Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Asylum Seekers on Hunger Strike

It’s not the first time recently that ‘failed’, detained asylum seekers have taken matters into their own hands in protest against their terrible treatment by Britain’s inhuman asylum system. And again it’s happening at Yarl’s Wood:

For two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 100 women detained staged a hunger strike to protest the way they are being deported to their countries of residence. Some of them are deported the day following their arrest, without even being allowed to get a lawyer, inform their family and friends of their status or even just keep their belongings.

Women arrested are from China, Pakistan, India, Latin America and other countries. Every day a minimum of six women are deported, wearing the same clothes they arrived in because they were not allowed to get their own clothes. In addition, many of them did not have time to hear the answer to their appeal. Many of them don’t speak English and are unable to implement their rights.

It is reported that a woman tried to commit suicide. She cut her veins of both hands but a guard stopped her and took her to the hospital. This is something that is happening on a daily basis. Depression, anxiety, fear, anxiety, uncertainty … “It is a psychological torture. We are conscious we have nothing to lose. They bring the TV to show all the comforts we have, but they do not mind that we have no rights, even to know how our cases are developing.”

According to them, their appeals are not being studied in a reasonable length of time and many are deported without having a response from the Home Office. Inmates also complain that the food they receive is inadequate.

These are people who are in detention, without having committed a crime. They do not have access to legal aid, are not being given the opportunity to prove their cases, and face violence from their guards. Yet the mainstream media isn’t interested in such constant, mainstreamed abuse. It’s far from unusual. Why should anyone, let alone people who haven’t committed a crime, have to resort to a hunger strike in order to be able to access adequate health care, proper food and highlight the detention of children?!

Amnesty International protested yesterday in support of asylum seekers’ rights. You can see the photos here.

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Amnesty International’s Refugee Day Rally

Today I attended Amnesty’s rally for International Refugee Day, to protest Britain’s asylum policy, which was recently labelled as ‘inhuman’. Seeking asylum really is not a crime, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the system. Not allowed back in the country for ten years if you’re ‘failed’? Forcing children into care? Witholding the right to work? Slashing of legal aid? Responding to the rise of the far right, as articulated in sleazy British tabloids like the Daily HateMail, has legitimised an anti-refugee sentiment in this country, and allowed detention centres like Yarl’s Wood, the subject of my next blog post.

Britain’s Asylum Policy – Institutionalised Murder

I’ve pointed out the disgraceful human rights abuses which comprise Britain’s asylum policy before. Today a murder in Darfur has shown that ‘failed’ asylum seekers face death when given no choice but to go back to the country they tried to escape:

A failed asylum-seeker who returned to Darfur under a government repatriation scheme has been murdered by Sudanese security officers after they followed him home from the airport in Khartoum, The Independent has learnt.

Adam Osman Mohammed, 32, was gunned down in his home in front of his wife and four-year-old son just days after arriving in his village in south Darfur.

The case is to be used by asylum campaigners to counter Home Office attempts to lift the ban on the removal and deportation to Sudan of failed asylum-seekers. Next month, government lawyers are expected to go to court to argue that it is safe to return as many as 3,000 people to Khartoum.

But lawyers for the campaigners will tell the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal that people who are returned to Sudan face imprisonment, torture and death. Mr Mohammed, a non-Arab Darfuri, came to Britain in 2005 seeking sanctuary from persecution in Sudan, where he said his life was in danger. The village where he was a farmer had been raided twice by the Janjaweed, the ethnic Arab militia, forcing him and his wife and child to flee their home.

His family in Britain told The Independent that Mr Mohammed witnessed many villagers being killed and became separated from his wife during a second attack on the village a few weeks later. He escaped to Chad before making his way to the UK in 2005.

But last year his appeal for asylum was finally turned down and he was told that he faced deportation. In August last year he was flown to Khartoum under the Home Office’s assisted voluntary return programme, in which refugees are paid to go back to their country of origin. He stayed in Khartoum for a few months and then, when he believed it was safe, he travelled to Darfur to be reunited with his family.

