Before Europe declared a “refugee crisis” in 2015, millions around the world had faced years of displacement.
It was a Monday afternoon in January 2017 when Adam Abdallah Adam Bosh got the phone call. It was his younger brother Badreddin calling to tell him that his journey to Europe had begun.
Adam was busy rebuilding the clay-brick wall of his family’s hut in Shoaib, the village where the two brothers had grown up together in Gadarif state in eastern Sudan.
Because of rain and erosion in this rural part of the country, it is common for mud huts to require reconstruction every couple of years. But beyond necessity, the repetitive and time-consuming practice has also traditionally served a spiritual purpose. If a loved one was lost, it was believed the house had to be abandoned to cast away the evil spirit that had brought death to the family. As the structural, earthly materials would dissolve back into the soil, the family’s fate would be liberated from the evil spirit.
Adam recounts the details of his younger brother’s last days in Sudan via telephone from Gadarif city, the state capital 60km from his home in Shoaib, as the phone signal is too poor in the village. Chris*, a support worker from the Sudanese community in Glasgow – where Badreddin finally ended up – sits beside me, translating from Arabic to English as Adam shares his story.
“Badreddin was talking about Sudan, saying that there is no safety, that we have to leave, to go to Europe to find safety and also human rights,” Adam says.
But more than three years later, that was not the fate that met the 28-year-old. On June 26, 2020, Badreddin lost his life in a burst of violence that sent ripples from Glasgow to Gadarif.
“I want to speak about my brother,” Adam says on the phone, “and I want to ask Allah, ‘What happened?’”
With Adam’s help, we set about piecing together Badreddin’s story.
Badreddin Abdallah Adam Bosh was born on the first day of January 1992, in Shoaib, a village surrounded by traditional round huts and peaked thatched roofs made of straw, grass, millet stalks and wooden poles. The rains had recently ended, and the surrounding bush was lush and green.
Badreddin was one of eight siblings. Adam, now 41, is the oldest. They all lived together in a five-roomed hut with a light coral-coloured door. The interior walls were white and the exterior a vibrant shade of turquoise. Around the hut was a yard and beyond that sheets of zinc layered with straw which marked the boundary to their property. The yard was where the family spent much of their time.
Growing up in the village, most of what Badreddin knew of the world was what he could see, what he could build with his hands, what he could produce and collect.
He would work on the family’s farm, growing corn and broad beans, which they would trade across the village market chain, in exchange for daily needs “such as meat, onions and other vegetables”, Adam explains.
“Despite the simplicity of our situation in Sudan, and the hardships of work, we were happy as a family. After the daily work, we’d sit at home … and have a good time together,” he reflects.
Sudanese Arab and African people from the Al-Masleet, Al Elbargow, Al Gimer and Al Elbarnow tribes had long settled in the village, whose population totals 400 to 500 today. Growing up, his brother got along well with everyone, Adam says.
“Badreddin was a very polite person, since he was a little boy here in the village. There were no troubles or problems with anyone in the village with my brother.”
Meanwhile at school, he was a good, well-liked student. “He was dreaming to become a doctor,” Adam says. “He always wanted to help others, he would always check if everyone was doing okay.” But at age 18, after Badreddin finished high school, he did not further his studies straightaway. In that part of rural Sudan, becoming a doctor was difficult, and Adam suspects his brother must have lost hope.
He recalls the day Badreddin, then 22, approached his family with some news: he would be leaving the village to stay with relatives in Geneina – a city in the western region of Darfur, some 1,500km (932 miles) away. Badreddin wanted to see and learn more, to explore other possibilities, another way of living. He also wanted to see if he could pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. Adam understood this, so he did not try to persuade him to stay.
By the time Badreddin arrived in Geneina, it was autumn. The Darfur region had been decimated by the war raging there since 2003. It pitted then-President Omar al-Bashir and government-backed armed groups against Darfuri rebels. More than 300,000 people had been killed and 2.5 million displaced in what many called a genocide.
“When he went to Darfur, the situation there, the stress, the government attacking the villages, it has affected his life, it has affected the whole family,” Adam says.
