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Mercy Baguma: Memorial portrait captures ‘beautiful human being’

Mercy Baguma’s death shocked Glasgow and the rest of the UK. Her partner hopes a new portrait will show the “unique and special” woman he loved
Detail of Mercy Baguma by I.D. Campbell

Mercy Baguma’s death in August caused shock and outrage across the UK.

Originally from Uganda, Mercy was an asylum seeker whose right to remain – and therefore her ability to work – had expired just before she died.

Her body was found in her home in the Govan area of Glasgow, near her crying one-year-old son.

The tragedy sparked an outcry against the UK’s “hostile environment” for immigrants, the policies introduced in 2012 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May in an attempt to cut immigration to the UK.  

But her partner Ejikemeuwa Eric Nnanna said he hoped a new portrait of Mercy would allow people to remember her as a person, “a star, a beautiful human being”, not a symbol of systemic failure.

“The painting is really beautiful,” he added. “I hope that this image will help people remember how unique and special Mercy was.”

When Marcy and Eric’s son Adriel was found, he was malnourished and required hospitalisation but he is now doing well. Both he and his father have been granted asylum in the UK.

“My hope now is that Adriel will grow up always knowing that he was the love of Mercy’s life, to know what a unique and special person his mother was, and that his dad will always love and care for him, and keep Mercy’s memory alive for Adriel,” said Eric.

Before her death, Mercy had been relying on her church and local charities. As an asylum seeker without leave to remain, she was subject to the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy. 

A key part of the “hostile environment”, NRPF means that individuals are put in an impossible position – unable to access state benefits but also banned from working to support themselves. 

In the wake of Mercy’s death, a fund was set up by charity Positive Action in Housing to provide resources to support Adriel’s future. It has raised tens of thousands of pounds.

“On behalf of our baby son Adriel, I wish to thank the citizens of Glasgow, the people of Scotland and all over the world,” Eric said. “A trust fund has been set up and will hopefully provide Adriel a bright future, now that his beloved mum has passed.”

The portrait of Mercy was painted by Glasgow-based artist I.D. Campbell, who has been recognised as a UNESCO RILA Affiliate Artist for his creative work encouraging refugee integration. It is due to be unveiled in central Glasgow this weekend.

“I’m really grateful to Iain for doing this. He’s done a great job,” Eric said.

Mercy Baguma with her son Adriel
Mercy Baguma photo
Mercy Baguma with her son Adriel. Photo courtesy of Eric Nnanna

Iain said he was honoured that Eric had allowed him to paint Mercy. The artwork was an “emotional response” to her death, he added.

“So many of us were shocked to hear about Mercy Baguma’s death after she had been refused asylum in the UK. I think it particularly hit me hard because she lived in Govan, which has also been my home for the past 20 years,” he said.

Iain called for people to leave a message of support for Adriel on his website.

“Adriel will grow up knowing his father’s love and will be told of his mother’s love for him too. I would also like Adriel to grow up knowing the love and kindness of people like you,” he said.

The messages will be collected so that Eric can read them to Adriel as he grows up.

The picture of Mercy Baguma will be on show in St George’s Tron Church of Scotland on Nelson Mandela Place, in central Glasgow, from Saturday December 12.