The shooting of six people by Badreddin Abadlla Adam in Glasgow on the 26th of June was indisputably a tragic event, one which has triggered a varied wave of responses that share only by the passion with which they are stated. The Sudanese asylum seeker had been living in the Park Inn hotel for three months after being relocated from his government-provided private housing due to Covid; he apparently had mental health issues which were exacerbated by the difficult conditions, including poor quality of food and noise from other residents. Depending on what you read, you would get a very different acount of his living environment.
Reading the news reports a few days ago, I had only to scroll down to read comment after comment of disturbing xenophobic and racist responses, using this case as an example of why the UK must have stricter immigration policies. Very few seemed to be interested in the distinction between asylum seeker and immigrant, or the fact that Adam had fled persecution in his home country, only interested in expressing their outrage that ‘dangerous foreigners’ were being let into their country. The language chosen by the media has been hugely responsible in shaping this xenophobic response, as media outlets are purposefully tack towards an anti-immigrant rhetoric which continues to thrive in the UK despite the recent related developments with the BLM movement.
Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail Online placed the perpetrator’s ethnicity and refugee status at the forefront of their article, with the headline ‘Sudanese asylum seeker shot dead by police after going on knife rampage in Glasgow hotel’. This contrasts clearly with other headlines, such as the BBC’s ‘Man shot dead by police after stabbing in Glasgow hotel’. While sources like The Times have specified ‘asylum hotel’ in their headline, the use of the word ‘hotel’ and its connotations are particularly significant within the debate surrounding this incident, with many indignant commenters drawing attention to the hotel’s three-star rating as evidence that conditions there cannot have been as poor as reported. Six such hotels across Glasgow were functioning as shelters for between 380 and 500 asylum seekers, who were forced to relocate from their homes at the start of lockdown as part of the response to coronavirus. In an article for Russia Today entitled ‘Britain treats asylum seekers like ANIMALS, so is it any surprise when they snap and behave like one?’, Chris Sweeney questions the logic of this relocation, which brought people in closer proximity to each other in opposition to the government’s strategy of social distancing. He also argues this relocation, which occurred with less than an hour’s notice, was traumatic for the asylum seekers and had already led to at least one death by suicide.
All articles have agreed that the conditions in the Park Inn for asylum seekers were dismal, with residents being served the same substandard meals day after day and being made to share cramped bathrooms which made social distancing impossible. Sources like The Times and Russia Today have reported that Adam constantly complained of being ‘very hungry’. On top of this, residents were given no indication of when they would be able to leave the hotel; Adam himself had been staying there for three months. In light of such conditions, use of the phrase “detention centre” in response to anti-immigrant posts is apt.
Conditions were in fact so poor that multiple residents had embarked on hunger strikes in attempts to protest, and there had been a protest march a few days previously which gathered little attention. The Daily Mail reported that residents were living on less than £5 a day, while other sources argue that this allowance was stripped altogether when they entered the new accommodation, leaving them with no money to spend on personal items like toiletries and cell service provision to contact loved ones. Adam’s room, in which he had been isolating for twenty days, had no windows or natural light according to Russia Today. Considering these facts, the Daily Mail article’s repeated use of the word ‘guests’ to describe the asylum seeker residents of Park Inn appears a small but significantly thought out attempt to undermine the plight of the asylum seekers living in this accommodation.
The fact that both media and public reaction to this event has been shaped by the perpetrator’s race and immigration status as an asylum seeker is indisputable. While crime is neither justified nor excusable, media outlets which belittle Adam’s horrific conditions by calling him the ‘guest’ of a ‘hotel’ help contribute to an anti-immigrant discourse which suggests that asylum seekers should be grateful for even inadequate provision of basic human rights. These word choices may seem like an insignificant detail to be concerned about, but the language we use is more important now than ever, especially considering these news outlets give a platform to disturbing comments like these: ‘He learned from the best (BLM), that terrorism pays off … he’ll probably end up living in a penthouse sweet (misspelling from original comment), payed for by the US democratic party.’
Image: Gideon via Flickr