Yarl’s Wood – A question for Labour bloggers

February 28, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Posted in Asylum, New Labour | 18 Comments

Yarl's Wood

Because I possess a lousy news antennae, my choice for top story of the day isn’t the tightening in the opinion polls or David Cameron’s promise to ‘double up on change’. Instead, I was startled by yet more troubling allegations about the conditions at Yarl’s Wood. To add to the reported mistreatment of children and the four week hunger strike, the Observer has now obtained testimonies from people inside the facility that guards have been beating women:

Jacqui McKenzie of Birnberg Peirce said: “I have spoken to a client of mine in Yarl’s Wood and she has seen the bruising herself from the incident on 8 February. There is an atmosphere of real tension there.”

The images of the bruising show the injuries allegedly sustained during the incident by Denise McNeil, a 35-year-old Jamaican, who claims she was hit by staff and, since the disturbance, has been moved to London’s Holloway prison.

[...]

Meme Jallow, 26, from Gambia, who has been inside Yarl’s Wood for seven months, said: “A girl called Denise was by the windows. One officer took her and hit her by the face.”

Another hunger striker, a 37-year-old from Nigeria who asked to remain anonymous for fear of her asylum case being unfairly reviewed, said: “The security went outside and used shields like they do when there is a war. That is what they used to smash one of the women who was outside.”

Now, I’m not in the mood for hyperventilating this afternoon, and nothing new will be gained by just restating my belief that Yarl’s Wood should close immediately, with an apology offered to all who’ve been mistreated in these publicly-funded, privately-run quasi-prisons.

Instead, I wanted to guage the opinion of Labour members/voters/activists – the grassroots blog-writers and door-knockers who are the best face of an otherwise haggard-looking party.

When I learned the existence of these centres back in my more idealistic youth, it was a discovery which began my gradual estrangement from the Labour Party. I did not want to be a part of any political party which, when in government, incarcerated asylum seekers, particularly when the motivations for doing so seemed deeply craven.

Though I may have moderated in the intervening years, that remains my view. Furthermore, whilst I cannot generalise to the rest of my generation, when your formative political experiences are of a state acting punitively towards society’s most vulnerable, you may be less inclined to regard the state as a potential force for good.

I realise, of course, that there’ll be plenty within the Labour Party who’re equally opposed to Yarl’s Wood and its ilk, and I’m sympathetic to the argument that you can only change a party from the inside. What I’m curious about is whether there is any scope for change. Is this the kind of issue which enrages local activists? Are there enough of them to demand a change of approach by the party leadership? Will we ever hear a Labour leader complaining about the treatment of asylum seekers rather than excusing it?

To find out, I’m going to pull my first ever tagging trick and ask Dr Phil, Don Paskini, Though Cowards Flinch and any of my Labour-voting readers (the ones I haven’t already scared off). Can Labour get any more liberal on this issue, or I expect this squalid status quo to remain, and get over it?

Not Every Child Matters

February 17, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics | 6 Comments
Yarl's Wood

A drawing by a child at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, taken from the Children's Commissioner's report. You can probably work out the message.

When you govern to get rid of bad headlines, you shouldn’t really be surprised when your policies contradict each other.

In 2001 the government responded to hysteria over ‘bogus’ asylum seekers by opening Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre; a clearing house for folks whose asylum claims had been rejected and were therefore to be deported back to their countries of origin.

In its nine miserable years, Yarl’s Wood has experienced suicides and self-harming, riots, hunger strikes, a fire and the quite damning verdict that it was unsafe for the families being held there. Of course, none of this has deterred Labour from incarcerating men, women and children in facilities like this for however long the UK Border Agency sees fit.

A few years later, in response to the horrendous death of Victoria Climbie, the government passed the Children Act, which established in law that services for children must incorporate Every Child Matters into its policy and practice. For the first time, every child, regardless of their circumstances, should have the support to: stay healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution to society and have some measure of economic well-being.

