The estate where asylum seekers abandon hope

The high-rise flats where a Russian family jumped to their deaths are, for many, the last stop before deportation. Chris Green and Kerry Harvey report
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The Independent Online

By any measure, the Red Road estate in north Glasgow is a grim place to die. Dilapidated doorways and rust-stained windows dominate the eight high-rise blocks, which tower over the city. To locals, they are known as a home for the unwanted and those whose futures lie in the hands of Home Office officials.

It was here, early on Sunday morning, that a family of Russian asylum seekers chose to end their lives by jumping from the 15th floor of one of the buildings. Neighbours say the family were about to be removed from the country.

Yesterday, three patches of upturned earth and a bunch of flowers marked where their bodies landed. Nearby, pieces of paper weighed down with pebbles bore messages, some written in Sanskrit, which read: "Freedom. You died for freedom".

The bodies of two men and a woman – believed to be a mother, father and son – were discovered lying at the bottom of the 31-storey high-rise known as Block 63 at 8.45am on Sunday morning. A smashed cupboard was found beside them, which they appeared to have thrown from the balcony to break its protective netting before jumping 150ft to their deaths.

Although their identities have yet to be confirmed, they are believed to be Russian nationals whose applications to remain in the UK had recently been rejected by the Home Office. Several witnesses said at least two of the three were tied together when they jumped. Police said their deaths were not being treated as suspicious.

The family are understood to have been granted asylum in Canada but had left for Britain in 2007 after a dispute with the Canadian authorities. They had been asked to leave their flat in Springburn after their application to stay was refused, though no removal order had been issued. Last night the Home Office denied there had been any UK Border Agency activity at the property on Sunday morning.

The Glasgow North East Labour MP Willie Bain said: "Although the victims of this tragic incident have not been named, I believe I know who they are and had been assisting in their case. It is my understanding that no removal order had been served, but that if one had been, they would have been removed to Canada because that is the country where they were living lawfully before travelling to the UK."

"This place was silent on Sunday," said Farideh Pardak, an Iranian woman who has lived on the 24th floor of the building for three years. "Everyone was very afraid because we knew it could have been any one of us that had lost hope. When I saw the three of them on the grass after they had fallen, they looked like they were sleeping. It's very sad. We cared for these people – they were one of us."

An Iranian asylum seeker, who lived close to the family in Block 63 but would only give his name as Mohsen, said he had spoken to the woman last week, when she told him the Home Office had decided to deport them. "When I met her she wasn't herself," he said. "She seemed very upset and under pressure, as if she couldn't bear it. She said they were struggling with the deportation, they were upset and angry. When I saw what had happened on Sunday morning I couldn't believe it. The Home Office are keeping people like animals in here. "

The Red Road complex, which was built in the 1960s but is now due for demolition, is viewed locally as a modern refugee ghetto due to the high numbers of asylum seekers from Kosovo, Africa, Asia, Russia, Iran and Iraq living there.

Residents whose asylum applications fail usually receive a knock on their door from UK Border Agency officials early in the morning, and are taken to the immigration removal centre, Dungavel House. They are then flown back to their native country.

"The flats have got a reputation in Glasgow for being a really horrible place to live," said Mandy Todd, a voluntary worker at Unity Centre Glasgow, which offers help to asylum seekers living in the flats. "About eight years ago they started clearing out the residents and putting in asylum seekers. The flats are up for demolition at the moment... It's quite common for old housing stock that's set for demolition to be cleared out and asylum seekers temporarily housed there.

"Asylum seekers have no say over where they get sent to when they make their claim – there are areas in places like Glasgow or Newcastle where they are just bunged with the rest of their community."

Positive Action in Housing, a charity which supports refugees, said it currently had records of five families living in Block 63 who were facing imminent deportation. "The state of the flats is appalling," said the charity's director Robina Qureshi. "They're damp, run-down, awful places to live in – they're depression hell-holes.

"We have so many families in that area who have come into our offices crying and telling us they're thinking of ending it all. This case raises serious questions about the way the UK asylum system operates. Members of the public have a right to know if we have a fair asylum system, or one which terrorises vulnerable people to the point they would kill themselves."

Another asylum seeker, from the Republic of Guinea, who did not wish to be named for fear of jeopardising his Home Office case, said: "99 per cent of people here live in fear of being deported. Every day the threat is here because the Home Office are bullies – they treat us like animals. They build up hope but then just tell you lies. These people, they knew that if they are going to be sent home then they face being thrown in prison where they will be tortured or starved on one meal a day. They know they are going to die over a long time, maybe months or years, so they take a shortcut and kill themselves here quickly."

Cynthia Ayorinde, from Nigeria, has been in the UK for six years and has lived in the Red Road flats with her two children for the past six months.

"I have thought about taking my life and my children's lives," she said. "We share flats with drug addicts.

"My family and I spent two months in the Dungavel detention centre in July, but now, because I can't take living like this any longer, I have applied for assistance to go home to my country. I know it is a huge risk but I can't stay here, waiting until we lose hope."

A Strathclyde Police spokesman said: "Inquiries are ongoing to establish the identities of the people involved, and post-mortem examinations will take place to establish the exact cause of death. However, at this time there do not appear to be any suspicious circumstances."