During Badreddin’s time in Darfur, two of his uncles were killed by the Sudanese authorities. Adam says it left a deep emotional scar on his younger brother.
Badreddin felt he was running out of options.
“The situation is really tough here …. It is not safe,” he told Adam on the phone. “We need to build our future somewhere else, somewhere better.” He believed that place was Europe.
“I tried to convince him to continue with his studies [instead], but he refused and said he wanted to go to Europe to help the family,” Adam recalls.
When Adam learned, on that Monday afternoon in January 2017, that his brother had begun his journey, his mood was gloomy.
Adam was anxious about the possible dangers Badreddin would face. “Due to the difficulties to travel regularly, he had to travel through Libya illegally.” Not knowing if he would ever see his brother again, Adam says he was left “with an unspeakable void” inside.
Badreddin would take the route through Chad, from where he would be smuggled across the Libyan desert and further on towards the Libyan coastline, which serves as a portal to the Mediterranean Sea.
People make this journey in different ways, and the time it takes them varies depending on the route and how much the smugglers have been paid. “Step-by-step journeys” are significantly cheaper but may take months. Faced with extremely difficult desert conditions, it is a journey many never complete. An “organised journey”, which Badreddin eventually took, usually reaches the Libyan coast in about two to three weeks.
Badreddin left home carrying some money Adam had given him and dressed in “a pair of black pants, a brown shirt and brown boots”.
For Adam, time seemed to stand still during his brother’s journey. Knowing that armed groups controlled the smuggling and trafficking business in Libya, he feared for Badreddin’s life.
Upon arriving in Libya, many refugees and migrants are forced to make phone calls to their families to plead for ransom money. They are held alongside hundreds of others in camps run by human traffickers where they might remain for weeks, months or even years until their families back home can pay their captors. If they cannot pay, many are sold as slaves to farm owners.
Like many others, Badreddin was held for ransom and forced to work on a farm for five months.
“The Libyan man that Badreddin used to work for contacted me and said ‘Badreddin is a nice person, he has to stay here in Libya, working for me’,” Adam explains. “I told him, ‘If he wants to leave, you have to let him leave’.”
The Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy is considered one of the most active and dangerous, and for many, the crossing has become a vast unmarked grave.
The sea journey usually begins under the cover of darkness in order to evade the Libyan coastguard. “A group of people gather at the point of departure, waiting to board the boat,” Chris explains. He has helped refugees navigate the bureaucratic barriers to immigration, and has heard countless stories.
“Smugglers are handing over life jackets, instructing the people to inflate the rubber boat themselves,” he says. Unable to see a clear end to the perilous journey, some may change their minds. But “it’s too late” the smugglers will tell them, “there is no going back.”
Roughly six months after arriving in Libya, Badreddin finally made it to Italy. “The journey was very difficult,” he told Adam, still in shock at how close he had come to death. “Our boat nearly capsized.” Upon seeing the lights of southern Europe he “thanked Allah for being alive”.
A few days later, he called again and said: “The situation here is good, and safer than Sudan, there is no war, and they really care about people.” Knowing he was in Europe gave his family some solace.
Badreddin decided not to apply for asylum in Italy, so he was unable to work and relied on support from activist groups and charities. Such decisions are not uncommon. Italy’s migrant reception policy falls under the European Union’s Dublin Regulation, which prevents migrants and asylum seekers from legally crossing internal EU borders while waiting for their cases to be processed and concluded.
Under the agreement, an asylum seeker must apply for asylum in the first European country they reach; if they are captured in another country, they are returned to their point of entry. Since the vast majority of people arriving in Italy hope to reach central and northern European states, many avoid filing asylum applications in Italy.
Badreddin spent four to five months in Italy, but it is hard to piece together exactly what happened to him there. Ashraf*, 30, an asylum seeker from northwestern Sudan, who became one of Badreddin’s closest friends after the two met in Germany later that year, shares what he knows about this part of the journey.