On the evidence provided by the Children’s Commissioner, the detention of children at Yarl’s Wood is incompatible with the standards set out in Every Child Matters. The failure to address or even assess a child’s psychological well-being, the shoddy medical record-keeping, the traumatic and often heavy-handed way removals are carried-out, and the prospect of indefinite detention all stand in contravention of Yarl’s Wood’s obligation to keep children safe and healthy. What should trouble the most is that standards have actually improved – I dread to think what they were like before.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green’s conclusion that children at Yarl’s Wood suffer great mental distress only confirms reports, both anecdotal and academic, that it is not fit to look after them. This study (PDF) found children suffering from a range of mental health problems, which manifested as anxiety, depression, wetting the bed, soiling themselves, having problems sleeping and even displaying abnormally sexualised behaviour. By the standards of the Children Act – by the standards of our civic morality – we cannot tolerate detention when it damages them so profoundly.

If Every Child Matters is to mean anything, it has to mean that every single child, regardless of their circumstances or background, should be protected from physical and mental harm. The detention of the children at Yarl’s Wood demonstrates the shallowness of Labour’s commitment to that aim; no, not every child matters. In fact, those that matter the least are the most vulnerable.

No room at the inn

December 27, 2008 at 10:30 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics | 1 Comment

border-control

You’ll have to forgive the wonkish legalese, but there’s a principle in international law called non-refoulement, which forbids the expulsion of refugees back to states where they might be subjected to persecution. Deeply ingrained within the 1951 UN convention (of which Britain is a signatory), it arose from the widely-felt shame of failing to provide an adequate safehaven from Nazi genocide, and a resolve that it must never happen again.

Increasingly, though, it’s hard to reconcile our country’s commitment to this deeply important principle with the reality of our actions. Nearly two weeks ago I wrote about the Centre for Social Justice’s report into the gross incompetencies within our asylum system, and noted how the process could become both more efficient and more humane. But whilst that report was laudable for its strong and constructive criticism, it only noted the injustices which face those ‘lucky’ enough to enter the country. In fact, as the Refugee Council reports, our mistreatment of refugees extends beyond our borders.

In recent years, Labour’s worked under the assumption that the best way of dealing with immigrants and refugees is to stop them from even getting on a plane. To do this, the state relies on its immigration controls being implemented in foreign countries – partly by public servants who’re ‘posted’ abroad, but mostly by employees of private airlines and security companies. None of these people are tasked with or trained in refugee protection; they don’t know how to identify refugees and ensure their safety, because their priority is to stop them from entering Britain in the first place. Private airlines routinely refuse boarding to any passenger suspected of seeking asylum, and there is a complete lack of transparency over how they make their decisions.

This outsourcing of immigration control makes it exceptionally difficult for genuine refugees to take safe routes into the country, and since their fear of persecution is no less real, many are forced to seek more hazardous ways of getting here. The report sheds light on the desperate, life-risking routes some refugees have to take, and describes the trauma of dealing with smugglers, travelling through lawless zones and encountering border guards, particularly for women and children.

But the main consequence of our government’s policy of ‘intercepting’ asylum seekers is that it means most refugees face one of two outcomes. The ‘lucky’ ones remain in a state of perpetual transit; unable to return home, they’re forever knocking on the door of ‘Fortress Europe’ and seeking ever more desperate – and dangerous – ways of sneaking in unnoticed. Meanwhile, those who aren’t so lucky risk being swept up in a system of deportations which will eventually lead them back to the country they first fled.

In many small, bureaucratic ways, we have eroded and undermined our 60-year-old commitment to providing refuge for victims of violence and persecution; whilst we still claim to abide by the high principles of international law, the obstacles we place in refugees’ paths are often too difficult to overcome. In this supposed season of reflection, we should ponder what it says about Labour as a political party, and Britain as a country, that we’ve allowed it to happen.

This is a follow-up to a previous post, Restoring Dignity for Asylum Seekers, which you can find here.

A reminder

December 20, 2008 at 11:59 pm | Posted in Asylum | Leave a comment

Whilst out Googling this evening, I found this high school newsletter:

National Portrait Gallery Project

A group of Year 13 students, studying English Language and Art, were invited last term to work with the National Portrait Gallery and the Graves Gallery in Sheffield to create a full exhibition.

