UK abuse during asylum removals must stop

The Independent carries a powerful front-page “special investigation” today exposing the abuse of asylum seekers while they are being forcibly removed from the UK.

Sadly it’s not news to Amnesty. Back in 2005, our report on the detention of asylum seekers revealed that several people we interviewed, whose asylum claims had been rejected, complained of being assaulted while being escorted to the airport to be forcibly removed from the UK.  

One case from that report tells the story of C, who  fled his own country in West Africa after the president was assassinated, his family were targeted, his house destroyed and his younger brother killed.  He claimed asylum three days after arriving in the UK. He was detained, released, and then detained again after his asylum application and appeal failed. The story of his attempted removal mirrors those in The Independent:

The Immigration Service tried to forcibly return C to his country of origin without any of his belongings. The flight was cancelled while he was waiting at the airport. Five days later, he was booked onto another flight to forcibly remove him. This time he resisted being returned without his possessions, and alleged that he was badly beaten by eight escorts from the private company employed to carry out forcible removals.   He complained that as a result of this assault, he was badly bruised, his face was bleeding and he could not stand unaided. He was taken back to Harmondsworth IRC where he was seen by a nurse but had to wait four days before his request to see a doctor was met….

…despite presenting medical evidence documenting the assault he had been subjected to by escort staff he was not believed.  Instead, the escort staff, who counter-claimed that he had assaulted them, were believed in the absence of any medical evidence in support of their allegations.

Nobody should be subjected to assault during forcible removal from the UK. We hope that the allegations raised in the Independent article are thoroughly and independently investigated.

But the article also highlights another, underlying problem, visualised in the horrific scene of a plane-load of men, women and children struggling, shouting and crying as they are forcibly removed. People are terrified because the UK is trying to send people back to countries that are unsafe. In recent months we have reacted to stories that the UK has started removals of refused asylum-seekers to Baghdad, despite the continuing violence; a proposed removal to Mogadishu, surely one of the most dangerous cities on the planet; and even plans to send children back to Afghanistan, where the UK and other nations are still fighting a war.

Amnesty International  believes that refused asylum seekers should only be removed when sufficient guarantees are in place to ensure that their return is safe and dignified But arguing that some of these proposed removals are to safe countries is bordering on the ridiculous. You can take action against forcible removals to Baghdad here.

For those interested in refugee issues (or just in great theatre) there’s a new Old Vic play opening this week in the atmospheric subterranean tunnels beneath Waterloo Station. Aftermath is based on interviews conducted with 37 Iraqi civilians displaced by the violence of war, and driven to seek refuge in Jordan.

A cast of nine portrays the experiences of an extraordinary cross section of Iraqi society seven years after the US invasion, from the voice of an Imam imprisoned in Abu Ghraib to a young mother whose family was caught in a car bombing.  The result vividly brings to life the realities of wartime, its innocent victims, and the appalling carnage of conflict. More info here

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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