No kindness for strangers

March 27, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics, New Labour | 1 Comment
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As someone who believes this country’s ‘Greatness’ depends upon its deeds rather than its outdated symbols, the way we treat asylum seekers makes me pretty ashamed to be British. I didn’t need a report to tell me that our treatment borders on barbaric, but the Independent Asylum Commission’s report (PDF) still makes useful – if incredibly depressing – reading. From the BBC:

The commissioners said policymakers were at times using “indefensible” threats of destitution to try to force some asylum seekers to leave the UK.

Another commission member, Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons, told the BBC that officials considering asylum claims often had a poor understanding of an individual’s circumstances. “We are concerned at the level of the treatment of children, the treatment of women, the treatment of those with health needs, particularly mental health needs, torture survivors.”

How about some specifics?

Afshin, who is originally from Iran, spoke to the Independent Asylum Commission about his experiences in the UK, where he has lived for the past 12 years. He says he waited five years for a decision on his case – a refusal. “If someone would tell an Iranian that in a Western country they treat you like this, they wouldn’t believe you – because they think there is so much humanity there because we have such a brutal government.”


Shoherah Muhummad, originally from Somalia, gave evidence to the commission in Leeds. She says she struggled to get adequate legal representation to help her to prepare her case before asylum assessors. “I was running around not knowing where I was going. The only thing that has been going through my head was why did I come to the UK – I made a very big mistake.”

I discovered more horror stories whilst researching the case of gay Iranian Mehdi Kazemi. These are from international human rights organisation the EveryOne Group:

In September 2003, Israfil Shiri, a gay Iranian asylum seeker, died after pouring petrol over himself and setting himself on fire in the offices of Refugee Action in Manchester, after his asylum claim was refused (in the lower and appeal court) and his deportation to Iran, where he would-have-been hanged, had been arranged.


Burhan Namig, born in 1980, was deported on September 5th 2006 from the United Kingdom – where his asylum claim had been refused because “not at sea” – to Kurdistan, despite falling into a deep depression and attempting suicide. On arrival in Kurdistan, Burhan had a heart attack, as a result of the inhuman treatment received in a British detention centre.


In February 2007, at least two Iraqi Kurds were deported in secret from United Kingdom to the North of Iraq on a military plane carrying medicines and other humanitarian supplies, this despite the ongoing violence in Iraq, after American military actions, and despite the Kurdish region in Northern Iraq being subject to continuous terrorist attacks and serious human rights abuses.


The latest case is that of Ama Sumani, a 39-year-old Ghanaian woman, studying in the UK, who was diagnosed with a malignant tumour that couldn’t be treated in Ghanaian hospitals. Her asylum claim was refused by the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and the woman was removed, against her will, on January 9th 2008, from University Hospital, Cardiff, in a wheelchair, and repatriated. According to the Home Office, this was all carried out with “politeness and dignity”.

These indignities exist because the Blair & Brown governments surrendered any semblance of a humane asylum policy to the conservative press and their desperate-to-please Parliamentary allies. Beseiged by the hysterical shrieks of the usual suspects, Labour swore to slash the number of asylum seekers and soon deployed the same statistical gimmickry we see in the NHS & education to prove they’d been successful.

But when you treat each applicant as a statistic, the odds are inevitably against them because the person hearing their case is motivated to keep the statistics low. This is how some of these desperate, terrified people end up being deported regardless of fears or even an honest acknowledgement of the kinds of regimes we’re dumping them back in. That’s a lot of suffering just to kill a few bad headlines.


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  1. […] the first injustice our asylum system has created and it won’t be the last. Some, like Mehdi Kazemi, will be saved through the publicising of their plight, whilst others will pass unnoticed, tossed […]

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