For 12 weeks students gave up their free time to read about the fascinating life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an extraordinary 18th century traveller and writer, to develop ideas for an exhibition, which would appeal to a younger audience.

The students wrote the text panels and designed several methods of exhibiting the portraits, working with the curator, graphic designers and marketing department.

The finished exhibition runs until June at the Graves Gallery and is definitely worth a visit.

Among the students praised for their hard work and commitment is Valerie Thulambo.

Valerie, her sister and her mother will all be spending Christmas in a detention centre. They’ll be deported before the year’s out.

Compare/Contrast

December 16, 2008 at 9:04 am | Posted in Asylum, British Politics | Leave a comment
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Sorry to keep banging this drum, but just for the record:

One of Robert Mugabe’s closest political allies is living in luxury in London while being allowed to fly to and from Zimbabwe, despite her close links to the dictator’s feared Zanu-PF party.

[...]

Florence Chitauro, one of Mugabe’s loudest cheerleaders, who during her time as a Zanu-PF minister was responsible for suppressing strikes against his regime, lives in a plush town house in west London with her husband, James, a former senior civil servant in Zimbabwe who played a key role in advising the Mugabe administration. Their son and daughter also live in the UK.

When confronted by The Observer, Chitauro said she was a ‘private citizen at the moment’ and declined to comment further. Asked whether she now denounced the Mugabe regime, she replied: ‘No, I’m not going to say that.’

Meanwhile:

A Zimbabwean woman and her two daughters who fled the Mugabe regime are to be deported from Britain despite promises by the Government to protect the country’s citizens.

Priviledge Thulambo, 39, whose husband was murdered by Robert Mugabe’s men, and her children are being detained in a controversial immigration centre after being seized by immigration officers on Friday.

[...]

Mrs Thulambo and her daughters Valerie, 20, and Lorraine, 18, have spent eight years in the UK. Mrs Thulambo’s Cambridge-educated husband, Macca, was killed for his links to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. His widow tried to leave Zimbabwe but was arrested at the airport, and later tortured and raped.

She and her daughters fled to neighbouring Malawi, where they obtained passports because of her late husband’s dual nationality. Immigration officials seized Mrs Thulambo’s Zimbabwean passport during their arrest at dawn on Friday

So some unapologetic Zanu-PF apparatchik can live a life of luxury and float from London to Zimbabwe unimpeded, despite our government’s promises to restrict the movements of Mugabe’s team of thugs…

But a woman whose husband was executed, and who herself was raped and tortured, will be spending Christmas in a detention centre before being tossed back to that hopeless, starving, cholera-plagued country, despite our government’s promises to take care of Zimbabwean refugees.

Nice to have a system which works, isn’t it?

Update: From the comments on a previous post, there’s a Facebook group about the case, if you’re interested.

Restoring dignity for asylum seekers

December 15, 2008 at 9:39 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics, Conservative Party, New Labour | 5 Comments

Back in March, when the government was still intent on tossing a gay teenager back to Iran with instructions to ‘be discreet’, the human rights group EveryOne stated that the United Kingdom was a ‘danger for all refugees’. Citing the mistreatment of Mehdi Kazemi and so many others, the group warned that the way we treat refugees is so systemically callous as to border on persecution. Upon reading the story of yet another brave, frightened family who’ve fallen victim to a system short on logic and decency, it’s very difficult to draw any other conclusion.

The process of dealing with asylum claims desperately needs reform, and since there are no indications the government shares this concern, we’re forced to look elsewhere. This week, the Centre for Social Justice published its report into the flaws and failings of the current system, together with practical ideas of how it could be improved. It was produced with the input of various experts in the field and and contains a foreword by, of all people, Iain Duncan Smith.

For Duncan Smith, this marks something of a Damascene conversion. During his early parliamentary career he was known as an arch Eurosceptic and a strong critic of asylum and immigration; he had flirted with ‘voluntary repatriation’ and used Powellite language when speaking of the ‘dangers’ immigrants posed to his constituency. That he has gone from that to endorsing proposals which are more progressive than a Labour government is quite an achievement.

