THE United Kingdom Borders Agency (UKBA) has achieved something remarkable.
It has united both the Scottish National Party and Scottish Labour in a coalition of outrage at its treatment of immigrants in Glasgow. In an act of stupefying insensitivity, the UKBA has plastered its Glasgow public inquiries office in Brand Street with posters and stickers saying "Ever thought of going home?" and images of aeroplanes with a "Go Home" logo. The message is pretty clear: not wanted.
What is particularly offensive about this is that these adverts, which are also being piloted in London's Hounslow, appear to be directed at asylum seekers who have fled their countries of origin because they were no longer safe there. These are people whose claims are being processed by the UK Government. What point can there be in urging them to return to countries where they could be tortured, imprisoned or killed?
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We can only assume that the faceless bureaucrats responsible for this crass campaign were also responsible for the "Go Home or Face Arrest" vans that were sent around inner London constituencies earlier this year. Supposedly directed at illegal immigrants, these mobile slogans provoked widespread offence among immigrant communities in the metropolis. Even Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, which wants a freeze on immigration, condemned the campaign as nasty and unpleasant. The Advertising Standards Authority is now investigating the campaign after numerous complaints.
This attempt to intimidate asylum seekers in Glasgow seems to be part of the same Home Office mindset. This is particularly offensive because Glasgow has a proud record of accepting asylum seekers into the local community without the kind of friction that has been seen in some other parts of the country. Asylum seekers have every right to expect fair and respectful treatment from the host nation. This campaign treats them as if they were potential illegal immigrants.
Of course, there should be help for asylum seekers who find that they want to return home or whose application has been rejected. But this is not the way. The Labour MP for Glasgow South, Tom Harris, has condemned the campaign as pointless and insensitive. The SNP MSP for Cathcart, James Dornan, says he his "horrified to see some of the most vulnerable in society are being hounded by the Home Office". John Wilkes of the Scottish Refugee Council has rightly pointed out that voluntary return is not an option for refugees for war-torn countries like Syria, Iran and Eritrea.
The Scottish Parliament has no responsibility for the UK Borders Agency since immigration is a reserved matter for Westminster. But that doesn't mean that MSPs and even ministers are unable to express a view about this practice, which is clearly damaging to community relations in Glasgow. When asylum-seeker families were being dumped in detention centres, the Scottish Government expressed concern. The Scottish Parliament should make clear that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable in Scotland. Perhaps it's time to tell the UKBA to "go home".