Council ignored the threat of race violence on estate

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The Independent Online

Just weeks before the murder of a Kurdish asylum seeker at Sighthill, Glasgow City Council was warned by a delegation of community workers and architects that serious outbreaks of racial violence were inevitable.

Despite being urged to introduce cheap, quick-fix measures to lessen the likelihood of attacks, the council ignored the advice, citing lack of funds. Through the Home Office's dispersal scheme, the council is receiving £105m over five years for housing asylum seekers.

"We urged them to spend money on building a community centre, the one thing that the asylum-seekers wanted above all else," said Michael MacAulay, an architect. "They said they had no money. We told them that problems would continue to escalate unless something was done."

Last week a spokesman for the council said "the idea that you can defuse racial tension by building a community centre is simplistic". Such a move, he said, would only have heightened tensions between ethnic minorities and the indigenous population, who already say that asylum seekers are getting preferential treatment. But community leaders are convinced that the building of a community centre would have eased tensions.

"One of the flashpoints for violence was the gathering of men around telephone boxes waiting for calls from home, which local youths saw as a threat," said Sighthill resident and community leader Charlie Riddell. "The centre, which could have been housed in the wells of one of the high-rise blocks for as little as £50,000, would have provided phones and Internet communication.

"Who knows what might have been avoided if these alterations had been made. This was a lost opportunity. Sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to get something done."

The delegation, in June, was delivering to the council the results of a 12-month study by Strathclyde University architecture department into living conditions at Sighthill. Ethnic minorities make up about 68 per cent of the population on the estate.

"We went to great lengths to find out what asylum seekers really wanted," said Mr MacAulay. "We thought the council should know about it." The study revealed that asylum seekers on the estate felt "intimidated by Scottish youth" and were regularly "subjected to threatening behaviour". They also said they were too afraid to go out at night and feared racial attacks.