Mohamed Elzaki Obubeker, Mr Mohammed’s cousin and chairman of the Darfur Union in the UK, said: “The government security forces had followed him to another village, Calgoo, where his wife and child had sought help. They came to the village to find him and then targeted him. They shot him in front of his wife and son.”

It should be remembered that the ‘voluntary’ repatriation policy for failed asylum seekers is based on coercion – the state takes their children into care until they agree to return to their native country. Remember also that Tony Blair unbalanced the playing field for asylum seekers to access fair asylum tribunals by massively reducing their rights to legal aid. And why? To reduce the numbers of asylum applicants by half, merely in order to escape the moral panics unleashed by New Labour’s tabloid bogeymen. By all means have a thoughtful policy on economic immigration and asylum, but  the Geneva Convention was set up to avoid deaths such as Adam’s and should be the primary tool with which to assess asylum claims and to determine asylum policy – it’s a disgrace that New Labour remains on course instead to ignore it, and increase needless deaths such as his. The UK Border Agency said:

“Britain has a proud tradition of offering refuge to those who need our help.

“We consider every asylum application with the utmost care, and crucially there is oversight from the independent courts.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation in Sudan, and in July last year we took the decision to stop returning non-Arab Darfurs until the courts decided it was safe to do so.”

They quite clearly don’t consider every application with the utmost care. Last year Jacqui Smith said she believed gay Iranian asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi could safely return to his native country if he were only ‘discreet’ – palpably ridiculous. The courts have their hands tied because of the legislative changes in New Labour’s second term and don’t have access to the same information available to the Home Office. The UK Border Agency has since 2003 been tasked with reducing the numbers of those offered refuge by half by whatever means necessary. Don’t forget that.

Harman Sabotages Equality

This really shouldn’t surprise you. It’s the party of course which has seen a greater acceleration of the gap between rich and poor than at any period since Victorian times. But it’s not the wealth gap I want to illustrate here, it’s the party’s pathological determination to deport as many asylum seekers as possible, having either trampled on their human rights first or made it impossible to access them.

Last weekend Babi Badalov was deported back to Azerbaijan, and I want to contrast the party’s claims at its annual conference about equality and their public pledges to equality campaigners, with the disgusting reality. At his party’s annual conference (still) Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

And why do we always strive for fairness?

Not because it makes good soundbites.

Not because it gives good photo opportunities.

Not because it makes for good P.R.

No.

We do it because fairness is in our DNA.

It’s who we are – and what we’re for.

It’s why Labour exists.

It’s our first instinct, the soul of our party.

It’s why when things get tough, we get tougher. We stand up, we fight hard – for fairness. We don’t give in, and we never will.

For me fairness is treating others how we would be treated ourselves. So it isn’t levelling down but empowering people to aspire and reach ever higher. And to take advantage of all the opportunities of the global economy I want to unleash a new wave of rising social mobility across our country.

Fairness means abiding by the 1951 Geneva Convention. It is supposed to be a human rights instrument, the likes of which underpin any idea of fairness at home or abroad. Fairness means not rigging the system for all to fail. But despite Peter Tatchell receiving an assurance from Equalities Ministers Harriet Harman and Barbara Follett that their department would intervene in instances of homophobia and systematic unfairness in gay asylum seekers’ cases, Babi was deported anyway. The government claimed it was:

“absolutely committed to ensuring the asylum system treats everyone fairly,” a spokeswoman said.

“All relevant details are thoroughly examined, including claims of persecution on grounds of sexual orientation, and subject to independent scrutiny by the judiciary.

“Ministers are committed to looking into allegations of homophobia in the asylum system, and Mr Tatchell received a response within 24 hours of highlighting this case.”

But Peter Tatchell countered this, saying:

“This response was to say that Harriet and Barbara could not help in Babi’s case.

