Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Student deported to Afghanistan

CANADA'S Tory prime minister Stephen Harper, who has visited Afghanistan and keeps touch with his country's troops there says they cannot defeat Taliban by military means, and he is seeking answers from President Obama. British military commanders have voiced similar concerns. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises that no part of Afghanistan is safe.

But the British Home Office has just deported a 16-year old lad to Afghanistan. He was not a criminal, or terrorist, not even a "terror suspect". His rights and safety might have been better treated if he was.

On Tuesday, February 3, Satnam Singh Gurwara (Home Office Ref: G1154308), aged 16, was arrested when he and his dad went to sign at Dallas Court in Salford, as required. He was locked up in the Pennine House Detention Centre at Terminal Two of Manchester Airport. He was then transferred to Campsfield Detention Centre in Oxfordshire, over 150 miles away from his family and friends. He was separated from his mum, Peretpal (39) and dad, Rewandar (46) and his sisters Jasmeen(17) and Simran(12).

The family live in Bolton, Greater Manchester. Satnam had been a student at Bolton Community College. As the name Singh tells us, Satnam and his family are Sikhs, part of a religious minority that suffered in Afghanistan during years of war and religious fanaticism, and did not enjoy security after the country's "liberation" by the US. and its warlord allies. On November 18, 2004, when he was 12, Satnam was snatched on his way to a Sikh temple in Kabul. He says his kidnappers, Taliban, held him for two days, and beat him. He needed 39 stitches in his leg when he was released.

Satnam's family continued to face threats. They decided to sell everything they owned and flee the country in April 2007. Thousands of Sikhs have done the same thing, over the years, some moving into Pakistan, itself not exactly a safe place, or reaching India, or as in the case of Satnam and his family, coming to Britain. In recent years some Sikhs have returned to take their chances in the "democratic" Afghanistan, and rebuild a community life, though the country remains neither tolerant nor secure.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its advice to travellers says:

  • Afghanistan has a high threat of terrorism and specific methods of attack are evolving and increasing in sophistication.
  • No part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts. Visitors travelling to Afghanistan do so at their own risk and without protection from HMG.
  • You should maintain a heightened level of vigilance at all time, observing the strictest of security measures and avoid any unnecessary travel. Travellers should also consider making their own security arrangements for the duration of their time in Afghanistan.

  • We strongly advise against all but essential travel to Kabul and the surrounding urban area, because of ongoing terrorist activity and the high risk of kidnap, violent crime and suicide attacks. The main supply routes and principle roads have a particular heightened threat of road side bombs and ambush.

The FCO says that Taliban still engages in kidnappings. It also warns against offending religious susceptibilities, reminding would-be visitors that Afghanistan is a Muslim country - which is a mild way of admitting that the "democratic" regime remains Islamicist in its attitude and laws. Despite this, the Home Office has deported a young man who belongs to a minority, and has experienced ill-treatment at the hands of kidnappers before.

After a week in detention, Satnam was released on bail, but he was arrested again and yesterday, March 3 he was put on the plane for Afghanistan. Fortunately, the Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research Organisation (RAPAR), which had said it was "outraged" by the young man's detention and called for his release, was able to contact friends in Afghanistan so that Satnam would be met at the Kabul airport when he arrived.

Satnam's father Rawander, and mother Peretpal, and sisters Jasmeen, 17, and Simran, 12 - were understandably said to be 'extremely distressed' by the whole affair. And it is not over. The Home Office, which queried Satnam's age and the extent of his leg injuries, says the rest of the family will have to make their own claims for asylum on a case by case basis.

BA Home Office spokesman said: "We do not accept that we should make the provision that each and every asylum seeker that presents themselves as being from a particular country or a particular region should automatically be given UK protection.

"Such an approach would lead to abuse and would cause a pool of other applicants. Therefore, applications are considered on their individual basis.

"Only those who will face fear, persecution or crisis at home will be granted asylum and we will enforce the return of those individuals that the courts are satisfied are not at risk of persecution when they return to Afghanistan."

It might strike us that one department of the British government - the Home Office - does not know - or does not want to know - what another - the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is saying. Or maybe it prefers the propaganda being fed us via the media suggesting that everything in Afghanistan is going fine, apart from the odd casualty or danger to royals.

Back in the 1980s when officialdom was rejecting asylum claims by Iraqi Kurds, it insisted there was no evidence Saddam Hussein had used gas at Halabja - a fact only admitted later when it suited the case for war. Dismissing the marks on a student's leg is no problem for these experts.

Indeed, the British government is quite capable of deciding that people from particular countries or regions should face barriers and discrimination, and as in this case, deportation even into war zones, without any court hearing.

If you would like any more information about this case please contact:
Ben Hickman

Info. sources:

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