Glasgow’s “hotel asylum seekers” and the “unexplained” death of Syrian refugee Adnan Olbeh

11 May 2020

Normally we would send out a “press statement”, but this time we are publishing only to our web page and social media in protest against the below the line comments about this young man’s death in an article in The Glasgow Times. There’s a difference between freedom of speech and a toilet wall. But then we have got used to reading news about ethnic minorities, refugees and asylum seekers accompanied by streams of racist and xenophobic hate comments.

A couple of days ago, members of the Syrian community got in touch to ask for help with the repatriation of the body of a Syrian refugee.

We previously assisted with repatriation in difficult circumstances; in 2004, we assisted an Iraqi family who appealed for the body of their son to be returned home for burial, from a Kent mortuary where his body had lain for three years after he died trying to enter Britain; then in 2007, we raised funds to help the Nepalese community raise funds to repatriate the body of Uddhav Bhandari, a former bodyguard to the Nepalese Royal Family, who died after he poured petrol on himself and set himself on fire in the Immigration and appeal tribunal buildings in Glasgow.

The family of 30 year old Adnan Olbeh are now seeking repatriation of his body to Syria. A postmortem is due to take place in two weeks, possibly delayed because of the Lockdown.

In common with millions of Syrians, Adnan’s mother and siblings are scattered and separated all over the world. He was trying to claim asylum here and make a new life, and send back money to his family. We believe he may have been a recent arrival to Glasgow, as part of the UK’s 20 year long forced dispersal scheme, currently being executed by the Mears Group.

Adnan’s family assumed that he was safe in Scotland after a tortuous journey from his homeland. News reports suggest he had developed mental health problems on his asylum journey, having travelled through Libya, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world for its treatment of refugees. Adnan died alone in a rundown Glasgow hotel. He had apparently spoken of suicidal thoughts to a friend. We aren’t sure how much his family know of his last few months in Glasgow, perhaps he hid the extent of his trauma in order to avoid upsetting them, as many often do. The family want to properly mourn and bury Adnan according to their culture and Islamic tradition. If that proves impossible, then we hope that a dignified Muslim burial can be arranged in Glasgow. 

Since March 28th, Positive Action in Housing stepped up its emergency support for the “hotel asylum seekers” to include crisis grants for mobile phone top ups, hygiene kits and fresh fruit. We have also set up arrangements with Glasgow Central Mosques Ramadan Meals Provision to provide food to help people open and close their fasts. We are committed to distributing emergency support to asylum seekers , migrants, and vulnerable sick and elderly people who are isolated already from the rest of the community, but even more so because of Covid 19 restrictions.

The “hotel asylum seekers” are very isolated. It’s true they are treated as less than human, a number, one of many. Many people, men and women are suffering from severe mental health conditions. The fact that Mears and the Home Office see fit to dump hundreds of people in hotels where there is no social distancing, people cannot keep their personal environment aired or hygienic, and have had their meagre card payment of £35 a week cut to £0 deserves further investigation. Other accommodation providers have accused Mears Group of transporting 4 or 5 people at a time in vans into the hotels during lockdown, and of trying to house asylum seekers for dirt cheap in empty hotels during the Lockdown. People have no money to purchase mobile phone top ups to keep in touch with family, lawyers, supporters. They cannot purchase toiletries, hand sanitisation, or fresh fruit for their rooms. Women have complained they have no money to even buy sanitary protection and their bedding is changed only once a week. People want to keep clean and cook their own food and have some control over their own lives.

It is beyond comprehension that in the midst of a global pandemic, when millions of us have gone into self isolation, that Mears Group would act contrary to explicit public health guidance and transport hundreds of vulnerable people together into hotels where it’s impossible to socially distance. When you are treated like this, why would they care if you have mental health problems? But then, we have got used to 20 years of barbarism and torture tests at the hands of the asylum system when it comes to Glasgow’s asylum seeking community. We hope that the U.K. and Scottish Governments now investigates the events surrounding this mans death and the allegations of flouting of Lockdown Restrictions by Mears Group and mistreatment of vulnerable people.

Robina Qureshi

(this statement to be updated)

More: Fury after Syrian asylum seeker found dead in Scottish hotel

Coronavirus: Syrian asylum seeker dies in hotel assigned by Home Office as part of Covid-19 response

Syrian man dies in Glasgow amid fears over refugees’ mental health

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