He describes what many refugees and migrants go through as they try to cross between Italy and France. The crossings often take place along the shores of the Mediterranean, passing from Ventimiglia on the Italian side and entering Menton, a French town less than 10km (6 miles) to the east of Monaco. Many will do it by stowing away on a train. But this “transitional phase” can take days or weeks as the migrants and refugees are shunted back and forth, getting caught and then returned before trying again.
“If the police caught you, they detained you and sent you back to Ventimiglia, and then you needed to wait for three to four days to try again by train,” Ashraf explains, talking on the phone from his accommodation for asylum seekers in Lower Saxony, Germany, while Chris sits beside me, translating.
There is a lot of background noise – people laughing and chatting in the facility’s common dining area. “So this is what Badreddin must have been through when crossing to France. Ninety percent will be caught on the train and returned, and you need to try all over again,” Ashraf says.
With cities to the north – like Paris and London – now tantalisingly close, those who are turned back will try time and again to make it across.
After several failed attempts to stowaway on a train, Badreddin found an alternative way to cross the border. “Though it’s not allowed to travel from Italy to France, we managed anyway: by truck,” he told Adam.
When he arrived in France, Badreddin claimed asylum. But his case was rejected and he ended up sleeping on the streets, Adam explains.
“I need to work, but it’s hard to find a job, there’s no work here, nothing I can do,” Badreddin told Adam on one of the rare occasions they spoke.
Their calls became less regular. Adam thinks this was partly because Badreddin did not have a roof over his head, or easy access to wi-fi. Adam would also have to drive to Gadarif to get a better signal for their calls.
“He also told me that the asylum claims process is very difficult [in France].
“I think he then met some people who travelled by car and dropped him off in Germany,” Adam says.
On September 9, 2017, Ashraf, who was 26 years old at the time, was transferred to an arrival centre about 20km (12 miles) north of Osnabrück in Lower Saxony, Germany.
The Ankunftszentrum Bramsche arrival camp in Hesepe is surrounded by high metal fences. A CCTV surveillance system overlooks the residential housing complex which accommodates about 1,200 people. This is where Ashraf met Badreddin.
“This camp is where you go while you are claiming asylum,” Ashraf explains. “When you first arrive, after you hand yourself in to the police, they take you to this camp where they take your fingerprints and ask you where you came from and your nationality.”
Ashraf describes the man he saw when he first met Badreddin: about 180cm tall, of medium build, soft-mannered and humble. He had a youthful appearance, he says, with a round chin, a broad forehead and short black hair.
When the two first met, they would talk about their homelands and discuss their journeys. “We had shared the same journey, and for all I know he was my friend,” Ashraf reflects. “He told me about his journey, the places he had been – Sudan, Libya, Italy, France and Germany.”
“I didn’t expect it would be that hard,” Badreddin told Ashraf.
“We didn’t travel in the same boat, but we both knew how it was, we both shared the same experience …. there is a lot of suffering for everyone who made this journey,” Ashraf explains. The two men were bound together by shared trauma and their desire to survive.
In Bramsche, as they waited for a decision about their asylum applications, Ashraf says Badreddin participated enthusiastically in English and German language lessons. Integration classes for asylum seekers and refugees are paid for by the state and usually include 600 hours of language training and 100 hours of civic orientation.
Once asylum seekers are registered into the system, they are moved from the reception centre to shared accommodation paid for by the state. A few weeks after they had arrived at Bramsche, Badreddin and Ashraf were sent to the same accommodation in Knesebeck. There were between six and eight people – all from Sudan – in their accommodation. They had private bedrooms and bathrooms and a common dining area.
Ashraf recalls how Badreddin spent most of his time reading – any kind of books he could find. When he was not reading, he liked to watch football, especially La Liga as he was a fan of Real Madrid. “Because we didn’t have any TV at home, he would watch all the games on his phone, and he would discuss them with the rest of the people from the accommodation, making jokes and funny comments, with everyone,” Ashraf says.
After watching the game, he would often go out for a run, returning with ‘Foul Mudammas’ (Egyptian fava beans) and peanut butter.
