- Created: Wednesday, 20 May 2009 11:25
As the government is hauled over the coals by the opposition and media for failing to meet Tony Blair’s promise that by the end of December 2005, the monthly rate of removals of ‘failed asylum seekers’ would exceed the number of applicants whose claims are rejected, the racist Labour government is stepping up its drive to increase deportations. Dawn raids, in which squads of balaclava-clad officers storm the homes of asylum seekers, kidnap families and deport them, have been occurring with alarming frequency.
Racist state attacks asylum seekers
On 20 November 2005, under cover of darkness, Britain forcibly deported 15 asylum seekers to Irbil in the northern Kurdish part of war-torn and occupied Iraq. In January the government signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the ‘interim’ Iraqi government and in August it detained more than 70 people pending removal. Legal challenges and protests delayed the deportations, but on 28 August a high court judge refused to grant an order barring them from taking place. All the deportees were handcuffed and one, Hawar Ismail, was beaten up when he resisted.
Brutality and assaults are commonplace during removals, as in the case of Jamaican Angela Patterson, who was assaulted by her escort crew. They tried to deport her even though she was still bleeding from a previous assault, leaving airline crew refusing to carry her on two separate occasions. The Home Office says her ordeal in Jamaica, including being shot in the leg, was not covered by the UN Convention on Refugees.
Five Zimbabwean women are again on hunger strike at Yarls’ Wood detention centre. Despite an asylum and immigration tribunal ruling on 14 October against deporting ‘failed’ asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, Labour is now rejecting evidence – including birth certificates – that the asylum seekers are Zimbabwean citizens, and deporting them to South Africa instead, using false passports as ‘evidence’ that they are South African nationals. Many Zimbabwean asylum seekers escape first to South Africa and use false South African passports to travel to Britain. Lizwane Ndlov, one of the over 140 Zimbabweans who went on hunger strike in July, died on 10 November after being released from Yarls’ Wood Removal Centre in July. She had not been well since her release and subsequently went into a coma. Another victim of Labour’s racist laws is Edmore Ngwenya, who committed suicide in September by walking into the Manchester Ship Canal in Salford Quays. His application for asylum had been rejected in March.
Sarah Hata, who fled Uganda in 2002, where she had been imprisoned for five years, raped and tortured, was deported on 26 October with her five children, the youngest of whom is nine. Mrs Hata suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and had been receiving treatment for psychological problems, but medical evidence of her torture was not used in her application for asylum. The family were kidnapped from their home in Wigan at 1am, taken to three separate planes and assaulted during the removal process. Terrified 9-year-old Morris had an epileptic fit and his mother was prevented from going to his aid. His sister was injured after her head was forced and held under the food tray attached to the seat in front of her. No anti-malarial drugs were provided before deportation and according to her doctor ‘Sarah and several of her children now have malaria’.
Another Ugandan victim of rape and torture was deported without her three children on 13 September; she was seized while she was signing a police station register, a condition of her temporary leave to remain, and taken to Yarls’ Wood detention centre. The Home Office claimed in a letter to the family, whose 16-year-old daughter was also raped in Uganda, that ‘rapes and beatings did not amount to persecution’. The family, including a three-year-old, is now in hiding: ‘We don’t trust them, they can do anything’ (The Guardian, 12 October).
Six women, out of a group of 19 from Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Poland and Turkey, were ‘rescued’ by 50 police who raided a brothel in Birmingham where the women had been locked up, threatened, fed just one meal a day and charged for their knives and forks. They were then locked up by immigration officials, threatened with deportation and refused access to lawyers.
Mary Coussey, an ‘independent race monitor’ appointed by the Home Office found a ‘culture of disbelief’ in which immigration officials ‘decided in advance’ to reject asylum claims and then ‘looked for evidence to justify refusals’; stories of persecution are only ever accepted grudgingly. Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons has found that wooden staves [extendable police batons] are ‘routinely deployed’ at detention centres, themselves plagued by racism, brutality and a ‘sub-culture of nastiness’, and used to intimidate and hit detainees who have not been convicted of any crimes. Despite losing its appeal against the Law Lords rejection of its attempt to starve ‘failed’ asylum seekers [section 55 of Asylum and Immigration Act 2002], the racist Labour government is to ‘clamp down on late and opportunistic’ asylum claims, fast-tracking claims to two weeks while locking people up in ‘holding’ centres in Liverpool or Croydon.
