This is a guest post by Melvyn Kohn
The issue of immigration and asylum is not a simple one. Some far right groups offer the one shot “solution” of sending everyone “back”. They might well applaud Anthony Eden and Ernest Bevin who denied leave to asylum seekers from Europe in the 1940s. This same bunch might also delight in the fact that today, many genuine asylum seekers are refused, and even people born here, who have never been to any other country, are deported.
The BNP and its congeners ought not to have victory over common sense. But, if we do not take note and act on behalf of the vulnerable, they will, if only by default. At present, there have been a number of cases in which people have presented evidence of abuse, but were sent back to face more; or, in the case of Adam Osman Mohammed and many others, to be killed. His case is not an isolated incident; a recent article in the Guardian by Diane Taylor discusses two men who were sent back to the DRC in March who were subsequently tortured and sexually abused. In my own research at Harmondsworth, I have found that fatalities after repatriation abound, especially among Iraqis.
If I were to make one simple point, it is that we cannot allow this to continue. However, there is rebuttal in the fact that the evidence presented by refugees is often not prima facie or well corraborated. And that closes the case, simply and conveniently, for the BNP. In their view Mr. Mohammed failed. He failed to convince his caseowner that he was in danger. He told them he would be killed if he was sent back. He was sent back. He was killed. We have blood on our hands.
What does that tell us?
Nothing, if we do not want to hear, if we only use the letter of the law.
But it speaks loudly to anyone with a conscience. It tells us that we need to review the legal standard of proof, bearing in mind that refugees often do not arive with anything more than the shirt on their back. How much prima facie evidence do we expect of them? But there are times when even solid evidence is ignored, and it has been my experience that this is rather often. I have seen cases of torture victims who have shown their wounds to the Home Office and still been rejected, one interviewer deciding arbitrarily that the victim was lying. The Home Office has since refused to let that person have a Medical Foundation interview to examine these claims. The appeal process would be jeopardised. without such an interview. The case is presently adjourned at the insistence of his lawyer so he can get a proper assessment made.
But what about people who do not have any evidence other than their word? For instance, an 18-year-old Pakistani orphan gave me a graphic account of being tortured and watching his parents tortured and sexually abused. He recounts that his politically active parents became targets of the police and military in Pakistan, and that despite moving around repeatedly, they were always found and tortured. In 2004 they sent him, then aged 14, to the UK, and then later his younger brother, where they were cared for by a friend of the family. Of his ordeal he writes:
I have been tortured alot. I was kidnapped for 5 days. This happened in late 2003. I was tied up on a chair. I was given very very little food once in a day. At one time i was forced to drink petrol. I was soaked in cold water for a number of days. I was urinated on many times. I was sexually degraded by Army and police people. While I was kidnapped and kept away from my family I was forced to tell my parents over the phone to give those people money for them to release me. My father had then given them money after a few days and I was returned to my family in a horrible and extremely critical medical condition. They tried to rape me. I was unconcious for 3 days in bed after they threw me back in my house at night. I was tortured and physically abused to such an extent that I almost died. I was sexually harrased by the Army and Police People. My parents were given threats in early 2004 (approx March/April) that I would be kidnapped again and I would be buried alive by the Army and Police people. My father was shot by a gun in front of me on his leg twice and he was taken away by the Army people in April 2004. When he returned after approximately 6 – 7 weeks he was in a horrible condition. I heard my father talking to my mother and explaining her that they had him tied up against the wall and they hammered nails into his legs. I overheard my father telling my mother that they sexually harrassed my father. My father was also given electric shocks while he was in the Army’s custody. While my father was in the Army’s custody and my mother was raped a number of times in April 2004. Everytime those people came to our house my mother locked us in the store room upstairs. Those people used to beat my mother up and ask her where are the children and she said that she does not know. They wanted to take me and my brother into their custody but fortunately my mother had locked us in a store room upstairs where they could not find us. Me and my brother heard my mother screaming with pain while they were beating her up with belts and raping her.
Of his present physical and mental condition, he writes about having a broken jaw, the consequence of a racial attack in this country, a bad back, and severe depression.
He is in no doubt that his life is in danger if returned to Pakistan. And then there is the fact that he has an underage sibling here to take care of.
His account is not only plausible, as these things certainly happen in Pakistan, but, also believable. It is much to be expected that there would not be much prima facie evidence, but there is the psychological evidence. And that may be all some of these people have. There needs to be better assessment in such delicate cases. We cannot simply go on demanding a level of proof that is unrealistic.
But what do I have to back up such an argument? Nothing, you might say. And that is what so many refugees had in the 1940s when they too told of terrible tortures and had little or no proof except their word. Why did we not take it then, and are we going to repeat the same mistake today?