During Ramadan, he was particularly “fond of ‘Ashura porridge’” (or Noah’s pudding), Ashraf explains – the sweet version made from grains, fruits and nuts or the savoury type with rice, mung beans, onions, herbs and spices. It can take two to three hours to make – gradually forming a thick, viscous texture. Badreddin would often prepare it for everyone in the accommodation.
He was generous and caring, Ashraf says, explaining that when he would run out of money by the end of each month, Badreddin would always offer to help out. “He would do the same for everyone,” he adds.
Adam explains that from his state allowance of 216 € (approximately $260) per month, his brother would manage “to send a small amount” to his family in Sudan.
Initially, Badreddin continued with his language classes but in November 2018, the two men were transferred to new accommodation in Ehra-Lessien. “The school was too far away for us,” Ashraf says. This also coincided with Badreddin’s asylum case being rejected. Ashraf suspects that this was “another reason he left” the class.
By December 2019, the day of Badreddin’s departure from Germany was approaching. Ashraf recalls a conversation they had at the time. “I thought that after being interviewed and everything, I would put my hands to work and that that would be it,” Badreddin told him. “I didn’t expect that life would be that hard, here, in Europe.”
“He thought that moving across all these different countries and cities of Europe, that somehow, it would be similar to the way he moved in Sudanese territory,” Ashraf says. “He wasn’t aware of the long documentation processes to get to know if you are accepted or not.”
The German process for dealing with asylum claims has been described by asylum seekers, activists and scholars as heavily bureaucratic and criticised for keeping claimants in the dark about their cases. And while it claims to operate a “voluntary return” scheme, asylum seekers whose cases are rejected are not simply encouraged to return, but forced to depart “voluntarily”.
Despite the uncertainty over his future, Ashraf describes Badreddin as someone who was grateful just to be alive.
“Although a quiet person, he enjoyed the busy life in our apartment. He was very friendly and happy to meet new people and make friends. But after he was refused refugee status, things changed for him,” he says.
Without being able to work and build a stable future, all he had endured to reach Germany would have been for nothing.
Two years after he had arrived, Badreddin told his brother: ‘’I am planning to go to the UK. They told me I should go to [Northern] Ireland. The process will be easier there, I might get granted refugee status.”
“But if your asylum claim was registered in Germany, how can you go to the UK?’’ Adam recalls asking him.
“I am going with a smuggler,” Badreddin replied.
“Would I be able, if I manage to save any money, to send it to you?” Adam asked him. Badreddin didn’t answer.
Three or four days later, he reached Northern Ireland.
It was December 2019 when Adam arrived in Belfast. Adam recalls him describing how different the Northern Irish way of life was to what he was used to. He found it difficult to adapt.
In Northern Ireland, Badreddin also experienced an asylum claims process that was different from anything he had seen up until that point. For the first time, he was living in accommodation that was close to the city, to local people, and the cultural barriers that stood between them.
From this point in his journey, those who encountered him start to share recollections of someone with a deep feeling of unease and disappointment. His hope of building a better life for himself seemed to be fading away.
Ben*, an asylum seeker from Sudan, met Badreddin in Belfast, some time around January 2020. “We spent a short time together, about three weeks, but we became friends,” he says.
“I met him through my Sudanese friends in the mosque … just by chance,” he recalls of their first meeting.
Badreddin complained to Ben about his accommodation, saying he could not deal with the noise. “Yes, the houses here are very different from Sudan, if anyone is moving or working you can hear it,” Ben concurred.
“He was complaining a lot about this, as far as I can recall,” he says, adding that “he seemed a very honest person, a simple person.”
He sounds upset when discussing Badreddin’s decision to leave Belfast for Glasgow. “I am not certain what made him leave,” he says. He wishes he had not.
When asked about his own asylum case, Ben responds: “I am currently waiting to be granted refugee status. Still with a pending asylum claim, waiting to be invited for an interview. I think Badreddin was also on the same waiting list…”
After a year of waiting in Northern Ireland, in February 2020, Badreddin made his way to Glasgow, Scotland.
After Badreddin had made his way to Ireland and then to Scotland, it seems he stopped sharing many details about his life with his family. There is only a vague picture of what happened to him upon his arrival in Glasgow.