“Her junior advisers, who hold little sway with the Home Office, did make representations.

“But Harriet and Barbara, who have real clout, declined to so do.

“I emailed and phoned Harriet Harman’s office on September 18th and 19th about Babi’s case.

“I requested that Harriet and her Equalities deputy, Barbara Follett, urge the asylum minister Liam Byrne and the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to suspend Babi’s deportation pending his fresh appeal, based on new evidence.

“I was told by Harriet’s advisers that Harriet and Babara were at Labour Party conference and could not be contacted. This is nonsense.

“They have mobile phones and pagers. I was also told by them that Harriet and Barbara could not contact Liam Byrne and Jacqui Smith. This is also rubbish. They were all together at the Labour Party conference.

“This is utterly shameful. They never even tried. They broke their promise to help put right the unfair treatment of LGBT asylum claimants.”

So much for fairness. A full report of Tatchell’s communication with Britain’s so-called Equality Minister can be found here.

Save Babi Badalov!

Maybe they really thought Mehdi Kazemi’s rescue would be a distraction, but the Home Office and its UK Border Agency are already back to trying to deport gay asylum seekers:

An Azerbaijani artist who is claiming asylum in the UK was detained yesterday at his weekly sign-in at the UK Border Agency Offices in Cardiff.

Babakhan Badalov (Babi), who is gay, arrived in the UK in 2006 claiming he was repressed and persecuted in his home country.

The New Labour government seems to think that if their Home Office country reports (long since shown up as inadequate) say the country has, say, legalised homosexuality (Azerbaijan did in 2000) that persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation should be impossible. Of course that’s palpably ridiculous, yet his deportation appears set for as soon as today. Can someone explain to me how an artistic man with a history of being persecuted for his sexual orientation, who is now afraid for his life because of members of his family, and whose mental health has suffered as a result, is not a suitable candidate for asylum?

Paul Canning from Gay Asylum UK points out:

Badalov has been threatened with death by ‘honour killing’ and his sexuality has already led to persecution and would definitely lead to more persecution if he is returned.

Since his detention, there has been a high profile response:

Over 50 people gathered outside the place where Babi was grabbed 24 short hours earlier, holding banners and placards. Amongst the were Leanne Wood AM, deputy leader of Cardiff Council Neil McEvoy, as well as many of Babi’s closest friends.

Those who could not make the protest sent messages of support, including Bethan Jenkins AM who said

“We must support asylum seekers such as Babi, and there is an obligation on the Westminster government to defend those people who face persecution in their respective countries. Wales has welcomed Babi with open arms, and it is deeply frustrating that the National Assembly for Wales does not have the powers to overturn decisions to deport asylum seekers who are clearly in danger.”

This has to stop – it is contrary to what the asylum system is supposed to be about. Contact your MP to tell the Home Office it has to stop (Babi’s Home Office reference number is B1234623).

Peter Tatchell has written to Harriet Harman, Equalities Minister, saying:

He (Babi) is scheduled for deportation despite him being in the process of filing a new asylum claim with fresh evidence. This new evidence includes one of his brothers threatening to kill him on grounds that he had shamed the family by being gay. There are also new witness statements detailing Babi’s history of violent, homophobic persecution in Azerbaijan.

In these circumstances, his removal should be put on hold until he has an opportunity to put forward this new evidence to an asylum tribunal.

Crucially Tatchell points out

When I recently met Harriet Harman, she and Barbara Follett MP said they would examine and assist the correction of any unfair treatment of LGBT asylum applicants.

Well they will (and should) be judged by their actions, but be under no illusion of just how geared against all applicants the asylum system now is, and of the homophobic structure which underpins it.