The report wastes no time stabbing at the heart of the system, which operates under the assumption that if you make the place more difficult to enter and make their circumstances more unpleasant when they arrive, it’ll deter people from coming here in the first place. Whilst that logic might be true of your average teenage boy’s bedroom, it doesn’t work with immigration. Why? Well, according the Home Office’s own research, asylum seekers didn’t come for the NHS or the free council housing, but because of colonial links, family ties and a sadly mistaken belief that we’re a nation with a deep sense of justice. Oh, and because quite a few of them were fleeing for their lives. What’s more, levels of asylum applications have pretty much risen and fallen in line with global trends, so the extent to which this approach has worked seems negligable.

The report also found that asylum seekers are subject to a ‘culture of disbelief’, which treats them more as potential ‘scroungers’ than victims. On top of this, interpretation is of a poor quality, decisions are based on the whims of those assessing each claim, the evidence of expert witnesses is often dismissed without justification, assessments are often made using out-of-date information and by people under pressure to meet politically-motivated targets.

But by far the worst part of the system is what happens when an asylum claim is rejected. Access to public services is severely restricted and refugees are barred from working, which drives some underground and leaves others at the mercy of charity; for example, the Red Cross estimates that 26,000 people are relying on their food parcels just to eat. I wish there was a more diplomatic way of putting it; our government tries to choke asylum seekers into leaving the country.

So how does the Centre for Social Justice propose to change things? Well, the first – and most important – reform is to take politics out of the decision-making process by having applications heard by well-trained and independent magistrates, rather than ill-equipped administrators striving to meet government targets. The next is to split the UK Border Agency into three parts so that more emphasis is placed on care, increasing access to legal aid and giving enough time for applicants to make their case. Crucially, failed asylum seekers would continue to receive housing & financial aid until their appeals have been decided, and those whose claims have been rejected but cannot be deported will be allowed to seek work. Whilst there might well be aspects of the report we can quibble with, each stage in the process outlined by the CSJ reads as more humane and effective than the desperate mess we have now.

The fact that a man whose bid for the Conservative Party leadership was endorsed by the far-right Monday Club can see the inhumanities of our asylum system and endorse an alternative which is superior to that offered by Labour should really give one pause for thought. It’s just a shame that in a public sphere which still sweats with anti-immigrant sentiment, it’s difficult to see either party adopting it. Nevertheless, those of us who care more about good policy than good politics should embrace this report as a much-needed blueprint for restoring dignity for asylum seekers and beginning to repair the good name of this country.

Gimme Shelter

December 14, 2008 at 11:31 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics, New Labour | 8 Comments

I know there are few moral absolutes in politics. Every day our public sphere throbs with debate about the challenges we face, and on issues as complex as tax and spending, crime and welfare, women and men of good conscience should be able to argue in good faith, and their disagreements shouldn’t mean that one is more virtuous than the other.

I know, too, that in an age of austerity, the prevailing instinct is self-preservation. When we’re losing our jobs and our homes and are paying for the shopping with small change, it’s sometimes impossible to look outside of our own private battles towards the wars which rage outside our windows.

But surely we can agree that no matter how wretched the recession, no matter how frightening our finances, no matter how much more prudent we all need to be with our money, we can still, as a country, afford a home for someone with nowhere else to go.

Surely we can agree that in Great Britain, in the 21st century, under the party of Labour, a woman who has tried to rescue her children from tyranny can be found some quiet corner of this green and pleasant land to live the rest of her life in peace. We can still manage that, can’t we?

Apparently not.

The woman in the centre of this picture is Priviledge Thulambo. Several years ago, her husband was murdered for failing to goose-step to the tyrannical drumbeat of Robert Mugabe. When she tried to flee Zimbabwe with her two daughters (both pictured), she was arrested, raped and tortured. She eventually escaped to neighbouring Malawi, where her late husband held dual citizenship, and then came to Britain to claim asylum. Priviledge and her daughters have lived here for eight years, and have become part of the community in the Sheffield suburb in which they live.