After applying for asylum and once again finding himself on a waiting list, it is thought that he lived in one of the shared flats provided by Mears, a private company that took over the contract to house asylum seekers in Glasgow in 2019, following a controversy involving its predecessor Serco.
But shortly after Badreddin arrived in Glasgow, the first coronavirus lockdown began. Nearly 300 asylum seekers were removed from their flats and relocated to several hotels across the city centre. Badreddin was among them. The relocation was carried out under the direction of the Home Office and Mears.
Asylum seekers allege that Mears staff gave them less than half an hour to pack up their belongings, in a move they described as being “for their own safety”. The £37.50 (approximately $53) the asylum seekers were paid in support was removed, but they were told they would be served three meals a day in the hotels. Asylum seekers and their advocates say that revoking their cash entitlement stripped them of any sense of autonomy.
Dylan Fotoohi, a Glasgow-based activist and director of Refugees for Justice, says that after the meagre financial entitlement was cut, “People were left with no money for months in the midst of the pandemic. Access to healthcare was extremely limited – about none. The food in the hotels was inedible – raw chicken, uncooked rice, and mouldy bread on a daily basis.”
A spokesperson for Mears told the Observer there were no recorded cases of COVID-19 in the hotels during lockdown. Moreover, Mears told the Glasgow Times it did not recognise the concerns being raised by some charities and campaigners about the lack of suitable food, which it said was in line with NHS nutrition guidelines and had been rated “good” in a survey of residents.
Along with 99 other asylum seekers, Badreddin was moved to the Park Inn hotel, at the corner of West George Street and Renfield Street, in an area of the city teeming with restaurants and office buildings. The Park Inn, a four-star hotel with 91 rooms, stands out for its white tile base below the 20th century red stone typically found in Glasgow’s city centre. It is ‘listed’ for its historical significance and ornate features.
Living there, however, was not a four-star experience for Badreddin. According to other asylum seekers at the hotel, his room was located in a part of the building without any view from the window: he would literally be staring at a wall.
Chris, who has worked for nine years with asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow, had been in contact with Badreddin, who had reached out to him for legal advice and support on the asylum process when he arrived in Scotland.
Chris prefers not to go into detail about their conversations but mentions that Badreddin would complain about the noise coming from his neighbours’ room, on the other side of his wall. He mentioned that they were “banging the wall to disturb him”.
Soon after Badreddin moved into the hotel, he started expressing a desire to return home to Sudan.
Chris talks about the one and only time he met Badreddin face to face. It was during Ramadan, shortly after the lockdown had begun, and Chris was donating food to asylum seekers. They had spoken on the phone a few days earlier, so Badreddin approached him to say hello.
“I remember the first thing I thought about him was that he had very quiet manners, a very quiet speaking voice,” Chris recalls.
The allegations of inadequate accommodation being provided by Mears were compounded, asylum seeker advocates say, by an unsatisfactory approach taken towards duty of care.
“Mears did not conduct any vulnerability assessment to identify people with special needs before the move. Many people who were moved to the hotels and are still in the hotels are survivors of torture and organised violence, many people have medical records and physical and mental health needs,” Dylan Fotoohi says, adding: “We have suffered the inhumane conditions of the UK asylum system for years.”
In June 2020, the UK’s parliament heard that most of the asylum seekers who were moved into hotels were survivors of trafficking, war and torture, and that some were pregnant women.
The Independent reported that during a media briefing organised by Mears in May, its chief operating officer John Taylor said a “blanket decision” was made in late March to move people into hotels and that no assessments of individual needs were carried out before people were transferred. However, a spokesperson for Mears later told The Independent that Taylor was wrong to state that assessments had not been conducted prior to moving asylum seekers into hotels.
Sam*, a 26-year-old asylum seeker from Yemen, who was moved to the same hotel as Badreddin, describes his own room at Park Inn. It was “relatively comfortable”, he says, with a single bed, white walls and bedsheets, and white tiles in the bathrooms. The carpet and curtains were the only colour in the room – and they were a light grey. There was a TV, a small wooden table, a wooden chair and a single mug.
