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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 March 2007, 19:24 GMT
Hardly an asylum seeker haven?
Stephen Stewart
BBC Scotland news website

The United Nations defines an asylum seeker or refugee as someone who is persecuted "for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion".

Seven years ago, the first asylum seekers arrived in Scotland after fleeing their homelands.

An asylum seeker woman and child

But it seems they still have a long way to go before they can claim to have escaped persecution in this country.

A rising tide of youth disorder targeted at asylum seekers and their families takes place against a backdrop where 60% of the asylum seekers granted permission to stay in Glasgow by the Home Office subsequently leave the city, according to the Scottish Executive.

Despite the valiant efforts of community groups and volunteers, many refugees feel far from welcome, let alone assimilated into the wider society.

Racist incidents within the Strathclyde Police area have soared from 968 six years ago to more than 1,500 in 2006/7.

Blighted the city

About 6,000 asylum seekers now call Glasgow home. Many, if not all of them, are housed in areas with extreme social problems.

Hundreds of people from Somalia, Algeria, Albania and Kosov have moved into decrepit tower blocks in places such as Sighthill, Castlemilk, and Scotstoun.

This has given a new and worrying perspective on Glasgow's perennial gang problem which has blighted the city for decades.

In Sighthill, which once created shockwaves across the UK following the murder of Firsat Dag, a Kurdish asylum seeker, the racial tension appears to have eased.

But Glasgow is far from an idyllic haven for those seeking asylum. In 2002/03 there were two racist murders and five attempted murders, with one murder and one attempted murder in the previous year.

School visits

In 2000/02 the worst recorded racist offence was serious assault, while no racist murders or attempted murders were committed.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. In Pollok and Govan, asylum seekers and police are visiting local schools and giving talks about their personal experience to pupils and staff.

Drew Pryde is Strathclyde Police's race relation officer in G Division, the force's largest division covering a wide and diverse area.

Due to their reasons for being here, some asylum seekers are reluctant to contact the police to report any crime
Drew Pryde
Strathclyde Police's race relation officer in G Division

He said the latest initiative is helping to break down barriers and dispel some of the myths surrounding asylum seekers and why they are in Scotland.

PC Pryde said: "It is true that asylum seekers are the victims of racist attacks. However, no more so than, say, the Asian community.

"Due to their reasons for being here, some asylum seekers are reluctant to contact the police to report any crime.

"Strathclyde Police recognises this and we have five asylum liaison officers working within G Division.

"We also work closely with the relevant support agencies and groups promoting our third party reporting scheme in order to try and get a true picture of any community tensions that there might be."

The long term effects of discrimination and racism remain to be seen. We may have already witnessed the beginnings of a backlash.

Reports of violent Somali gangs running amok in parts of the city centre have emerged during the course of this investigation.

Heavily provoked

Some asylum seekers may have already begun to take the law into their own hands. Naim Rama, from Kosovo, reportedly suffered months of racial harassment from the Young Shaws Tongs in Pollokshaws.

On 2 December, 2002, he got into a lift with Alexander Malavin, one of the gang members. As the doors opened at the second floor, Rama pushed the 16-year-old out of the lift and stabbed him 11 times.

Malavin survived but suffered a collapsed lung and was in hospital for a week.

Rama was charged with attempted murder, but the jury at his trial found he had been heavily provoked by abuse from local gangs and convicted him of the lesser offence of serious assault.

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