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‘I’m scared I might never see them again’

United Kingdom

Lateefah’s family could be sent to Egypt today. Photo: Ell Brown, reproduced under a CC License.

Yesterday morning I was woken up by a frantic phone call from my partner, who lives in Cardiff. He was outside the home of our friend Lateefah El-Arafa’s* mother and siblings and had just watched them being dragged away by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in front of our distraught friend.

In Britain, most of us do not live in fear of being dragged out of our beds in the early hours and bundled off to an airport, but for many people seeking asylum, this is a very real threat.

Lateefah’s mother, Fariman Seddik, arrived in Britain from Egypt over five years ago, after 15 years of living with an abusive husband who, they say, ‘endangered her and her children’s lives to the extent of death and rape’. Her three children were aged between 12 and 15.

When Lateefah, who is 20-years-old and has a separate ongoing case, arrived at her mother’s house yesterday, the UKBA was already there. Her brother and sister, now aged 17 and 18, had been dragged out of bed: ‘They were trying to stop me from seeing my Mum; then they put me in a separate room from the rest of my family... eventually I was able to see them,’ she told me when I spoke to her last night.

After I came off the phone, I watched a video of her family being marched one-by-one out of the house while my devastated friend cried on the doorstep. I also watched officers refuse to allow her friend to comfort her, dragging him away and leaving her there alone.

Lateefah explained to me that her family was taken directly to Heathrow Airport in a coach. All day yesterday, people were frantically contacting Egypt Air, whose 3pm flight the family were to be on, as well as their MP and the Home Office.

Their solicitors had lodged an emergency injunction but, due to the hasty scheduling of the family’s departure, they were uncertain as to whether it would come through before the family were on the plane. It was eventually responded to at 5pm – with a refusal.

The solicitors’ statement explains why, despite this, the family did not get on that flight: ‘due to security issues (the driver didn't have his identity card) the vehicle in which the family were held was not permitted to go any further, resulting in missing the flight.’

The latest news I have is that the family is being held in Cedars ‘pre-departure’ centre, where the children's charity Barnardo’s provides ‘welfare services,’ and have been told the UKBA will try to deport them again today.

‘I’m scared that I might never be able to see them again, because I might never be able to go back to Egypt. It’s really dangerous – which is why they are seeking asylum. I don’t want them to die,’ Lateefah told me.

One third of women in Egypt say they have suffered physical abuse at the hands of their husbands, and a 2004 Human Rights Watch report described domestic violence there as a ‘commonly accepted phenomenon.’

People can seek asylum in Britain if they fear harm by a ‘non-State actor’, such as a member of their family, if their state is unwilling to protect them. The family says that Lateefah’s father has close links with police, judges and other officials and people in power and that Egypt is unwilling to protect them. Cases like this seem to have particular problems when outcomes are decided. In 2011, Asylum Aid found 50 per cent of negative asylum decisions about women were overturned.

This family’s case is still ongoing and they have a fresh claim with a judicial review due in November. The campaign also says that the UKBA has not followed the proper procedure because it took the family directly to the airport rather than to the pre-departure detention centre.

Hundreds of people across Britain have got behind the campaign and there are currently over 700 signatories to a petition in support.

Lateefah eventually managed to speak to her family yesterday: ‘They’re really worried, they don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously, they don’t want to go back to Egypt. My brother and sister came to Britain when they were 12 and 13 and now they're 17 and 18, so they've spent quite a lot of their life here. It’s home.’

*Some names have been changed.

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