But none of the rooms had the basics needed for survival, such as a fridge or even a kettle.
“I had two kilos of meat which I had to throw away, because I was told that I wouldn’t be able to preserve it anywhere. There was no fridge in my room, and no kettle to boil some water,” Sam says. “And the hotel food … I am not lying, it was really, really … terrible. Also, our windows would not open, you could only lift them up by about two inches, and that was it.”
“Like a prison!” he adds, in a burst of nervous laughter. “There was no freedom at all, we were like prisoners. I want to forget everything about this hotel, whenever I am passing close to the building, I am taking a different path to avoid coming across it, only seeing it brings out so much pain.”
There are different accounts of what happened during Badreddin’s time at the Park Inn. Several sources, mainly other asylum seekers who had spoken to him on rare occasions but wished to remain anonymous, report that Badreddin said he was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Badreddin was told to isolate, but continued to stay in his room even after the recommended self-quarantine period was over.
Other accounts differ slightly. According to Yssiff, a 33-year-old asylum seeker from Sudan who had sometimes spoken to Badreddin, he might have been experiencing problems with his stomach, and perhaps it was mistaken for COVID-19 symptoms.
“The food they served in the hotel, it didn’t agree with him,” he notes. “He was a really nice person, an honest person, who was feeling abandoned by everyone.”
Dylan Fotoohi explains that “people were completely neglected for months and treated like nobodies. This caused irreparable harm to people’s psychological and physical health and wellbeing.”
On May 5, 2020, Adnan Walid Elbi, a 30-year-old Syrian asylum seeker, was found dead after he committed suicide in his room at McLay’s Guest House, another hotel used to temporarily house asylum seekers in Glasgow. His death fuelled an already-heated debate around the Home Office’s controversial asylum policies.
The local community and activist circles had engaged in intense criticism of the system for months before. It was revealed that over a period of six months before lockdown, between September 2019 and March 2020, there had been around 16 deaths of asylum seekers in the UK, at a rate of almost three a month. After Adnan’s death, there were more tragedies among the city’s refugee population.
Badreddin self-isolated in his room for around 28 days.
“These people, they don’t care. I asked for a treatment or test, but no one has come to me,” he told his brother Adam. They would usually send each other messages via WhatsApp, with Badreddin using the free hotel wi-fi.
In Sudan, Badreddin’s family was worried.
Adam explains that after years of trying to survive in Europe, Badreddin was in the process of trying to return to Sudan when the pandemic hit.
Whether or not he had COVID, a stigma began to develop around Badreddin in the hotel – people talked about him as the first person to have been infected with the virus there. Residents began to panic, to turn on one another. Some of his fellow asylum seekers speculated that Badreddin was playing some sort of “trick” to “attract attention”.
According to sources, Badreddin was instructed by fellow asylum seekers to remain in his room for as long as possible, “for everyone’s safety”. People feared they were in danger, since social distancing was almost impossible in the overcrowded space. “We had to wait in long queues to be served our meals in the dining area, in very long queues extending all the way up to the stairs and the corridors,” explains one source who asked not to be named and added that the system was later changed, with meals being left outside the hotel bedrooms.
“So, I would call him and ask him to not move, to remain in his room, for everyone’s safety,” says the source. “It was difficult for all of us and I thought that whether he was playing games or not, I couldn’t take the risk and allow him to leave his room.”
When asked if they now believe that this could have contributed to making Badreddin feeling isolated, the source says: “I can’t tell for sure, but it could be possible that it added pressure on him.”
After a month of self-isolation, Badreddin told Adam that if he was sick with COVID-19, his symptoms felt like a “common flu” and his stomach pain was getting better.
For most of his three-month stay in the hotel (from April until June), Badreddin was confined to his room or spent his time alone. He told his family he had applied for ‘voluntary return’ to Sudan, but that the Home Office would not give him any updates on his application, and that he was in constant communication with his lawyer in case there were any updates on his case. His lawyer declined to comment for this article.
Voluntary returns may be at an individual’s own expense or at the expense of the Secretary of State. Due to the pandemic, the process was significantly delayed, however.
