Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
– Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus
Huddled in terror, massed in panic, the asylum seekers living in the Park Inn found no refuge there on Friday.
The famous poem, set in stone on the Statue of Liberty, once welcomed new immigrants to America but the violence in Glasgow reminds us those seeking a place of safety in Scotland’s biggest city still struggle to find a similar welcome.
There were no lamps or golden doors inside the city-centre hotel as the carnage unfolded, just blue lights in the street and doors slammed shut against the terrifying violence in the corridors outside.
Sudden crisis in our towns and cities moves the ground beneath our feet. We hear about it almost instantly but the speed of a headline hitting social media is matched only by the pace of rumour and speculation on its heels. As the people of the city checked on loved ones, there were, within hours, wild rumours of the scale of the violence and its motivation. Little of it was true. Much of it, in these febrile months, was dangerous. All of it was unnecessary.
We don’t know why it happened. We might never know. We can speculate on the mental health of the man responsible but in these fragile, inflamed times, we do not need to rush to define this tragedy. Let the authorities investigate while the rest of us wish those injured a speedy recovery.
What can be said, however, is the horror that unfolded in Scotland’s biggest city on a Friday lunchtime should inspire new focus on how asylum seekers are asked to live.
Some will say these lives of quiet desperation and uncertainty, lived on the edge of destitution, cannot be too bad, that living in a hotel and given food and shelter is not exactly torture. Well, no, but it is no land of milk and honey either. It is a land where refugees can be shunted around the country at a moment’s notice, told to pack in an hour before being taken to a strange city, to live among strangers; told to eat what they are given and give up their £5.39 daily allowance for the privilege by private firms given tens of millions of pounds to care for them.
When this new normal we have heard so much about begins, our politicians at both local and national level must do more to secure a new normal for asylum seekers.
A tortuous, labyrinthine system meaning those refused asylum spend years in limbo, pending appeals, must be overhauled but, there is an equally urgent need to review how we care for those seeking refuge. For no other reason than common decency, we must offer them a safe home, a place of security until their destination is decided.
It is the kind of place any of us would hope to find if, tossed by tempests, we too were left looking for a lamp lit beside a golden door.