Afghanistan is a safe country...
Readers of the New Internationalist magazine will know that the June issue takes a look at what happens to asylum seekers who are deported. Rebecca Yeo, contributor to and friend of New Internationalist, has just sent me this blog, which highlights another - urgent - case. (Home Office Ref: A1388417)
SEE THE FOOT OF THIS POST FOR URGENT UPDATES
Afghanistan is a safe country. The Home Office said so. Strange that British troops keep being killed there. Strange that 8,000 extra troops were recently sent there. But the Home Office must know. There is a chartered flight every Tuesday at 10pm to deport asylum seekers to Kabul.
Mr A (whose full name we won't use, to protect his identity should he be returned to Afghanistan) is a 19-year-old Afghan asylum seeker due to be deported.
Mr A's brother is a prominent Taliban commander. Mr A was urged to join himself, but he refused. Mr A was living with his mother (his father died before he was born) when US-Afghan troops raided his house looking for members of the Taliban. They killed his sister-in-law and his niece and attacked his mother. His mother died soon afterwards. Mr A was not in the house at the time and was advised against going to the funeral, as it was too dangerous. His uncle was imprisoned on suspicion of collaborating with the Taliban. He has not been heard from since.
A BBC report in April described a detention facility at Bagram known as the Black Hole, where suspected anti-government fighters are detained. It describes how detainees are subject to torture and degrading treatment. It states that around 80 per cent of detainees 'are probably not hardened terrorists', and that they have no access to lawyers (BBC, 15 April 2010).
Mr A is well-known in his village as the brother of a Taliban commander. It is common practice to inform the authorities about the presence of relatives of powerful members of the Taliban, and therefore Mr A is very vulnerable to being detained like his uncle. The government's work to subdue the Taliban is a national operation. He would be at risk of arrest and inhuman treatment in any part of the country. He is also at risk from the Taliban for having consistently refused to be involved.
Mr A and his sister fled to Iran shortly after their mother was killed. He was 15. They lived there for 2 years until they were threatened with deportation. His sister got enough money together to pay an agent to help get Mr A to a safe country. He has not heard from his sister or anyone else in his family since then.
His journey through Greece, Italy and France took several months. Along the journey he was fingerprinted, locked up and threatened with deportation several times. He walked for 20 days, hid on the back of lorries, risked his life six times trying to cross the sea from Greece to Italy. All to avoid deportation.
He arrived in the UK nearly two years ago. He claimed for asylum, but said he had come straight to the UK, knowing that he would be sent back to his first port of call in Europe if he admitted to having been through other countries. Having risked everything to escape deportation from these countries, he was not about to give up now. He signed on every week in Plymouth, until his claim was refused. He tried to appeal, but had no legal help to go to court, and only received the papers the day before the court hearing. Unable to even understand the papers, let alone represent himself in this complicated system, he abandoned the appeal. Fearing that he would be arrested and deported, he stopped signing on and moved to Bristol to live in a friend's house.
For seven months he relied on friends and donations for any food he could get. He planned to make a fresh claim if he could only make contact with his brother or uncle in Afghanistan to get new evidence.
In the meantime he was a volunteer translator at the Bristol Refugee Welcome Centre, helping many other people with their cases.
A chance encounter with police led to him being arrested and sent to Campsfield detention centre near Oxford. He was told he would be deported on 1 June. He had no legal help, so paid another detainee, who could read and write English better than him, to fill in his Judicial Review. A volunteer helped with his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Home Office say the story is inconsistent. At one point Mr A referred to his niece being killed and at one point his brother's son (we must ask: is this an English test or an asylum claim?)
Mr A is being incarcerated in a detention centre in the UK, without charge, without access to legal advice. His friends have spent weeks trying to find him a solicitor, but so far without success. Mr A is only one of thousands of asylum seekers desperate for advice.
As is common just before deportation, he was moved to Dover Immigration Removal Centre last week.
That is where I visited him.
The Dover Immigration Removal Centre is at the top of a steep hill. It has a moat with watchtowers. Only yesterday I had told my son how people were held in castles with moats in the olden days. We were not allowed to take in food, not even in sealed packets. No water even for myself. 'There could be petrol in it,' I was told, as they watched me swig from the bottle. No phones, no cameras, no paper, not even a cushion. Why? 'It's the rules.'
We had to show passports, and utility bills. Just in case... who knows? We got across the moat, past the razor wire, the watchtowers, then across the courtyard to the locked visitors' room. 'This place is awful,' I said, stating the obvious. Our warden replied, 'it may seem intimidating to you, but I can assure you all the detainees are perfectly safe in here'. On arrival, the receptionist had joked to us: 'it's OK working here as long as you have a lobotomy before you start.'