According to Yssiff, years of uncertainty and hostility combined with lockdown and the fear of COVID-19 had eroded Badreddin’s hope of one day being able to build a new life.
Most of the asylum seekers at the Park Inn would socialise in groups of their compatriots. There were groups from Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian Kurdistan, Sudan and Sierra Leone. They would often sit together outside the hotel’s main entrance on West Street, chatting and smoking. Usually busy with cars and pedestrians, during lockdown the street was like a ghost town of empty restaurants, pubs and office buildings. But Badreddin would sit by himself, alone.
“You know, we would try to relax and talk about our problems, what we experience in that hotel, about COVID etc.,” says Sam, the asylum seeker from Yemen.
“Each one of us was sitting with their own group of people. Badreddin wasn’t sitting with the other Sudanese people. He was sitting far from us, from everyone, all alone in the corner of the pavement across the street.”
He describes him as “a very shy person and distant”.
At around noon on June 26, John*, an asylum seeker whose room was on the third floor of the Park Inn Hotel, heard a noise coming from the reception area downstairs.
He rushed out of his room to see what was going on. He could not have anticipated the sight that awaited him. “I saw that the reception was full of blood, the floors and everything was full of blood.”
A member of hotel staff lay on the floor, gasping for breath: “I saw the receptionist, he was fighting for his life behind the desk. I told him not to worry and called for help.”
Another member of staff lay bleeding on the hotel’s front steps. “When I came to the entrance, I saw two police officers there assisting another receptionist who got stabbed.” John immediately called his mother, who was among the 100 asylum seekers staying in the same hotel, and asked her to remain in her room.
The Scottish police responded to the incident two minutes after they received the 999 call at 12:50. Up to 20 police vehicles and 10 ambulances swarmed into the area. A team of six plain-clothes armed officers entered the building.
Eyewitnesses who were on the street at the time told the police that a young man, a “person of colour” from the hotel, had “flipped out”.
Residents were ushered out by police, holding their hands up in the air, as instructed. Some were arrested and led away in handcuffs. The suspect was followed up to his room, where he tried to hide, according to police reports, and was shot dead.
“The man who died after being shot by armed officers during the incident in West George Street, Glasgow, on Friday, 26 June, can now be named as Badreddin Abadlla Adam, 28, from Sudan,” an official statement made by Police Scotland reads.
— Police Scotland (@policescotland) June 27, 2020
As ambulances took the injured to the hospital, police vehicles locked down the area and pushed about 30 bystanders back from the scene. Reporters soon arrived. The Scottish authorities confirmed that six men had been injured. Of the six, three were asylum seekers, two were hotel staff and one was a police officer named PC David Whyte, who had been responding to the incident.
The 42-year-old police officer had confronted the attacker and suffered serious injuries to his neck, abdomen and leg. The youngest victim was a 17-year-old asylum seeker from Sierra Leone who was stabbed in his abdomen after a struggle with the attacker. The other injured men were aged 18, 20, 38, and 53.
Mex Abin, a 20-year-old asylum seeker from the Ivory Coast, was one of the six people who were attacked that day. In an interview with the Mirror newspaper, Mex said that as Badreddin pulled a knife and plunged it into his right side, then into his left, “his face was cold and calm.”
Eventually, Mex managed to free himself from Badreddin’s grasp. “He was alone and isolated and lost, and it wasn’t the real him who did what he did. He was sick,” Mex said.
Mex and Badreddin had both been placed in the hotel during the pandemic but had never spoken before.
“I was on a pavement, sure I was dying … I thought of my mum. I thought if I closed my eyes, I would never wake up again. … I was afraid to die,” Mex told the newspaper.
It is thought that after Badreddin attacked Mex out in the street, he stabbed his second victim on the steps of the hotel before going inside.
The incident received considerable media attention, with some news outlets rushing to brand it a “terrorist attack”. The police, however, explained that they were not treating it as such.
The fatal shooting brought into question Scottish police forces’ de-escalation methods and was referred to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner. The investigation is still ongoing. According to a news report published by the BBC, it is understood that police tasers failed to disable Badreddin, with police officers ultimately fatally shooting him.
