The UK government has been accused of running an “insidious, cynical and racist” poster campaign in its Glasgow immigration office in an attempt to encourage refugees and asylum seekers to go home.
In a letter to The Scotsman, a senior Kirk minister, the Rev Dr Iain Whyte, said that asylum seekers attending the immigration office at the Brand Street Centre in Govan had told him they were being confronted with messages from the campaign every time they visited.
When The Scotsman visited the immigration office, stickers were attached to the backs of reception-room chairs bearing the message: “Ask about going home”, and on the wall was a large poster depicting a destitute person sleeping under a bridge with the message: “Is life here hard? Going home is simple.”
The posters have reignited a row that erupted when the Home Office ran a campaign which saw trucks driven around the streets carrying a poster bearing the legend: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.”
Dr Whyte said: “The messages are attached to every chair in the room and on the floor. In the area where asylum seekers are interviewed, there is apparently a huge image of an aircraft accompanied by questions about whether they would not be happier to go home than to endure the life of an asylum seeker here.”
Dr Whyte, who has been involved with many campaigns supporting rights of refugees, said that the immigration centre posters were completely unacceptable. “To bully vulnerable people by this poster campaign is an appalling violation of human rights,” he said. “To do so in an area which is closed to the public is an insidious, covert act.”
Dr Whyte called on the Scottish Government to make “strong representations” to the Home Office to have them removed.
Supporting the call, Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, the refugee homelessness charity, attacked the posters as “not only racist but offensive”.
“‘Go Home’ is what fascists and racists have goaded ethnic minorities in the UK with for years. The wording also assumes that asylum seekers have no good reason to be in this country, are after an easy life in the West and should just turn back.”
Rev Sally Foster-Fulton convener of the Church of Scotland’s influential Church and Society Council, described the campaign as “cynical”
“Asylum seekers come to this country from situations of untold persecution and fear.
“It is therefore appalling that they are subject to this cynical and targeted campaign. The messages on these posters are belittling of the traumatic circumstances that led them to flee their own country.”
Responding to the criticism, a Home Office spokesman said: “Those with no right to remain in the UK should leave voluntarily. These posters are designed to ensure people know that we can provide sensitive advice and assistance to help them return home with dignity.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said that immigration was currently a matter for the UK government, but added: “An independent Scotland will also ensure that we uphold our long tradition of providing shelter for those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries.”