Tag Archives: UK Border Agency

Stop the Deportation of SOAS University Cleaners!

I find it unfathomable that a modern employer could behave like this towards any of its staff, but as usual the weakest and most vulnerable are targeted in retaliation merely for trying to gain a living wage:

Students who occupied their university for three days to save its cleaners from being deported claimed victory today.

Up to 60 students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London took over the principal’s office on Monday.

Their siege was in response to a raid by immigration officials on Friday that led to six cleaners, alleged to be illegal workers, being deported and two being held in custody.

The cleaners, from South America, were part of a campaign to raise wages so that others like them could survive in London – the London Living Wage campaign.

Some students claim the university tipped off immigration officials. But the university denies this. Paul Webley, principal of Soas, said: “Contrary to some of the erroneous allegations being made, Friday’s visit was not arranged or influenced by any member of staff at Soas.”

The students’ occupation ended this afternoon after the university agreed to write to the home secretary to request the cleaners be granted “exceptional leave” to stay in the UK.

You might say ‘fair enough’, but the connection between the campaign and the sudden appearance of the UK Border Agency can’t possibly be a coincidence. Here’s a video of the student occupation:

For those of you who point out that the two remaining cleaners Marina Silva and Rosa de Perez were in the country illegally, read this:

Marina, who is 63 and has applied for asylum, following het brutal honour killing of her husband and threats to her own life, and Rosa, who has four children to support in Nicaragua, remain in detention following the raid. Their colleagues, including six months pregnant Luzia, were deported within 48 hours of the raid.

and this:

The cleaning company, which employs the cleaners, ISS, had collaborated with the UK Border Agency to arrest the workers through the pretence of an “emergency staff meeting” at 6.30am on Friday 12th June. Once 40 officers, dressed in riot gear, were hidden around the meeting and managers barred exit during the first part of the meeting before the immigration officers pounced on workers. The SOAS campus was sealed off while workers were locked in a room, and then questioned one by one in an adjacent room. Union representatives trying to bring water and aid to their members—including a woman more than six months pregnant—were denied access and not allowed to provide any legal aid for their members, who should have had the right to a solicitor.

The SOAS Students’ Union should be congratulated for what they’ve achieved so far, but Marina Silva & Rosa de Perez are still at risk of deportation. They must be freed immediately. There is a protest today – you should go on it to show Alan Johnson the strength of feeling about this, and to prove to companies like ISS that they can’t use deportation as a weapon against staff who want merely to be able to afford to live in the city which they work in.

Alarmingly however it’s also clear that university managers were at least complicit in allowing the UK Border Agency thugs into the building – a step towards the future the government is pushing for, where universities become de facto extensions of the Home Office. That mustn’t be allowed to take hold at any higher education institution. Remember kids, this attack on the education system and on vulnerable workers’ rights are the results of a Labour government.


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.


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.

EU Leaders Are Useless

You may have read my previous post about the Italian government’s decision and now action to fingerprint and register all the approximately 150,000 ethnic Roma in Italy – nearly half of them children, a state-sponsored act of appalling racism, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Western Europe since the Second World War. What’s struck me ever since this story broke, was the incredible silence resonating from European capitals. Where is Gordon Brown to stick up for human rights in the EU? Oh he’s too busy using his lackey Jacqui Smith to send gay Iranian, Ugandan and Syrian asylum seekers back to a certain death. Angela Merkel? José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero? Nothing. The EU capitals have been silent. In Brown’s case the situation in Zimbabwe was of paramount importance (and I’m not saying it’s not, because it is), except it seems at least as important to stamp out hatred based on difference at home too. That it’s occurring under the watch of Silvio Berlusconi (not to mention Italy’s highest appeal court) should make it all the more chilling.

But in the absence of anti-racist condemnation by European leaders it has been down to religious, community and civil society leaders to attack the scapegoating of the Roma:

Catholic human rights organisations have damned the fingerprinting of Gypsies as “evoking painful memories”. The chief rabbi of Rome insisted it “must be stopped now”. Roma groups have demonstrated, wearing the black triangles Gypsies were forced to wear in the Nazi concentration camps, and anti-racist campaigners in Rome this week began to bombard the interior ministry with their own fingerprints in protest against the treatment of the Gypsies.

Vincenzo Spadafora, the head of UNICEF in Italy said:

he was “seriously concerned”, adding that the government would be acting in a discriminatory fashion “unless it fingerprinted every child in Italy”.

And it took the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to start condemnation at a supra-national level:

“While I believe that Italian democracy and its institutions are mature enough to prevent any such ideas becoming laws, I am nevertheless concerned that a senior member of the government of one of Council of Europe member states is reported to have made such a proposal,” (Terry) Davis states.

