Alex Massie

Asylum Galore! Or, Passport to the Kingsway

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Good grief. This is a terrific, amazing story. Congratulations to Rachel Stevenson and Harriet Grant. It's almost like an Ealing comedy except, of course, you know, serious. And, I think, really rather wonderful:

At first sight, the Kingsway seems an unwelcoming place. Wind whips around the 15-storey tower blocks, the windows in the lobby doors are broken, the corridors are gloomy and bare. Remnants of police incident tape flicker from lampposts and prominent surveillance cameras add an air of menace to its pathways. There is little to dispel the sense that this is one of Britain's forgotten pockets of poverty.

But when hundreds of asylum seekers were placed there to live - often for years - while their cases were processed, they were warmly embraced. "We had been really going downhill - a lot of antisocial families were being put here. But after a year of the asylum seekers coming, the atmosphere became completely different," Donnachie says. "These people couldn't do enough for you, and I thought this was wonderful - it was like going back to when I was a child and you could leave the key in the door and if you needed help someone would come round."

The estate became home for hundreds of families escaping persecution and torture in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, Uganda and Congo. Most had their request for asylum in the UK turned down, and when the Home Office began coming to the estate at 5am to remove them, Donnachie and the rest of the residents looked on in horror. "It was like watching the Gestapo - men with armour, going in to flats with battering rams. I've never seen people living in fear like it," says Donnachie. "I saw a man jump from two storeys up when they came for him and his family. I stood there and I cried, and I said to myself, 'I am not going to stand by and watch this happen again.'"

She got together with her friend Noreen and organised the residents into daily dawn patrols, looking out for immigration vans. When the vans arrived, a phone system would swing in to action, warning asylum seekers to escape.

The whole estate pitched in, gathering in large crowds in the early-morning dark to jeer at immigration officials as they entered the tower blocks. On more than one occasion, the vans left the estate empty - the people they had come for had got out in time and were hidden by the crowd. The estate kept this up for two years until forced removals stopped.

But what happened on the Kingsway is not unique. Over the past few years there has been a growing resistance to the government's attempts to deport failed asylum seekers. From Manchester, from Sheffield, from Belfast, from Bristol, the Home Office is being bombarded with requests from British people all over the country asking for asylum seekers to be given another chance.

[Hat-tip: Justin at Chicken Yoghurt]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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