On Tuesday night the government deported Majid Ali, a student at Glasgow Central College. Despite a campaign to stop his extradition, Ali has been sent to his home country of Pakistan, where activists and SNP MP Chris Stephens say he’s in danger of ‘physical harm, and even death’. Sadly, Ali’s case is one of many: people seeking asylum in the UK are, all too often, treated with contempt.
Ali comes from Balochistan, one of four provinces in Pakistan. In this region – Pakistan’s largest, which is also mineral-rich – there’s an ongoing conflict between Baloch nationalists and the government. The nationalists’ cause is centred on a demand for autonomy (and, for many, independence) and for more control over resources. Human Rights Watch have reported that suspected militants and activists have been forcibly disappeared by military and paramilitary forces in recent years. It’s thought Ali is in danger of being harmed by the state; there are claims that his brother has been disappeared and that his uncle and cousin have been killed.
After coming to the UK in 2010, Ali submitted numerous asylum applications but the Home Office rejected each of them. The government refused to comment on the case, meaning that the complexities around and reasons for Ali’s denied asylum aren’t clear.
However, Ali’s deportation is a reminder of the UK’s unfeeling asylum system, where people are denied the refuge they seek time and again.
While right-wing newspapers might screech that asylum seekers (who are forced to leave their countries for different reasons from those of migrants, despite what portions of the media might have you believe) could ‘flood’ the country, refuge is not easy to come by. Research shows that in the first three months of this year, 64% of asylum cases were rejected and 1,429 people were deported (1,000 forcibly, and roughly 400 voluntarily). Although some people are able to make the passage from asylum seeker to refugee, the rules are so tough that many ‘genuine’ asylum seekers are not successful.
This is part and parcel of the dehumanisation of asylum seekers. The callousness of the system was made apparent last year when it emerged that Home Office had, quite literally, made the asylum process into a game. Officials were told they’d win prizes if they made sure that more than 70% of asylum seekers’ tribunal cases that came before them were rejected. This suggest that while people fleeing their home countries for fear of persecution are trying to prove the validity of their case – often to a ridiculous degree – the government aren’t listening.
The problems in the UK’s asylum system aren’t just found in commonplace deportation. Asylum seekers in or attempting to enter into the UK aren’t seen as human beings. Need proof? How about the ongoing abuse of women detained in Yarls’ Wood or government’s refusal to take part in the EU resettlement programme for people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean – many of whom are asylum seekers (and remember that the government has only resettled 187 Syrian refugees).
These instances in which asylum seekers’ lives are disregarded don’t seem to be isolated ones. Five years ago the Institute for Race Relations found that between 1996-2000, the UK’s asylum and immigration policies led to the deaths of 77 asylum seekers and migrants. Over one-third of these people are thought to have killed themselves because their asylum applications were rejected, showing the desperation of their situation. This is all the result of an uncaring asylum system, where people seeking refuge are nothing more than numbers on a page that must be erased from the UK at all costs.
It’s unclear what will happen to Ali now that he has been deported; there is a vocal campaign calling for him to be allowed to return to the UK. But this case speaks to a wider issue: the government doesn’t care about asylum seekers because it doesn’t see them as human beings. So without drawing unhelpful, untrue dichotomies between ‘here’ and ‘there’, it’s time to question why in this country all too often it’s deport first, ask questions never.
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Maya Goodfellow is a journalist and political commentator. She primarily writes about British politics and has worked as a researcher for a think tank. She also writes about international affairs, with a particular focus on conflict studies. Find her on Twitter: @Mayagoodfellow
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