Mercy Baguma, an asylum-seeker from Uganda, was found dead in her flat in Glasgow on Aug. 22 after months of living in poverty. Her 1-year-old child, who was found malnourished next to her, was taken to hospital and has since been discharged.
The police are currently treating the death as unexplained but not suspicious, it was reported.
The shocking case has shone a spotlight on the plight of asylum-seekers in the UK, who are banned from working and have “no recourse to public funds” because of their immigration status. That means they have no access to long-term housing, nor unemployment benefits such as universal credit.
Baguma, who was 34, had been living in “extreme poverty” when she died, according to local refugee charity Positive Action in Housing, which had been in touch with her earlier in August. The mother had previously been working in a restaurant but had lost her job when her right to work expired, and had been relying on donations of food from charities for several weeks, the BBC reported.
Robina Qureshi, the director of Positive Action in Housing, said that the COVID-19 lockdown has been particularly hard on refugees in Glasgow as their destitute circumstances had been pushed out of sight.
“This is the third tragedy to affect the city’s refugee population in as many months,” Qureshi said. She refers to 30-year-old Syrian refugee, Adnan Walid Elbi, who was found dead in a guesthouse in Glasgow in May; and 28-year-old Badreddin Abadlla Adam who was shot dead by police after he stabbed six people at the hotel he was isolating in.
“Since lockdown began, we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis in Glasgow,” she added. "Very few other agencies are working physically on the ground… we see first hand the misery being created by the asylum process.”
Qureshi explained that Baguma had been in touch with their organisation on Aug. 11, asking for support, and had she lived would have been eligible for a crisis grant. Qureshi continued: “The question remains, why are mothers and babies being left to go hungry in this city, why is it being left to charities and volunteers to pick up the pieces?”
“The fact is there is no safety net if you're a refugee or migrant. You are left destitute and without resources. And you're left silenced by far right rhetoric for being forced to ask for help.” #MercyBagumahttps://t.co/TpBi5yc7oX— Musa Okwonga (@Okwonga) August 25, 2020
Baguma’s child had reportedly been heard crying by neighbours. A neighbour told the Scottish Sun newspaper that when the police arrived, they came around to ask for baby milk or food after finding the child shivering. A human rights lawyer, Aamer Anwer, added that Baguma’s case was “one of the worst” he had seen.
“It’s so sad that a child will grow up without a mother when this could have been resolved,” he said. “People are being left penniless with no hope."
Campaigners have long argued that the ban on asylum-seekers accessing work should be lifted. The charity Refugee Action has published research that found allowing employment would benefit the UK economy by £97.8 million in tax revenues.
But without changes, asylum-seekers have to live for months, or sometimes years, on just £5.66 per day, meaning they are “struggling to support themselves and their families,” the nonprofit argues.
Asylum seekers are given a stipend of £37.75 per week but the costs of living in the UK are generally much higher, with an average weekly food shop for a family coming in at £60.60, according to the Money Advice Service.
The British Red Cross revealed in February 2018 that it was seeing an increase in asylum-seekers needing urgent help. They had seen a 20% increase in people needing emergency food in the previous 12 months, and a 43% increase in asylum-seekers needing emergency baby items the same year.
Since news of Baguma’s death was reported on Tuesday, a crowdfunder raising money to cover the cost of her funeral has raised over £30,000, the Guardian reported.
The authors of the GoFundMe page describe Baguma as “an amazing mother, sister, friend loved by all” who was “always positive, and put her family first, especially her son”, has reached far more than its initial £10,000 target.
In response to the news of Baguma’s death, the Home Office released a statement saying: "This is a tragic situation and our condolences go to Ms Baguma's family."
It added: "The Home Office takes the well-being of all those in the asylum system extremely seriously, and we will be conducting a full investigation into Ms Baguma's case."