It should be remembered that the Council of Europe was set up in 1949 to guarantee human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Maroni’s plan is a slap in the face to the Council’s remit of developing democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights (which the UK enshrined into national law through the Human Rights Act). But this is hardly be the first time a Council of Europe member or indeed EU member has ignored its own fidelity to the ECHR – take Blair’s and now Brown’s asylum policy. ‘Failed’ asylum seekers are criminalised, their persecution is explained away as imaginary, and some face violence even from the UK Border Agency’s enforcers:

(Stephanie Toumi) alleges: “The escorts threw themselves on me. One scraped me and I fell on my stomach, the other trapped my arms, twisting them behind and the other two put on handcuffs. I felt a very severe pain in my body and I wanted to twist my right foot to get up, but one of them totally paralysed this foot by giving me a sharp blow with his knee.

“When they finished handcuffing me one of them caught hold of my hair to lift me up. I felt ill as I have never felt ill all my life.” She alleges that when she started crying, the guards said: “Shut up, stupid whore.”
At Brussels airport, where the escort and the asylum-seeker were due to catch a flight to Cameroon, Belgian immigration officers noticed Ms Toumi was now unable to walk unaided and informed the escorts they would have to take her back to the UK.

An independent doctor’s report found her injuries were due to the alleged assault.

In Italy the castigation of the Roma is all the more appalling, given that many of them are Italian by nationality. Yet Thomas Hammerberg, European Commissioner for Human Rights points out:

“I visited Casalino 900 camp, where 650 or so Roma live,” he said. “There was no electricity, no water. It was a very bad slum.”

And the fear of the “ethnic register” was already rampant, he said, “due to what happened to them in the past in Germany and elsewhere. They also raised the question, why us? Why not others? Many of those in the camp I visited had been in Italy for 40 years; they came over from Yugoslavia, some of them still have problems with identity papers, squeezed between the old and the new country. If you’ve been in a country for 40 years, are you still a foreigner? This talk about fingerprints was another reminder that their status has never been settled.

“The basic problem of Roma is widespread in Europe: housing, health, education, employment, political representation… But for a long time in Italy the Roma have been a symbol of something that is unwanted.

And there you have it. The real problem is poverty and entrenched racism, yet it remains politically convenient and expedient to castigate an ethnic group for their own circumstances, in the case of the former Mayor of Rome Walter Veltoni, conflating their ethnicity with their nationality.

The European Parliament though has now intervened:

Italy’s fingerprinting of members of the country’s Roma community is a direct act of racial discrimination, the European Parliament has said.

In a resolution adopted by 336 votes to 220, MEPs called on Italy to bring the practice to an immediate halt

The resolution called on Italy “to refrain from collecting the fingerprints from Roma, including minors, as this would clearly constitute an act of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin”.

It also “condemned utterly and without equivocation all forms of racism and discrimination faced by the Roma and those seen as ‘gypsies'”.

Of course this isn’t binding, but it should be remembered that the UK government’s reversal of gay Iranian asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi’s deportation followed intense international pressure which came in part from an EU Parliament resolution on the issue. But:

Italian newspapers have published pictures of officials taking fingerprints from gypsies living in and around the southern city of Naples and filing the prints according to religion, ethnicity and level of education.

We live in dangerous times. If the leaders of the G8 wonder why they’re held in such low regard it should have something to do with eating fine food whilst great swathes of the world starves. It should have something to do with patting Silvio Berlusconi on the back whilst at home a single ethnic group is surveyed, catalogued and generalised against for a problem which isn’t even there. Seumas Milne reminds us of a nominally left-of-centre party which operated on blind obedience to neoliberal economic policy, and whilst experiencing large scale immigration, fell after ignoring growing needs for jobs, housing and to combat exploitation. Britain would do well to learn urgent lessons from Italy’s current crisis.

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.

Save Jojo Jako Jacob

It’s an alarming refrain isn’t it? Having constantly to issue pleas to save gay Muslim asylum seekers from deportation from this country to an almost certain death. Rather than issue a moratorium on any further such deportations after the reprieve for Mehdi Kazemi, the Home Office instead no doubt expects that that could trigger a flood of bogus asylum claims which would overwhelm them. Yet Paul Canning points out:

Campaigners, who include The Scotsman newspaper and MSPs have publicised how the Home Office offered Jojo £46 to go home, sent him a weekly letter asking his permission to be “repatriated” back to Syria and locked him up in a Young Offenders Institution.

At The Tribunal, the Home Office called JoJo a liar, said that he was not gay and that he had not been tortured. The Tribunal judges rejected this, saying “we believe he is gay”. Campaigners described the judges as “sympathetic”.

The judges are currently ‘reviewing medical evidence related to torture’ before making their ruling. The Home office continues to insist on dealing with cases only on a ‘case by case’ basis, despite the asylum system neither being fit for purpose institutionally, nor competent or fair enough to deal with asylum seekers seeking refuge on the grounds of sexual orientation persecution. Mehdi Kazemi, Pegah Emambakhsh, Prossy Kakooza, Jojo Jako Jacob and so many others are the victims of institutional homophobia by the Home Office and UK Border Agency, and not every ‘failed’ gay asylum seeker is going to be able to generate the same amount of media attention as Mehdi Kazemi. The blood on our hands of people who kill themselves or who die on their return – gay or straight – has to stop.