This week, the UK government ignored calls from students, MPs and campaigners and deported a student to what will probably be his death. Majid Ali was studying at City of Glasgow College when he was called into a Home Office meeting on Friday. He was then detained, and held at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre over the weekend. On Tuesday, he was flown out of Heathrow at midnight, on a chartered flight to Pakistan.
Ali had appealed for asylum in the UK, after his brother was ‘disappeared’ by the Pakistani intelligence services in 2010. Last month, his family home was raided and his uncle and cousin were both shot and killed. All three, like Ali, are members of Baloch nationalist groups seeking political independence from Pakistan.
Despite a motion in Parliament signed by almost 60 MPs, and thousands of letters sent to the Home Office, the immigration minister James Brokenshire and Home Secretary Theresa May decided to press ahead with the student’s deportation. Ali is now in Pakistan, unable to be contacted by friends in the UK, and certainly fearing that the government that has killed three members of his family will soon come for him.
No one I knew who was involved in the campaign to prevent Ali’s deportation had heard about Balochistan before this weekend, where nationalists have been fighting a guerrilla war against the Pakistani military. Human Rights Watch has reported widespread disappearances of suspected militants and activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps. These ‘disappearances’ are where authorities take people into custody and often torture them, including beatings with sticks or leather belts, hanging detainees upside down, and depriving them of food and sleep. The ‘disappeared’ are never seen again, and there are hundreds of such cases, like that of Ali’s brother.
That the British government ignored Ali’s plea for asylum, and ignored the calls of parliamentarians, student unions and friends to ensure his safety is an absolute disgrace. His blood will be on the hands of those in positions of power, like May and Brokenshire, who once again upheld the inherent racism of our immigration system and denigrated human rights.
Under the Detained Fast Track System, many people who claim asylum are detained on arrival in the country and imprisoned in a place like Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, which holds up to 3,000 people. Those deported are then taken to private airports late at night, bundled onto planes, never to see the UK again. Human rights groups and newspapers constantly report the abuses, indecency and injustice of this system.
One of the most depressing aspects of Ali’s story is that when he took his seat on that chartered flight, handcuffed, possibly subjected to violence, he was one asylum seeker among many, and the only one we knew about.