UK: Expulsion of two leading participants in Yarl's Wood protest is "political reprisal," say campaigners

Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

29.01.2013 - The decision to deport by charter flight two women who played key roles in recent protests at the Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre has provoked outrage amongst their supporters.

Shazia, a Pakistani national who was given removal directions for 21 January and Aderonke, a Nigerian national issued with a charter flight deportation order for 24 January, were involved in protests involving over 100 women last October, following the attempted forcible deportation of a fellow detainee. [1] Supporters have requested that they only be referred to by their first names.

The campaign group Movement for Justice (MFJ), which supported the detainees' protests, has denounced the deportations of Shazia and Aderonke as "a cynical attempt to crush the spirit of thousands of women asylum seekers, in and out of detention." [2]

During the October protests, mass meetings inside Yarl's Wood led to the publication of a list of demands including an end to detention, deportations, the UK's "fast-track" asylum system, and more immediate demands such as respect for freedom of speech, expression, organisation and privacy.

Five women, including Aderonke, were brought to prison shortly after the protests, a move described by MFJ as an infringement on the "fundamental democratic right to organise and protect in order to demand justice."

No risk of homophobic persecution in Nigeria

"Aderonke was the main organiser and leader of the Movement for Justice group in Yarl's Wood, a Nigerian lesbian who galvanized other lesbians in Yarl's Wood to fight homophobia, and then widened that group to women of all nationalities and backgrounds fighting for their freedom," according to MFJ's communique calling for her release.

Aderonke has been detained under immigration rules in the Styal prison near Manchester since October. Following an information request by Statewatch, the UKBA explained that immigration detainees may be held in prison "when it is unsuitable to detain someone for their safety."

Detention in prison has been challenged as illegal by Aderonke's lawyers who claim the UKBA is abusing its powers: Aderonke was not under threat in Yarl's Wood, they say, nor was she a threat to anyone else's safety.

The UKBA rejected her asylum application, based on the risk of persecution in Nigeria due to her sexuality, and issued her with a charter flight deportation order. In a press release issued last week, MFJ claimed that the deportation order was a reaction by the UKBA to the legal proceedings taken against the Home Office for illegal detention:

Their "immediate response is to deport the key witness in her own case!" said the group.

Discrimination and persecution against the LGBT community in Nigeria has been widely reported. [3] A law criminalising same-sex relationships - punishable by fourteen years imprisonment - passed a second reading in the Nigerian House of Representatives in November 2012. [4] Aderonke's deportation was cancelled at the last minute by the High Court on medical grounds. Medical Justice, Public Request Lawyers (who are dealing with her case) and MFJ have asked for a full assessment by a psychiatrist of Aderonke's mental health to evaluate the psychological effects of her prolonged detention and the risks of a return to a prison environment. This request has yet to be addressed. Aderonke, who was transferred in Colnbrook detention centre on Wednesday 23 January, then to Yarl's Wood after the High Court's decision, is back in Styal prison since Saturday 26 January. She applied for bail based on medical grounds.

The use of charter flights by the UKBA has been criticised by migrant rights activists who refer to them as "ghost flights" due to the difficulty in finding out exactly when and where they are flying from and to.

The use of private airplanes rather than aircraft from major airlines is seen by some as a way to ensure that no member of the public can be a witness to or oppose the deportation. Successful charter flight deportations are "dependent on the (mis)use of force and violence that can be implemented on a private aeroplane" argue one campaign group. [5]

Rejection of gender-based violence in Pakistan

Shazia escaped Pakistan after fleeing attempts by her family to force her to marry. She was living in the UK with a British-Pakistani man for two years when the UKBA arrested her during her wedding ceremony. Her family was strongly opposed to her wedding in the UK.

Despite the adoption of the Forced Marriage Protection Act in 2007 which identifies and criminalises forced marriage as a form of persecution, and despite women in Pakistan being part of what UK courts consider a "particular social group" at risk of persecution, Shazia's application for asylum was rejected and she had no right to remain.

The UKBA did not believe she would be at risk if returned. This case corroborated the findings of the UK-based charity Asylum Aid that the UKBA often questions the credibility of many claimants and is likely to rejects claims based on forced marriage allegations. [6]

The UKBA argued that her relationship was not genuine and refused all requests for the wedding to take place, although this is possible under Immigration Detention Rules. After six months in Yarl's Wood, the UKBA suddenly agreed to the wedding which took place on 8 January, with the bride in handcuffs. A few days later, Shazia was issued with a removal order.

She was particularly involved in the protest movement in October 2012, translating the proceedings of meetings and standing against attempts to separate protesters based on their nationality.

The UKBA told her she could apply for family reunion once in Pakistan under new Immigration Family Rules adopted in July 2012.

In a report published this month [7] evaluating applications to enter, remain and settle in the UK on the basis of marriage and civil partnerships prior to the adoption of the new rules in July 2012, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration stated that:

"Requiring the applicants to leave the UK and apply for entry clearance clearly interferes with the family life of both the applicant and their family. Given the House of Lords' judgment, which envisaged that it would be relatively rare for such a requirement to be proportionate, we were concerned to find that the Agency had felt it appropriate to adopt this approach in 20% of the relevant cases in our sample. "

The new Immigration Family Rules have been criticised by migrant rights organisations - the Migrant Rights Network argues that new, very stringent selection criteria "will still prevent many thousands of people from exercising their right to a family life in the UK." [8]

[1] Statewatch News, Campaigners demand freedom for immigration detainees transferred to prison after protests, 9 November 2012
[2] Movement for Justice, Why Shazia and Aderonke must stay - stop these brutal deportations, 15 January 2013
[3] 'Gay man faces death by stoning in Nigeria', ILGA, 12 July 2005
[4] 'Lib Dem peer calls for asylum change for gay Nigerian men', BBC online, 9 January 2013
[5] Growing the Resistance against Mass Deportation Charter Flights, Stop Deportations!
[6] Asylum Aid, “I feel like as a woman I’m not welcome”: A gender analysis of UK asylum law, policy and practice, January 2012
[7] Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, An inspection of applications to enter, remain and settle in the UK on the basis of marriage and civil partnerships, January 2013
[8] Migrants' Rights Network, Government changes to the family migration rules - MRN e-briefing, June 2012

Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.


Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error