Grandmothers who tend their flock of asylum seekers against dawn raids

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WHEN Samuel heard the sound of stockinged feet at 5am yesterday, he knew it was not Father Christmas - but his mother creeping out the house to keep watch for immigration officials.

Born in Uganda, the 12-year-old has lived in Glasgow for three years, speaks fluent English and is doing well at school. However, like other members of the 1,400 asylum seeker families living in Glasgow, he faces dawn raids and the prospect of deportation at any time.

So, while most Scots were waking up to Christmas presents and leisurely breakfasts, two Glasgow grandmothers and a small group of campaigners were risking criminal charges to keep watch in an attempt to shelter their neighbours from immigration officials.

The dawn patrol was set up by Noreen Real, 57, and Jean Donnachie, 65, after watching their neighbours, the Vucaj family, being removed to Albania despite mass protests. More recently, they have watched a series of dawn raids from the Glasgow tower blocks where they live - the notorious Kingsway Court where two-thirds of the 600 residents are asylum seekers.

In October, the pair were part of a candlelit vigil that stopped the Uzuns, a Turkish family, from being deported. By linking arms, the group prevented a team of immigration officials in riot gear from making a removal.

The incident gave the women the idea to set up Kingsway Against Removals and Deportations - or KARD. Now, every day, between 15 and 30 people patrol the estate to ensure the immigration officials cannot seize families. Mrs Donnachie said: "We are both mothers and grandmothers; that is why we do it. Asylum seekers have made our community a better place. There are no problems among asylum seekers here or fighting with the neighbours."

She said she would much rather have asylum seekers than drug dealers living next door. "The place was going downhill. We were told to welcome asylum seekers and we did; they are wonderful people and I will not give them up easily. They are ripping out the heart of the community by removing asylum seekers."

If immigration officers are spotted, families at risk of being deported are warned by mobile phone so they can temporarily leave their homes - making it more difficult to remove them.

The Home Office has confirmed that removals operate "365 days a year, 24 hours a day", which was why KARD was out even on Christmas morning. Some 15 people braved the freezing cold to gather at the Kingsway Health and Wellbeing Centre for a cup of tea and rice pudding provided by a Pakistani asylum seeker.

After donning Santa hats, they patrolled the rundown estate looking out for the silver people-carriers full of immigration officials. "Christmas morning, New Year's morning - every morning God sends us, we will be here until the dawn raids stop," said Mrs Real.

The women are clearly passionate about their beliefs, but it is not just the misery of cold, dark mornings they risk. They are part of a network of Scottish families harbouring asylum seekers. At the end of November, a 45-year-old woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was charged with obstructing the course of justice for harbouring an asylum seeker and her three-year-old twins in her home.

She was woken in the early hours by the terrified banging of her neighbour Mary, who is also originally from Uganda, and her young children still in her bed-clothes. They had fled along an adjoining veranda after immigration officials knocked down their front door.

When the woman refused to let the immigration officials into her house, she was charged with obstructing the course of justice and is awaiting a summons from the procurator-fiscal. Home Office officials have said it is such an unusual alleged offence that they are unsure what punishment it could attract.

The Glasgow woman said: "I do not regret it. They could have been black or white or asylum seekers or anybody, but what I heard that morning was frightening - never mind how terrified the children were."

Linda Fabiani, convener of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on refugees and asylum seekers, called for an end to the dawn raids - particularly at Christmas. For Samuel's mother, Sarah, the end cannot come soon enough. The 33-year-old, who has another son aged two, is frightened of being sent back to Uganda where she claimed she was tortured and beaten.

Every morning, Sarah has been on dawn patrol with Mrs Real, Mrs Donnachie and her other Scottish neighbours to keep them all safe. "I am afraid every morning that they will come and take us," she says.

For now they remain. But Samuel didn't get the gift he really wanted from Santa: an end to the fear.