An appeal for funeral expenses for Mercy Baguma, the Ugandan asylum seeker who was discovered dead next to her crying baby in a flat in Glasgow, has nearly tripled its original funding target as calls grow for an inquiry into her death.
Baguma’s body was found by police on Saturday morning next to her one-year-old son. It is believed he has since been released into the care of his father, who also lives in Glasgow.
It is understood Baguma, 34, had lost her job at a restaurant after her limited leave to remain expired and had been relying on donations of food from friends and charitable organisations while she claimed asylum.
Initial shock and disbelief has turned to anger overnight in Glasgow and beyond as the details of Baguma’s final days emerged.
Scotland’s refugee community is still reeling from the events at the Park Inn hotel in June, when Badreddin Abadlla Adam, a Sudanese asylum seeker reportedly suffering from severe mental ill health, was shot dead after stabbing six people, as well as the earlier and still unexplained death of a Syrian refugee, Adnan Walid Elbi, who was found dead in his room at the McLays guest house in Glasgow city centre in early May.
By 10.30pm on Wednesday night, a GoFundMe page that described Baguma as “an amazing mother, sister, friend loved by all” reached more than £37,000, beyond its initial £10,000 target.
It states that while Baguma was known to have health problems, her death was sudden and unexpected.
Many of those donating expressed their disbelief at Baguma’s circumstances and their horror has been shared by individuals, charities and politicians across the political spectrum.
Paul Sweeney, a former Labour MP for Glasgow North East who has worked closely with those struggling through the asylum system in the UK’s largest dispersal city, said: “The brutal and tragic consequences of the asylum system strike again. It’s heartbreaking to think about what must have been going through Mercy Baguma’s mind in her final days. The despair and distress as she tried to care for her child. It must stop.”
BEMIS Scotland, an umbrella body that supports the country’s black and minority ethnic voluntary sector, also described the news as “heartbreaking”.
“The asylum system needs to be ripped up. Humanity and empathy must be at the heart of it, not suspicion and punishment. The pandemic has illuminated just how heartless and dangerous it is.”
Robina Qureshi, the director of Positive Action in Housing, said in the week before her death Baguma wrote to the refugee charity asking for help. Her email read: “My name is Mercy Baguma. I am an asylum seeker with a baby and I am not getting any financial support … I’m just asking if you have any grants that I can apply for.”
Qureshi has led calls for a full inquiry into the treatment of asylum seekers in Glasgow during the pandemic, a demand echoed by Glasgow MPs, who last week staged a “virtual walkout” on the Home Office after learning that a promised investigation would not include the views of their constituents and might not even be publicly available.
Chris Stephens, the Scottish National party MP for Glasgow South West, said: “This particular case has not just shocked people in Glasgow but across the UK. The mood towards the Home Office is very angry. There will have to be an inquiry, and any indication that it might not be full transparency will not be acceptable. There has to be an understanding now about how lockdown has affected asylum seekers in particularly.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the Home Office said it was planning “a full investigation into Ms Baguma’s case”.
Ronier Deumeni, the coordinator of the charity African Challenge Scotland, described how his volunteers had delivered a food parcel to Baguma in June. “She was a good person, very joyful, and she was pleased to receive the parcel.”
Deumeni said that, while a fuller understanding of Baguma’s final days had yet to emerge, “there are many Mercys” in Glasgow, as the ongoing pandemic disproportionately affects those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, and those seeking asylum in particular.
“The challenges she faced are shared by many. Lockdown brought back horrific memories of rape and torture for some asylum seekers. Others are in fear, uncertain of what the future holds for them and their children.”