Labour is developing a pilot scheme to deport unaccompanied Albanian and Vietnamese children whose asylum applications have been turned down. Previously all unaccompanied minors were granted leave to remain until they were 18 before they were deported, but now some 500 Vietnamese children are to be forcibly removed.
Deportations from Scotland
In Scotland, a movement against deportations is growing. Led by asylum-seeking families and their supporters, it is forcing members of the Scottish Socialist Party to take a stand. It is even drawing in sections of the Scottish bourgeoisie, who are beginning to protest against the more obviously brutal aspects of British immigration policy, in part because the policy is dictated from Westminster and not controlled by the Scottish parliament.
On 13 September 2005 a 16-strong snatch squad raided the home of the Vucaj family in Glasgow. The father and son were both handcuffed and the family deported to Albania on 22 September.
On 14 October Suna and Yagmar Kupeli, just nine and six-years-old, pupils at a Glasgow primary school, were dragged from their beds at dawn by a 12-strong immigration snatch squad. Their mother and father were both handcuffed and the family was taken separately in caged vans to Brand Street Immigration Office, Glasgow, and then to Yarls’ Wood detention centre.
On 11 November the Ahmed family were removed from their flat in Royston by dawn raid. 16-year-old Fahed Ahmed was not in the flat at the time of the raid and was unaware that his family had been deported to Pakistan; 13-year-old Zoha Ahmed was dragged from her bed in mid-sleep alongside her mother Farhat Ahmed and 19-year-old brother Faheem. The family were forced to use the toilet in full view of immigration officers. They were then sent on a 17-hour journey in a caged van, given only one sandwich for the entire journey; Faheem was beaten by security guards for refusing to board the plane without his brother and his mother was verbally abused for begging the guards to stop. Mrs Ahmed suffers from a serious heart and lung condition, which requires medication.
Dungavel detention centre, south of Glasgow, houses between 90 and 200-plus people, including families and children. The prisoners are held without charge or trial for months or years, exposed to racist abuse, isolated and have all support networks severed. Despite many having lived in Scotland for much of their lives, they are treated as worse than criminals.
A growing opposition to the repression has arisen in Scotland, both inside and outside refugee communities, especially since the deportation of the Vucaj family in September, when several hundred people marched through the streets of Glasgow at short notice to protest against their kidnap and expulsion. School friends of Saida Vucaj from Drumchapel high-school have played a leading role in the campaign and the protests received high-profile support from people like actor Peter Mullan and Tommy Sheridan MSP, amongst others.
The immigration and asylum offices of the Home Office in Brand Street, Glasgow have become the target of increasingly frequent protests by groups of refugees sick of the inhuman treatment meted out to them by the government. In September, a demo against the Vucaj deportation took place there. Another demonstration by Congolese women in October was imbued with a new sense of militancy and anger as they chanted, danced and vowed to never surrender the fight against the government. Ahmed Khan, who began mounting a regular one-man weekly picket every Saturday, is now joined by increasing numbers of people on a regular basis. On 19 November 100 demonstrators were there as part of a national day of action, with demonstrations in central Manchester and London, calling for an end to the deportation of children and students. RCG members in Scotland will now be joining with other groups and individuals to ensure the weekly pickets grow in strength.
On 2 November the offices were occupied in protest against dawn-raids, by several high-profile campaigners, including Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, Tommy Sheridan, Sandra White SNP MSP, Robina Qureshi and Peter Mullan.
A similar blockade took place on 21 November, when Sheridan and two others were arrested. According to a Scottish Socialist Party press release: ‘Tommy was arrested just as the demonstration was ending and following a short speech in which he thanked the police for the way they had handled the protest’.
Those arrested spent 30 hours in police custody and will appear in court on 16 January 2006. They were charged with acting in a disorderly manner, placing blockades on access gates, tampering with security gates, blocking an access road and committing a breach of the peace. They were given bail conditions which include staying away from Brand Street except on ‘legitimate business’.
A recent poll has shown that 80% of Scottish people believe asylum seekers should be granted the right to remain. A campaign is growing throughout the country against dawn raids and deportation. The friends, neighbours and classmates of asylum seekers in the impoverished areas where they are housed are no longer standing idly by as their friends are kidnapped by the state. Driven to absolute desperation, the oppressed are beginning to fight back. FRFI will give them our full support.
FRFI 188 December 2005 / January 2006