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Sturgeon’s sadness at Mercy Baguma’s death, as UK minister deflects questions

By PA News

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Nicola Sturgeon has called for wholesale reform of the asylum system following the death of Mercy Baguma (Positive Action in Housing/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon said she is “consumed with sadness” and anger at the death of Mercy Baguma, who was found dead next to her starving baby in a Glasgow flat, as a UK Government minister refused to answer questions on the matter.

The Ugandan woman’s body was discovered by police in Govan on Saturday and the Scottish First Minister has now called for a complete reform of the UK’s “deeply inhumane” asylum system.

The Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) charity said Ms Baguma’s one-year-old son was “found crying beside his mother’s body, weakened from several days of starvation”.

He has since been released from hospital into the care of his father.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “I find myself consumed with sadness but also with real anger at the death of Mercy Baguma and first and foremost my thoughts – and I’m sure the thoughts of all of us – go to her family and friends following her tragic death.”

Asked about the incident by Scottish Green co-leader Alison Johnstone, Ms Sturgeon continued: “We knew this before this tragedy, but it is underlined by this tragedy – the UK asylum system is not just broken, it is deeply inhumane and it must be changed.

“People who come to Scotland because they need a place of safety should have our support, and that is even more true right now at this time of crisis.”

Ms Sturgeon said her government has repeatedly raised concerns about the Westminster-reserved asylum process and added: “We need wholesale reform of our asylum system and we need to start from the principle of dignity, of empathy and of support for our fellow human beings who come to this country, seeking support at desperate and dismal times of their lives.

“I would appeal to the UK Government to look into their hearts as a result of this case and finally make the changes that are needed to housing.”

Ms Sturgeon added she would support all efforts to investigate Ms Baguma’s death, including backing the PAIH charity’s calls for an inquiry into the accommodation situation faced by asylum seekers in Glasgow during the coronavirus pandemic.

At an event in Glasgow on Wednesday, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey refused to answer questions on Ms Baguma’s death.

When a reporter from the PA news agency began to ask a question about the matter, Ms Coffey interrupted.

She said: “I appreciate you want to talk about other matters, but they’re not really matters for me.”

When asked if she would at least hear the question, Ms Coffey added: “I’m conscious that there are some issues, but we really are here today to talk about pensions and climate change.”

The Crown Office has said the Procurator Fiscal has received a report in connection with the 34-year-old’s death and an investigation is under way.

Earlier, a Home Office spokesman said: “This is a tragic situation and our condolences go to Ms Baguma’s family.

“The Home Office takes the wellbeing of all those in the asylum system extremely seriously, and we will be conducting a full investigation into Ms Baguma’s case.”

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