But now the Home Office wants to send them back. Because they entered into the country on Malawian passports (which was the only way they could’ve gotten here in the first place), they have been idiotically assessed as Malawians, which makes their asylum claim invalid. As a result, they will spend Christmas in a detention centre before being deported to Malawi, where they face the prospect of a second deportation back to Zimbabwe and an all-but-certain execution.

For all the faults of this government, it is not intrinsically malicious or mean-spirited; indeed, the Home Office has promised to protect Zimbabwean asylum seekers for however long that crazed despot continues to squeeze the life out of it. Instead, Ms Thulambo and her daughters have become victims of bureaucracy – that abyss of form-filling, box-ticking and de-personalised processing which leaves asylum seekers in years of limbo: barred from employment, unable to plan a future for themselves, and left at the mercy of Churches and charities like ASSIST, which does incredible, heart-rending work.

These brave women’s plight isn’t 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 back to whichever humanitarian catastrophe they fled. Whilst I’m open to ideas about how this mess could be reformed, one thing should be undeniable: when the system makes decisions like this, it desperately, urgently needs to be changed.

One quote you read often in civil liberties circles is “give me liberty or give me death“. For Ms Thulambo and her daughters, their future really is that depressingly stark, and it’s to this country’s shame that we’ve allowed it to happen.

Mehdi Kazemi granted asylum

May 20, 2008 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Asylum, Gay Rights | 1 Comment
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Some of my more ‘veteran readers’ (i.e. the 6 people who knew I was keeping this blog), might remember an earlier post about Mehdi Kazemi, the 19-year-old Iranian teenager who sought asylum in Britain and feared he would be killed if returned to Iran (not without justification, either – his own boyfriend was killed for being gay).

Kazemi’s initial application was refused, prompting him to try the Netherlands, but when a Dutch court (correctly) decided it should be our decision in the first place, his plight became desperate, prompting the Lib Dems’  Simon Hughes and various members of the House of Lords to appeal to the Home Office to show some rarely-seen humanity.

Anyway, his case was reconsidered and today the young man heard he has been granted asylum in Britain:

The home secretary agreed to reconsider Mr Kazemi’s case in March, after his first asylum bid failed.

The UK Border Agency now says it will allow him asylum after reviewing his case.

A spokesman said: “The UK Border Agency considers each case on its individual merits and will continue to provide refuge for those asylum seekers with a genuine need for protection.

“We keep cases under review where circumstances have changed and it has been decided that Mr Kazemi should be granted leave to remain in the UK based on the particular facts of this case.”

Here’s hoping he finds a peace & freedom he was deprived of back home.

Asylum: Peers in revolt

March 28, 2008 at 10:08 am | Posted in Asylum, British Politics | Leave a comment
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20080328_p1_big.jpg

The case of Mehdi Kazemi and the general ill-treatment of asylum seekers in Britain seems to be provoking something more substantial than a few disgruntled grumbles. From the Independent:

Britain must radically change its immigration policy and end immediately the deportation of failed asylum-seekers who fear persecution in Iran, a group of leading peers will tell the Government today.

The call for a moratorium on asylum removals is a direct response to the plight of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian teenager facing execution if he returns to Iran, whose case has been taken up by The Independent.

In a letter written to this newspaper, 17 members of the House of Lords say the case of Mr Kazemi demonstrates a change of policy is now the “only moral course” for the Government to follow.

And in a stark warning on capital punishment in Iran, the Lords report that, in January alone, more than 30 prisoners were executed for a range of offences deemed criminal by the Middle East state.

Good for them. Interesting that it’s the Lords who are leading the charge on this case; perhaps being less susceptible to pressure from the anti-asylum press means they’re freer to act on matters of conscience.

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.

A stay of execution

March 13, 2008 at 9:33 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics, Gay Rights, New Labour | 3 Comments
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Quite literally. That’s all it amounts to for the moment, but at least there’s hope. From the BBC:

The home secretary is to review the case of Iranian homosexual teenager Mehdi Kazemi, who has said he will be executed if forced to return to Iran. The UK rejected his first asylum plea, but Jacqui Smith has now granted him a temporary reprieve from deportation while she reconsiders his case.

[...]