John David, a local migrants rights advocate in Glasgow, told Al Jazeera: “People were really shocked. Until the late 1990s Glasgow almost annually was dubbed, per capita, the most violent city in Europe for both knife violence and murder… but the police never turned up with guns shooting at people. Ever. The very fact that it was a refugee and a Black man, literally weeks after the George Floyd killing spawned protests around the world, including here in Glasgow … well, it doesn’t look good.”
It also came just 16 days after a protest in George Square by No Evictions Glasgow against the unsafe living conditions that asylum-seekers were experiencing.
“The Hostile Environment Policy is designed to make living impossible for International Protection applicants as evident by the death by suicide of Adnan Elbi in Mclays Guest hotel in May, shooting of Badreddin Abdalla by the police in June and most recently the death of Mercy Baguma in August 2020,” a spokesperson from Migrants Organise for Rights and Empowerment (M.O.R.E), said.
Mears did not respond to requests to comment for this article. The management and staff at the Park Inn hotel were instructed by police not to make any comments to the media.
Kevin Foster, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, told Al Jazeera: “We take the welfare of those in our care extremely seriously. All asylum seekers in hotels are provided with full board accommodation with three meals a day served as well as all other essentials.
“In the aftermath of the Glasgow incident, our accommodation provider offered trauma response services and had regular conversations with residents to ensure mental health needs were addressed.”
Badreddin had warned those around him of his desperation. On June 25, the day before the attack, he had told fellow asylum seekers that he felt completely abandoned.
“[He was] a decent, polite and respectful person,” Yssiff says of Badreddin, who “changed” completely.
“He believed that he was not treated properly and that his demands were poorly met, that they were not considered. He was asking to be moved to a different room, because his neighbours were disturbing him, and he couldn’t get to sleep because of the noise. He said that he intended to hurt his neighbours, the receptionist and the housing officer in charge of us,” Yssiff explains.
According to him, and Siraj, another asylum seeker who heard the same threats, Badreddin had completely lost hope. They were struck by his look of despair. After hearing the threats, they informed the hotel’s reception.
According to sources, on the morning of the 26th, a housing liaison worker knocked on Badreddin’s door and he was taken downstairs to have a talk, in the presence of an interpreter, to find out “what the issues were”. Yssiff says this must have been about half an hour before the attack.
“We heard about Badreddin’s death, about the other people he injured and how he died from one Sudanese friend of his in Ireland,” Adam says.
“We felt very, very sad.”
Adam elaborates on Badreddin’s wait for updates on his ‘voluntary return’ application: “Four days before they killed him, he was in contact with me, but there was not any response. He tried to explain to me that he did not feel good at all, that nobody cared for him. They didn’t tell him when they could get him a response. They didn’t give him medication for feeling ill. He felt alone and scared.”
Badreddin’s friend from Belfast, Ben, saw the news of the incident on TV. “I still can’t believe what happened to him, it is a shock for me, for everyone who met him …” he says, adding: “He was a really nice person.”
“The sad reality is that this is not a story of the past,” Dylan Fotoohi tells Al Jazeera.
“As I write this, there are still over 250 people in those hotels in Glasgow, some have been there since April. About 9,500 others are stuck in 91 hotels across the UK,” he says. His organisation, Refugees for Justice, was formed in the aftermath of the incident at the Park Inn hotel, to lead the way, he explains, in demanding justice, accountability, and change in the UK asylum system.
“He wanted to come back home with us … May Allah bless him and forgive him,” Adam says.
Yssiff recalls the last words he heard Badreddin say, a question he was asking himself: “Why didn’t I return to my people, to die with them?”
In what would turn out to be his last conversation with his brother Adam, Badreddin told him: “My last wish is just to go back to Sudan.”
*Names changed to protect confidentiality.
Additional reporting, research and support for this story was provided by John Bennet, a Glaswegian working with local asylum seeker solidarity groups, sociologist Dr P Theodoropoulos, and journalist Eoin Wilson.