Saturday, October 28, 2006

Persecuted in Pakistan, denied refuge in Britain

The plight of an Asian Christian family

BRITISH government ministers and media persons condemning "Islamic fundamentalism" and seclusion behind the veil say they are concerned for tolerance and freedom. They only want immigrants and minorities to integrate with "our society", and "our values", so we are assured. And even the most strident voices against Muslim attitudes and behaviour will tell us their views have nothing to do with racialism.

So the Karim family should expect a welcome, and not experience any problems being accepted in this country ...

Nigel and Pearl Karim came to Britain with their children Calvin, now 11, and Crystal, 13, because as practising Christians in Pakistan they faced persecution by Muslim bigots. The family have been living in Nelson, Lancashire since 2002, and are parishioners of the Holy Saviour Roman Catholic Church there. But neither their claim to refugee status nor being respectable working people integrated into the local community is good enough for the Home Office. The Karims are threatened with deportation to Pakistan. In May this year immigration officials took them to Yarleswood detention centre in Bedfordshire. On that occasion it emerged important paperwork intended for the Home Office had been lost.

Then a week ago a letter from the Home Office arrived and the Karims were told by their solicitor their case had been rejected and they had no right of appeal. Devastated by this decision, the family asked why their evidence of being persecuted in Pakistan seemed to have been ignored. They were incensed to discover that the Home Office did not accept their evidence was genuine.

The official letter said: "We are aware that there is a high level of corruption in Pakistan and it is possible to obtain many types of fraudulent documents or documents that are fraudulently authenticated by a bona fide stamp of authority." Another excerpt said it would not be difficult to have newspaper articles published depicting certain situations or a prosecution. It ended by inviting the family to apply to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for money to help fund their relocation to Pakistan.

Pearl said: "I ask why me? Why is this family being singled out? They are just kicking us about like a football and the Home Office want us to get out by hook or by crook."I say make use of me, let me work, don't offer me money. They give money to every Tom, Dick and Harry using and abusing the system, but I want to work." Nigel agreed, he said: "The IOM sends people home voluntarily if they want to go and people can apply for £3,000 a head to help them move. That could mean £12,000 for this family.

"But I came here for the safety of my family. If they gave me £10,000 per person to go back I wouldn't do it. We are not here for economic reasons. What if we were to go back and something happened to my family?"

Despite the fact the family have been in the country for four years the letter also told the Karims that meeting friends and undertaking voluntary work wasn't advisable as they may be forced to leave the country at short notice."My children have to go to school," said Pearl. "But they don't sit in one corner and say 'don't come near us, we are asylum seekers'."The children were very little when they came. They have had their eyes opened and started to learn about life in this country."What these people don't realise is that we do not have a home. We are Christians and in Pakistan that means we are second class Asians, no matter how qualified we are."

Note that the Home Office does not say the family's evidence has been faked, but simply asserts that it could be, because of the "high level of corruption in Pakistan". This reminds me of a story I heard once about a police constable many years ago saying that he knew the accused was lying and guilty, because of the man's religious background, that they all lied. Only in that story the judge immediately threw the case out. Whereas, it seems when you are up against immigration you are guilty until you can prove innocence - and that's not that easy (except if you are white).

After news on the Karim family was posted in the Labour Left Briefing discussion list, a former Home Office(HO) immigration officer who knows how the department operates was moved to comment:-
"HO has sophisticated forgery detection teams/eqipment, it's probably more that they believe anyone could say they were a member of the Christian church there and easily produce documents so this doesn't necessarily prove that they are being persecuted but of course this kind of generalisation which was used all the time when I was at Heathrow dosen't prove that they weren't either, it sounds like they are one of a block of refusals such as we had to do for Nigerians who said they were in the Campign for Democracy, and usually just had a simple card or letter to state this. But of couse HO know full well that not all asylum seekers will have documentary evidence just as they know that it is impossible to get out of some countries and travel to the West without using forged docs along the way so when I was there (under Howard and Widdecombe ironically) this was accepted but nowthey are using any forged or counterfeit docs as an excuse to remove(deport) people which is morally wrong if they had no other way out. It sounds to me as if this family were meant to be rounded up and detained as one of Blair's latest boasts of high removal figures ...."

Our informant believes things have got worse under Labour, and that because it is not always easy to deport people to some countries, unscrupulous officials may be having to bend their own rules to meet impossible targets.

"To return to the Karims as they (shockingly) have no right of appeal these days their only option is John Reid ..."

Referring to the family's circumstances and entitlement to compassionate treatment, particularly in the current state of affairs, the writer adds: "Don't be fobbed off by a stock refusal letter with a generalised summary of the supposed conditions in Pakistan and assesment of religious persecution there as these are very often economical with the truth or at least over-generalised in nature, I know as I used to serve them. Most of them are the same for applicants from the relevant country, yet the applicants circs may be different, sometimes they put in some justifications pertinent in their opinion to the particular case and I often had to deal with some extremely upset people who said what they's written was wrong, unjust etc or who didn't agree but were sadly subdued into silence.

"I would try to cheer them up a little by making sure they had the papers for an appeal and wereaware of their appeal rights (even if I didn't think they had a hope in hell according to the decisions HO were making for those of their circs/nationality at the time) but I'm afraid some of my less scrupulous and probably more right wing colleagues didn't always do this which is partly why I used to volunteer to do FR interviews and serve these papers myself...

"The HO in my day was very canny as on the training course they warned us not to be swayed by the fact that people may have put down roots here e.g. had children and they know that applicants will use the media etc to get attention and that previous staff like me will sometimes lobby them on applicants' behalf and of course they receive representations from MPs I have now done this myself while working for an MP.

The former immigration officer describes how often even torture victims have found it difficult to get their cases heard and considered properly under changing Home Office rules which on the basis of a few frivolous cases punish the great majority of genuine ones. She also notes that incomers from Australia or white South Africans find it much easier to get permission to stay and work here than applicants from other countries, and that restrictions are being relaxed for some immigrants, but says meantime we have to work within the unjust system as best we can. "Please ensure this family gets a fair hearing".

The Karim family have seen their MP Gordon Prentice, and he wrote to Home Secretary John Reid asking him to excercise his discretion and let them stay.
"This is a last resort for the family as all appeals have been exhausted and there is no further appeal that can be legally made," he said."I have known the Karims for some years now and they have been battling moves to deport them and I have supported them," said Mr Prentice."They are well integrated, they have children here and they are a part and parcel of the local community. The school has spoken vociferously on their behalf and petitions have been given to me and passed on. The Catholic Church and clerics have been to see me and there is just a huge amount of goodwill there for them and I recognise that."I am going to do my best for my constituents so we shall wait and see what happens. I have asked the speaker for a debate in the Commons and if I do get a debate then I will speak about the plight of Christians in Pakistan."

In light of this most recent development a major effort has been launched by friends and supporters of the Karims. Mr Brendan Conboy, Calvin and Crystal's headteacher at Fisher-More RC High School, said the school and church community was desperate to help the family in any way possible.Many people have written to the Home Secretary as well as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England.Holy Saviour Church, Nelson, has also set up a prayer appeal on its website to raise awareness of the family's situation.The family has urged anyone willing to help to visit the website and write to the Home Office. Pearl said: "I think the more people that get involved the faster the message will get across to the relevant people. That is what we want, more people to to know about our situation and what the Home Office is trying to do to us."
(from Nelson Today)

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At 5:34 AM, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

Really powerful, well written post.


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