wing and Neo-Nazi organisations.

"I am aware that there's a message circulating about extreme groups publishing articles on the websites, which suggests they may well be targeting asylum seekers," he said.

"But we don't have the evidence at the moment at this time.

"I think we've got to be cautious given that we're approaching elections where there will be individuals who will try to raise these matters for their own ends."

Extra officers

Last year, a crackdown on youth gangs in Glasgow was stepped up. About 90 extra police officers have been posted on the streets in "hot spot" areas as part of Operation Tag.

Plain clothes "spotters" are used to "identify and disrupt" gangs which cause the most trouble between 1800 BST and 2200 BST on Friday and Saturday.

Extra officers have already been posted from police offices at Govan, New Gorbals, Cathcart, Giffnock and Pollok.

However, for asylum seekers in particular, these gangs and their deep-seated territorialism means that, as yet, they have little chance of making a happy and productive new home in Scotland.

More on the investigation

DVD for victims of racist crime
05 Mar 07 |  Scotland
Hardly an asylum seeker haven?
04 Mar 07 |  Scotland
Maimed by teenage 'racist' gang
04 Mar 07 |  Scotland
Trio jailed for Kriss race murder
08 Nov 06 |  Glasgow and West
Kriss community still under siege
08 Nov 06 |  Glasgow and West
Police crack down on youth gangs
22 Jul 06 |  Glasgow and West
Gangs 'serious as sectarianism'
07 Feb 06 |  Scotland
Blair hears gang violence fears
03 Sep 05 |  Scotland

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