Mercy Baguma should
not have died the way
she did, says Saskia Murphy

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How alone Mercy Baguma must have felt, abandoned by a system that made it impossible for her to find a place in the country she so desperately wanted to call home.

The 34-year-old asylum seeker was found dead in a Glasgow flat last week, with her malnourished baby son crying beside her.

It is understood that Baguma, who had been in the UK since she was 19, had lost her job at a restaurant after her limited leave to remain expired. She and her son were left relying on donations of food from friends and charities while she waited to see if she could get refugee status.

Baguma was from Uganda, a country where, not too long ago, the British steamed in, fostering divisions, exploiting the country’s resources and naming roads and monuments after British kings, queens and colonialists.

Uganda gained independence in 1962, but the country has been left marked by its turbulent past. Many of its citizens battle hunger, poverty, disease, human rights abuses, corruption and persecution.

So Baguma left, and came to the UK in search of a new, better life.

If it wasn’t for the fact that she was born in a different country, Baguma would have been a model citizen in the Tories’ eyes. The Conservative Party was founded on the principle that everyone should pay their way, that nobody should be given anything they haven’t inherited or worked for – but it is characterised by its demonisation of the jobless.

Baguma wanted to work, to provide for her child, to be self-sufficient, and to live. But the Home Office’s cruel hostile environment policy made that impossible. The approach is designed to make staying in the United Kingdom as difficult as possible for people without leave to remain, in the hope that they may “voluntarily leave”.

Baguma couldn’t work, she couldn’t provide for her child. The government’s anti-immigration rhetoric told her that the city in which she’d lived and worked was, in fact, not her community. She couldn’t be self-sufficient. And in the end, she couldn’t live.

Like so many refugees battling with the asylum system, Baguma’s life was placed on hold. She was trying to navigate a system that starts from a place of suspicion and punishment, rather than empathy and humanity.

Baguma died in extreme poverty, the kind of poverty that should not exist in the UK in 2020. It is heartbreaking to think of the utter despair and distress she faced in her final days.

The circumstances around her death are unclear, but the situation in which she died should not be forgotten.

Last week at an event in Glasgow, work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey refused to discuss the death. No doubt ministers will be quick to brush off claims the government is responsible.

But the fact is life was made difficult for Baguma when it didn’t have to be, and only now, after such tragedy, is her story being told.

A Gofundme page raising money for her funeral has reached more than £40,000 at the time of writing. If only even a fraction of that money and kindness could have been given to Mercy Baguma in life, rather than in death, how different things could have been.

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