Ms Smith said: “Following representations made on behalf of Mehdi Kazemi, and in the light of new circumstances since the original decision was made, I have decided that Mr Kazemi’s case should be reconsidered on his return to the UK from the Netherlands.”

On inheritance tax, on non-domiciles, on welfare, this is a government that’s been shown to buckle under pressure and remake itself in the image of those doing the pressurising. So let’s keep that pressure up. On an earlier post, I linked to Paul Canning’s guidance for how you should make your voice heard. Since Mr Kazemi’s asylum status is still far from guaranteed, keeping his case in the minds of ministers is still a great imperative.

The reason given by the Home Office when they refused Kazemi’s first asylum plea was that so long as you’re discreet about your homosexuality, you won’t be executed. I’ll leave this subject with the words from the unofficial Save Mahdi Kazemi website:

“To say that homosexuals are safe as long as they are discreet and live their lives in private, is to say that Ann Frank was safe from the Nazis in WWII as long as she hid in her attic.”

“United Kingdom is a danger for all refugees”

March 12, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Posted in Asylum, Gay Rights, New Labour | 7 Comments
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The shocking, shameful and entirely accurate assessment of Britain’s treatment of refugees. From the Independent:

Mehdi Kazemi, 19, who sought sanctuary in Britain in 2005 when he discovered that his partner had been hanged in Tehran for engaging in homosexual acts, is expected to be returned to Iran in the next few weeks. Mr Kazemi fled to Holland from Britain last year after the Home Office rejected his claim for asylum. But yesterday, a Dutch court ruled that he should be sent back to Britain after refusing to consider his claim for asylum.

[...]

Mr Kazemi arrived in London as a student in 2004, after which his boyfriend was arrested by Iranian police, charged with sodomy and hanged. In a telephone conversation with his father in Tehran, Mr Kazemi was told that, before the execution in April 2006, his boyfriend had been questioned about sexual relations he had with other men and under interrogation had named Mr Kazemi as his partner.

Fearing for his life if he returned to Iran, Mr Kazemi claimed asylum in Britain. But in 2007 his case was refused. Terror-stricken at the prospect of being sent home, the young Iranian made a desperate attempt to evade deportation and fled to Holland.

Apparently the Dutch are not quite as culpable of sending someone to their death as we are; the BBC reports that “under the EU’s 2003 Dublin Regulation, the state the applicant first enters is responsible for processing their application.” So our government should’ve made the right decision in the first place.

Lib Dem Simon Hughes is apparently taking Kazemi’s case further, and there is still time for Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to intervene and save him from certain death. For those who want to pressure their MPs into shaming her to do the right thing, Paul Canning has the details:

Please help by doing any of the following today:

  • PLEASE contact your MP today. The media coverage is no guarantee that Jacqui Smith will not send him back.

You can also use the following contact points:

There’s also an online petition here, and (via) a planned demo:

On Saturday March 22nd at 2pm Middle East Workers’ Solidarity will be staging a protest opposite Downing Street in defence of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian asylum seeker who the British government plans to send back to Iran on the grounds that if gay Iranians are “discreet about their sexuality”, they will not get in trouble.

In fact, Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend in Iran has already been executed for being gay, and the regime knows about Mehdi Kazemi and will likely kill him if he returns. We are demonstrating to demand that he should not be sent to his death in Iran, and that he should be allowed to stay in Britain if he so chooses.”

Other bloggers who’ve posted on the subject (and who’ll doubtless offer more comment & background on the case, not to mention a more reliable update service) are as follows:

Since there are bound to be many more that I’ve missed (this post has been constructed in a bit of a lunch hour rush), there’s always a Google Blogsearch.

Since much of yesterday seemed to revolve around Lord Goldsmith’s plans for making us all prouder, more patriotic Brits, I think Alex Parsons deserves the last word:

What would make me proud to be British? Making it through a whole week without being disgusted by my government would be a step in the right direction.

Update: From the comments:

1 paul canning on March 12, 2008 said: Edit Link

Hia website has now been set up to support Madhi’s case

http://www.madhikazemi.com/

cheers

Paul Canning

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