Son of Ugandan refugee who died in Glasgow at centre of custody row

Baby boy found crying beside body of his Ugandan asylum seeker mother in Glasgow flat is at centre of looming custody battle between his father and mother’s family who want him to grow up in Africa

  • Mercy Baguma, 34, was found by police in August next to her baby son in a flat in Glasgow
  • Privately-educated Ms Baguma, who is from a wealthy family, suffered from depression and alcohol addiction, a schoolfriend told MailOnline 
  • Her son, Adriel, is being cared for by his father, Eric Nnanna, in Britain 
  • But Mercy’s sister, Sarah, told MailOnline that the baby would be better cared for in Africa where he would not be used as a political football 
  • Mercy was laid to rest at her family village in eastern Uganda yesterday 

A baby boy found crying beside the body of his Ugandan asylum seeker mother in a Glasgow flat is at the centre of a looming custody battle between his father and his mother’s family who want him to grow up in Africa.

Sixteen-month-old Adriel was found hungry and distressed in a flat in Govan last month while the body of his mother, Mercy Baguma, was lying in the hall after she had gone missing for four days.

The child is now being cared for by his father, Eric Nnanna, in Glasgow. The case was highlighted by Nicola Sturgeon who said she was ‘consumed with sadness’ over Mercy’s death – and used it to condemn the UK’s policy towards asylum seekers. 

But at her funeral, which took place yesterday in eastern Uganda, her sister Sarah Nakendo told MailOnline that her one-year-old son Adriel would have a better life with his extended family in Uganda than in Britain. 

The 43-year-old businesswoman said: ‘The boy should be brought back to live with his family in Uganda so that we can care for him. We are all devastated by Mercy’s death and his rightful place is with us.

‘The money raised by donations for our nephew should be fixed in an account which he will access when he is of age. We shall use the little we have to take care of him unconditionally.

‘My father can’t understand why they sent back his daughter’s body but his grandson remains in Britain. We want Adriel back very much. He is our blood. He is Ugandan, with family here. We want to do it for Mercy.’ 

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Mercy Baguma, 34, was found dead by police in Govan, Glasgow, last month

Mercy’s one-year-old son, Adriel, was found hungry and crying in his cot next to her body

Adriel, left, is being cared for by his father, Eric Nnanna, right, in Britain

Mercy’s sister, Sarah Nakendo, said she wanted to bring Adriel to live with the family in Uganda

Mercy’s funeral took place at her family village near Bugiri, eastern Uganda, yesterday

Mercy, who was from a wealthy background, suffered from alcohol addiction, depression and a kidney condition for years before she died aged 34 in a flat in Govan last month. 

According to friends in Glasgow, her relationship with Eric, whom she met in a phone repair shop in 2017, had been tempestuous for seven months but they were trying to get back together just before she died.

The tragic asylum seeker was laid to rest yesterday in her family village near Bugiri in eastern Uganda, in a ceremony attended by about three hundred mourners.

She belonged to a prominent local family who own an extensive network of properties in the capital, Kampala, as well as extensive farming assets in their home village.

Her father, former MP Abdu Balingilira Nakendo who sponsored the local school, looked frail and withdrawn as he led traditional Islamic prayers in her memory, in the company of local dignitaries.

Speaking at the funeral, her sister revealed that the grieving family’s pain had been made worse by getting caught up in the ‘politicisation’ of Mercy’s death by activists and politicians in Britain.

The charity Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), which had been helping Mercy, said she was living in ‘extreme poverty’ as her right to work in Britain had expired.

Scottish leader Sturgeon blamed Westminster, saying ‘the UK asylum system is not just broken, it is deeply inhumane’ and calling on the British Government to ‘look into their hearts as a result of this case’. 

Boris Johnson agreed to step in to pave the way for Mr Nnanna and Adriel to stay permanently in Britain. 

‘People are using the death of my sister for their political campaigns while the family is being left out,’ Ms Nakendo told MailOnline.

‘At first, activists suggested that Mercy died of hunger, then it turned out it wasn’t true. What is this? People in Scotland have taken control of the story and are misusing my sister’s death.

‘They are stage managing everything so that even the First Minister of Scotland talks about it, which I think is abuse. We want Mercy’s son back here in Uganda. We don’t want him to be exploited for political gain.’

Privately-educated Ms Baguma suffered from pre-existing kidney and liver conditions, as well as depression and alcoholism, according to her family and friends

Eric Nnanna raised the alarm after he hadn’t heard from Mercy in four days

Ms Baguma had been in Scotland for almost 14 years prior to her death

Mercy’s father, Abdu Balingilira Nakendo, stands by her coffin at her funeral yesterday

Mercy’s coffin rests under a tent just before her funeral service and burial yesterday

Mercy’s father, brothers and other local dignitaries pray at her funeral service yesterday

One of 14 children, Mercy was from a wealthy family with an extensive property empire in the capital, Kampala. She moved to Britain 13 years ago in search of ‘greener pastures’ after being unable to find work in Uganda.

