Tears, anger, threatened suicide - another dawn raid

Key quote "Our call to Jack McConnell [the First Minister] is to go back to the Home Office and this time stand firm until he can get an assurance that these dawn raids by snatch squads will be stopped in Scotland for good. - Robina Quereshi, of Positive Action in Housing

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IT SHOULD have been another ordinary school day for Bektas Coban, 14, but instead he woke up to strangers rampaging through his home and his father threatening to throw himself to his certain death from the balcony of their 20th-storey flat in Glasgow.

Clutching Maria, his three-year-old sister, close, Bektas last night relived the moment when his daily routine was shattered by the cacophony of loud bangs on the door of the family's council flat in Cardonald.

Shaking as he recalled his terror, Bektas said: "They came in and started shouting at us and said they were going to take us away.

"Then my dad went out to the balcony and said he was going to jump. I was saying to him over and over again not to jump. It was terrifying. Dad was shouting and everyone was crying."

This is the new reality faced by failed asylum seekers in Scotland as Home Office officials step up the controversial programme of dawn-raid removals.

Two other families have been snatched from their homes in Glasgow, including two seriously-ill children.

Officers from Strathclyde Police spent three hours in tense negotiating with the failed asylum seeker Cem Coban, 36, urging him not to jump.

He only relented and gave himself up following assurances that he would not be deported as a fresh asylum claim had been lodged.

Throughout the ordeal Mr Coban's terrified wife, Besey, 40, had tried to comfort her sobbing children and later she needed hospital treatment for complications related to a heart condition.

Mr Coban was finally taken down to a police van to jeers from a group of about 30 protesters, many of them fellow asylum seekers living in the four tower blocks on the housing estate.

As tensions rose, the incident threatened to turn ugly when several protesters surrounded the van and banged on its bonnet, then sat down in front of the vehicle and refused to move. At least one youth was dragged away from the van by police.

The van reversed in an effort to escape, then drove round the loop road encircling the estate, but was again met by protesters as it attempted to get away. One female protester collapsed and was given oxygen by ambulance staff before being taken to hospital.

A Strathclyde Police spokeswoman said later that a 36-year-old man had been charged with breach of the peace and was expected to appear at Glasgow Sheriff Court today.

Chief Inspector Jim Coubrough, who was in charge of the incident, said: "Our objective was to preserve life and ensure the safety of all those involved, and I am happy to report we successfully achieved that."

However, a few residents shouted abuse at the protesters. One woman said "jail them", while another accused some of them of allowing their children to take part in the protest unsupervised and without proper clothing.

Another man questioned why asylum seekers were given flats while there were still homeless people waiting for accommodation.

Bektas, a pupil at Govan High School, said his family had fled Turkey nearly four years ago because of the political persecution of his father. According to friends of the family in Cardonald, Mr Coban is terrified to return because he believes his life would be at threat.

Robina Quereshi, of Positive Action in Housing, said dawn raids in Glasgow against asylum seekers whose applications had been refused seemed to have increased recently, with another two families being taken from their homes in Cedar Street, Maryhill on Tuesday.

She said there were some 10,500 asylum seekers in the city - the most outside London - with a further 2,000 a year to come until 2009.

Ms Quereshi went on: "It is a matter of deep shame that the Scottish Executive is turning a blind eye to what is going on. It is time that ministers made it plain to the Home Secretary that people in Scotland are not going to stand for this any more.

"Our call to Jack McConnell [the First Minister] is to go back to the Home Office and this time stand firm until he can get an assurance that these dawn raids by snatch squads will be stopped in Scotland for good."

Other asylum seekers taking part in yesterday's protest told heartfelt stories about their plight.

One girl, aged ten, feared that if she was forced to return to Iraq with her mother, her father would take her away, having already assaulted them.

Another woman, who faces deportation back to the Congo because documents supporting her family's case have been lost, said she was unable to sleep because of the "living nightmare".

The mother of boys aged nine and seven said: "When we hear a noise at the door, we think they are coming for us.

"We did not come here for pleasure; we want to give our children a life. We can go to college and get qualifications; I want to be free, not receive benefits."

A spokesman for the Home Office said last night: "I cannot comment on individual cases, but removals of this nature are a last resort after people have been given notification to leave the UK and they have unlawfully remained.

"Officials involved in these removals understand it is a very sensitive issue and they receive thorough training to avoid unnecessary distress to the families involved."

Little hope as First Minister renews protest

JACK McConnell launched a fresh attack on dawn raids targeting asylum seekers last night after the latest attempt to round up a family for deportation.

The First Minister expressed "concern" and ordered officials to hold urgent talks with the Home Office over the issue.

In his latest intervention on the matter - which is reserved to Westminster - sources close to Mr McConnell said he was seeking assurances that "less distressing ways" would be found to remove families.

But opposition politicians and campaigners said his actions would make no difference.

A source close to the First Minister last night said he was "concerned" at the recent upturn in dawn raids on the homes of asylum seekers in Scotland.

He said: "He has asked officials to relay his concerns about the way the last few attempted removals have been conducted.

"He believes people who have no legal right to remain in the UK should be removed, but he thinks early-morning attempts at this in the glare of television cameras are counterproductive.

"He is sure there must be better ways of doing this that are not so distressing to all involved."

Mr McConnell first raised the issue after the controversial removal of the Vucaj family back to Kosovo last year.

Following talks, the Home Office promised to reconsider dawn raids. It also pledged to examine a new protocol whereby a "lead professional" from a health, social work or education background would oversee each case, but that has yet to be introduced.

Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, said:

"When is the First Minister going to learn that we need something stronger than discussions to stop the Home Office carrying out dawn raids?"

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP deputy leader, said he failed in the past.

Ghetto-like housing policy fuels problems

SIGHTHILL in Glasgow is one of the poorest areas in Britain with the second-worst health record in the UK, yet it was into this socially-deprived urban pocket that the Home Office chose to deposit 600 asylum seekers in 2000.

Within a year, Strathclyde Police had investigated nearly 70 reports of attacks on asylum seekers - some of which were so brutal the terrified families had to be rehoused elsewhere in the city.

After months of rising racial tensions, the inevitable happened when Firsat Dag, a 25-year-old Kurdish refugee, was stabbed to death close to his home in Sighthill in 2001.

A few days later, Davoud Rasul Naseri, 22, an Iranian,was knifed in the back near a Sighthill tower block.

The murder of Mr Dag provoked heated street protests by asylum seekers angered at the death, and the seemingly callous attitude of Glasgow City Council which housed them in flats so squalid they were empty because nobody wanted to live there.

It was in this febrile atmosphere that the Home Office took the decision to open a former prison at Dungavel in Lanarkshire as the first detention centre for adult and child asylum seekers in Scotland.

Guards patrolled 24 hours a day to ensure security and no-one escaped. A 20ft wall topped with barbed wire and spotlights added an air of menace. Within weeks there were widespread calls for Dungavel to be closed for fear it was totally unsuitable for families.

The impotence of the Scottish Executive and its failure to press the Home Office to shut Dungavel led Bill Speirs, general secretary of the STUC, to compare the detention centre to Guantanamo Bay - as being under outside rule where local laws did not apply.

The Church of Scotland, which had already taken a strong stance on asylum policy, also took particular issue with the Dungavel centre.