The walls are plastered with posters, 'we are an equal opportunities employer', 'we do not tolerate any form of racism', even, 'we do not tolerate any form of BULLYING'! Other posters advise us, if we have any concerns over a detainee's mental health, to contact officials who will refer them for counselling!
Mr A was in good spirits. He had been told he would not be removed the next day (to use their words, like a packing case). Great, except it seemed he had misunderstood. His letters only said that if his judicial review or his appeal to the European Court were accepted would his deportation be stopped. When we left, his face was full of fear. He was told he would be moving to Brookhouse to be near the airport.
But he was not moved.
Next day was deportation day. He was still in Dover. His judicial review was refused. A list of names of people going to the airport was read out. He was not among them. He was more hopeful. He had a meeting with immigration officials who confirmed he would still be on the 10pm flight. At 7pm he got a fax from the European Court saying his application had been rejected. He rang up to say goodbye and thank everyone for their help. He sounded defeated. He was about to leave.
But he was not moved.
He woke up elated. He sent early morning texts thanking people for having saved him.
But what has been won? He is still in Dover, he still has no legal representation, his two attempts at appeal have failed. Flights to Afghanistan are every Tuesday at 10pm. His only communication from immigration officials has been a fax saying 'your removal still stands, thank you.'
He told me about a dream he had last night. In his words:
Last night I saw very bad dream. I saw they deport me and lots of people trying to help me, but everybody crying for me. Me as well I crying. I crying when I wake up.
Unfortunately this is not a dream, this is reality unless something changes fast.
We have been told his only option is to get an injunction. Despite his friends having phoned all the solicitors we can find numbers for, he still has no legal representation. He is still due to be deported on 15 June at 10pm on the regular charter flight taking asylum seekers back to Afghanistan.
Please note: Mr A's name has been shortened to protect his identity, should he be deported. His home office identification is real, Ref: A1388417. Please quote this on any letters of support. He has now been moved to Tinsey House near Gatwick Airport and been given a removal date of 15 June.
Please write letters of support to his MP in Bristol and to the Home Office, using this reference number. Please note on your letters that you realize his name has been abbreviated only to protect his identity should he be deported.
Also see National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns NCADC at www.ncadc.org.uk. It is the national week against deportations!
14 June URGENT it is looking increasingly unlikely that we will be able to stop the deportation of Mr A tomorrow, 15 June. He will be taken to Kabul where he has no tribal or family connections. Amnesty International have stated that this will put him and others in extremely vulnerable positions at risk of being hired as urban fighters by the Taliban and criminal gangs. If anyone can offer any support or has any trustworthy contacts in Kabul please contact [email protected] or 07968 092747 urgently.
14th June Stephen Williams, (Mr As MP while he was in Bristol) received a letter from the Home Office last week attempting to justify the decision to deport Mr A, by stating: neither the UNHCR nor Amnesty International has recommended that the forced return of failed asylum seekers should end nor that any civilian is at risk of indiscriminate violence because of the internal armed conflict.
I questioned this with Amnesty and received the following reply today: The Home Office is justifying the deportation by wrongly and incorrectly quoting Amnesty... Amnesty would argue that the time is not ripe for states to contemplate the forcible return of rejected Afghan asylum-seekers... Afghans who are returned without any tribal and family connections including to the capital Kabul are more vulnerable and are at risk of being hired as urban fighters by the Taliban and criminal gangs... Because of the lack of economic resources and social protection in Afghanistan young men are vulnerable and soft targets for Taliban recruitment. (email 14 June).
15.06.10 by Mel M.
The young Afghani in the article will in all probability have been returned to the dangers from which he fled by the time you read this article. He has told me about the dangers which he believes he will face. I have no reason to doubt him. As the article outlined he does not have family to contact, which means he will be destitute. To be in such a precarious situation with regard to basic needs such as housing and food would be challenging enough but on top of that his security is under constant threat. What really brought the injustice of his situation home to me is that he is the same age as my son. He also coincidentally shares a love of Tae Kwon Doh. One of the differences is that my son is able to study whilst Mr A (who I am sure would thrive in any university) is in the situation above. I hope that doesnt sound corny but it resonated to me. I have also felt saddened that Mr A is leaving behind friends whom he has come to think of as family, and at a time when he needs that kind of support he will have lost it... again.
If anybody knows of any contacts (other than UNHCR, UNAMA or Red Cross) who can help support in a practical way please contact BRISTOL REFUGEE RIGHTS urgently [email protected]