Earlier this year, her limited leave to remain expired and she was forced to give up her job at the Calabash African bar and restaurant in Glasgow. Friends told MailOnline that her health declined dramatically in the days before her death.

‘When she was working at the restaurant she was a happy woman, a jolly girl, laughing all the time,’ a friend who wished to remain anonymous said.

‘Just  before her death, I met Mercy in a shopping centre. It was shocking. She wasn’t the person I knew. The way she looked, how she dressed. She had withdrawn. She didn’t care about herself.’

Another friend added: ‘I met her in the last days. Usually she was fine, but she said she had some immigration issues on her mind. I knew because she had to urgently print documents. That was unusual. 

‘Something was really off. She was struggling financially. She mentioned something about her housing, that she would be leaving that house because she was not managing. 

‘She had situations that led to drinking too much, issues with Eric and the Home Office. Many people will find something that will help them to sleep, to forget. Sometimes you’d meet her but she was off, she was deep in thought.’

Speaking at the funeral, her brother, Kizire Nakendo, insisted that the British Government should have ruled on Ms Baguma’s asylum application more quickly.

‘I don’t think it’s a political issue. It’s a human rights concern,’ he said. ‘If somebody seeks asylum here in Uganda, the government has to respond within three months. ‘But look, my sister sought asylum way back, it’s coming up to 13 years.

‘Had they responded to her request and denied it, perhaps she would have come back to Uganda and I don’t think she would have met her death as early as now.’

Family members also expressed bewilderment that Mercy’s body had been returned without a cause of death, only with documents describing it as ‘unascertained pending investigations’.

‘We have not heard anything for three weeks,’ her sister, Ms Nakendo, said. ‘We are grieving without knowing what killed Mercy. The cause is not known. We don’t have answers.

‘What killed Mercy? We don’t know how long the investigation will take. It could be a year, it could be five, or it could be ignored.’ 

Mercy’s family and friends gather around her grave as her body is lowered in

New trees were planted to mark Mercy’s grave at her ancestral village in eastern Uganda

Well-wishers and mourners gather in a tent during the funeral service for Mercy Baguma

Ms Baguma, right, and her father, former MP Abdu Balingilira Nakendo, left, who collapsed when he heard news of her death

Mercy’s family lives adjacent to an enclave known as ‘Ministers’ Village’, due to its popularity with Ugandan politicians, army chiefs and business leaders

Mercy’s body was found in her flat in Govan, Glasgow, in August, next to her hungry son 

At the funeral, several marquees had been erected to shade mourners from the scorching sun but many had to shelter under the large jackfruit, banana and avocado trees surrounding the lawn.

Local farm labourers arrived on foot while wealthy family and friends from the city arrived stepped out of air-conditioned SUVs.

Inside the family home, Ms Baguma’s coffin lay behind a makeshift curtain, under a green-and-white shroud.

Speaking in Lusoga, the local language, Ms Baguma’s politician brother delivered a eulogy recalling Ms Baguma’s childhood in Ntinda, an exclusive suburb of the capital popular with the country’s elite.

In 2006, Ms Baguma later travelled to Reid Kerr College in Paisley, Scotland, to study social work, he said.

Her sister had accompanied her on that initial trip. ‘I couldn’t imagine how it would all end,’ Ms Nakendo told MailOnline.

After the service, close relatives carried Mercy’s coffin to the family burial plot a short distance away where the body, wrapped tightly in a white shroud, was removed from the coffin and buried, as is customary in that community.

A spokesman for Positive Action In Housing said: ‘We would make it clear that we have never made a statement or supported the position that Mercy died of hunger.

‘That statement did not emanate from us and it would be a gross distortion to say that it did, or that Ms Qureshi, our director, was either part of or instrumental in such deception for political gain.

‘The asylum crisis in Glasgow has been an ongoing concern for our clients for many years and especially since Covid restrictions came into effect. There is nothing stage managed about the plight of these individuals whom our clients continue to support.’

He added: ‘We are indebted to the people of Glasgow, Scotland and across the world who have raised £75,000 for Mercy’s baby son Adriel.

‘We look forward to helping to resolve the family’s asylum situation and are grateful to Boris Johnson for agreeing to intervene in Eric and Adriel’s asylum case with the Home Secretary.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘Our thoughts go out to Mercy Baguma’s young child, family and friends following her tragic death.

‘The exact circumstances of her death are not yet known. We support all efforts to establish the facts of this tragic case so that her family can have some understanding.’

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