Jacqui Smith is Offensive

Sebastian Rocca, Executive Director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) has branded Home Secretary Jacqui Smith as ‘offensive and ill-informed’, following her outright refusal to institute a moratorium on deportations of lesbian and gay asylum seekers to Iran. Her continuing insistence that gay men and lesbians who are ‘discreet’ face no danger at the same time both justifies Iran’s persecution of gay people, and isn’t borne out by the facts. Rocca continued:

“Being gay is not just about sex, it is about being able to express who you are, walking the way you like, not having to change the tone of your voice, being able to talk about the things that interest you, be that interior design and not football.

“Asking gay men to go back to Iran and be “discreet,” that is persecution in itself.”

He said that the Home Secretary had not thought about what discreet means in this context.

“If you are a gay man and you go back, you have to get married to a woman – it’s not acceptable to not be married.

“If you do not, that is one of the reasons why they can decide not to employ you or rent you an apartment – they will ask questions.

“I had a case where they keep refusing to get married and their family sent them to a psychiatrist.”

Mr Rocha added that being “discreet” is effectively someone to be alone for the rest of their life.

“We have an obligation to protect lesbians and gay men,” he added.

If you feel equally as offended, please sign this petition now. You can also reach it via an icon at the top of this page.

Jacqui Smith is a Killer

It should surprise noone, given her track record as Home Secretary, but today Jacqui Smith proved once and for all just how ruthless she can be. Having received limited kudos for her finally granting asylum to Mehdi Kazemi, the question remained – would she institute a moratorium on deportations of gay asylum seekers to Iran and similar Middle Eastern (and other) countries, where to be gay is to court the probability of death? After all the Netherlands proved they could do it. The answer was ‘no’:

“With particular regard to Iran, current case law handed down by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”

Sorry but she’s fucking retarded. I’ve tried to use more temperate language about this woman until now, but this is just ridiculous. Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive quite rightly pointed out her stupidity:

“You only have to listen to people who were terrorised by the Metropolitan Police in the 1950s and 1960s to know that telling gay people to live discreetly is quixotic.”

It’s a cavalier and inhuman means of avoiding living up to the human rights obligations she’s tied into, as well as the European Commission’s ruling in January that:

“Member States cannot expel or refuse refugee status to homosexual persons without taking into account their sexual preferences, the information relevant to the situation in their country of origin, including the laws and ways in which they are applied.”

And why would she refuse a moratorium (other than to prove her political brutality, lining up behind her boss, having proven his ‘strength’ with his pyhrric victory on 42 days)? Does she believe there’ll be some sort of ‘flood’ of asylum seekers, to ‘swamp’ the notoriously bad UK Border Agency? Paul Canning of Gayasylumuk points out:

“The Dutch experience shows that a proven, tested model exists of how to operate a humane asylum policy for gays and lesbians – and they haven’t had a ‘flood’.”

“Similar policy and practice exists in the United States, Canada and Sweden – why is the UK alone in being inhumane and disregarding international law?”

Opposition parties have lined up to condemn the Home Secretary. Stephen Crabb, the Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission said:

“Asking minorities to live their lives discreetly is to give in to the tyrants and bullies who sustain their positions through fear and coerced conformity.

“It demonstrates both an unelevated view of the importance of human rights and cowardice in championing our own system of values.”

Whilst Phelim Mac Cafferty, media spokesperson for LGBT Greens said:

“Her claim that as long as people are “discreet” a regime notorious for its treatment of LGBT people will somehow stop persecuting them is misled at best and homicidal at worst.

“Instead of this macho posturing from the Home Office on keeping asylum figures down, we desperately need a Home Secretary prepared to look the Iranian regime in the eyes and stand up for what’s right for LGBT people.”

And this is what it’s all about. It’s why Peter Tatchell’s claim about the treatment of gay asylum seekers is more salient than ever. The New Labour government has been attacking the 1951 Geneva Convention since 2003 and they’ll do whatever they can to keep it that way. It’s an outrage essentially to blame gay people for their own persecution and it deserves the most thorough condemnation. This is what Iran does to gay people, a fact which the Home Office denies.