This is a guest post by Melvyn Kohn
The layers of dust are making history in Iran, Robert Fisk tells us, quoting Ahmadinejad. It is now day 6 in the Big Brother House, where ‘layers of dust’ allude to the opposition, seven of whom have been laid in the dust. But the dust is not lying low, it is swirling in masses, and the masses are not lying low. Masses of dust. We see no end in sight.
Into this scene a young man had just arrived. He was sent from London, where he had been held while asking for asylum in the infamous Harmondsworth. It is conveniently near Heathrow. So near that the inmates can see the insignias of every plane that leaves. And of this phenomenon one inmate wrote:
“The courtyard has an almost religious significance. Its crude, gravelly surface, upon which football and cricket matches are played, and its stoic tan brick facades, scarce make for an inner sanctum; it is, in its own way though, sacrosanct. Groups of men, at times cheerful, at times sombre, socialise, play and pace along its nondescript lengths. They smoke, they chat, and they feed the pigeons when the officers are not around to disapprove. The avian company is a bit of comic relief; the birds swoop down to share our rations of bread and biscuits, squabbling amongst themselves not unlike those who toss them their daily crumbs. But, unlike their benefactors, they are free to fly away, free to pursue their lives and loves, and free to perch on the rooftop where they congregate so often, looking down with hungry, accusing eyes. Rats with wings one guy calls them.
But it is at other birds that the inmates are more inclined to pay heed, craning their heads skywards to view when they appear. We are a stone’s throw from Heathrow, and the jets soar above us like winged leviathans, roaring overhead with a rude disregard for any quiet conversation in the courtyard as they transport their living cargo to parts unknown. British Airways, Continental, Air France, El Al, Uzbek Airlines, the inmates know the exact markings of each as well as Bill Oddie knows his warblers. At times the sight of a particular airline serves to concentrate minds today as much as the sight of the gallows upon those condemned in days goneby. And some of these planes are just such; high tech, high flying birds that are as much the instruments of death as the scaffold. The stairs leading to the plane are not much different than those leading to the scaffold. The victim ascends these, and is not long after back on the ground, from which he ascends no more. Adam Osman Mohamed, before he was led to the stairs of the plane taking him to Darfur, told his captors, who had hoped would be his protectors, that if he were sent back, he would be killed. Many proofs he produced, but these were ignored. His pleas fell on deaf ears. One of those flying machines which ruin so many courtyard conversations swallowed him up and spit him out in Darfur, where he tasted freedom under the bright blue sky of his homeland. No more legal visits, no more refusals, no more nightly lockdowns, he was as free as the pigeons that feast upon our bread. Home, and how sweet it was. Back in the arms of his wife, free to hold in his own arms the children he had not seen for so long. His detention by the British Home Office was a thing of the past. Never again would he have to live behind bars and share his life with strangers. But this utopia was shortlived. He was killed the next day, shot in front of his wife and children. “
Of his death, Robert Verkaik, home affairs correspondent of the Independent wrote a story titled: “Sent back by Britain – killed in Darfur.” It was published on 17 March, 2009. But of the young man sent back to Iran I expect we wil not see any news in that or any other paper. He was led up those those scaffold-like steps up to the plane and was spit out hours later on arrival, accompanied by two men in dark glasses, who made sure he did not hand in any note to the crew telling them of his plight. And much to the relief of some people. The fact that he was previously taken off the plane on 7 June, after handing the crew the note, did not do much to endear him to the security detail. When they searched him, they used such force they broke his shoes that time. When he complained, he was told to talk to the imam. Being a Christian, he was not about to. But now that he is gone, he may well be talking to the Islamic religious authorities after all. They have issued writs for his appearance, and they are not going to be talking about shoes.
So he will not be emailing MP Brian Iddon anymore with his desperate pleas. What we thought would be a good move turned out to be a waste of time. Iddon, in emails sent to a colleague, rather than getting the young man released, spent his time speculating on his motives – and went so far as to reply to one reader of this site that the young man was not doing much to help himself. I had to go over the case point by point to undo the damage. Let me reply to Iddon’s nonsense here as well: the man was a genuine Christian and had entered the country legally. Iddon, you had a duty to help him, not ask inane questions. Precious time was wasted. Why were you so unhelpful? You eventually put a caseworker on to it, who did call Harmondsworth, but why stop there? The buck stops way above Harmondsworth. There was no mention of any attempt to contact Phil Woolas – a step other MPs are on record as having taken (John McDonnell for instance, in regards the case posted to this site on 6 June). Your caseworker was asked this quesion earlier this afternoon in an email.
It may well be a rhetorical question. The young man is gone. You are still here. And I hope that soon you too are gone. Thanks for nothing.
But to all of you who rallied round, I cannot thank you enough. You all did what you could to save a life. He is in God’s hands now. We can do more than Brian Iddon did; we can make prayers. Please do, because this young man is going to need them. Somewhere in the swirling masses of historical dust, he is making his way to his village, another asylum seeker failed by the Home Office.