On 18 January the body of Ramin Khaleghi, a 27 year old Iranian, was discovered in the International Hotel, a hostel housing asylum seekers in Leicester. Ramin had been a political prisoner in Iran for a number of years before managing to flee to Britain.
Yet the Home Office rejected his claim for asylum. One week after learning of his rejection Ramin took his own life. Since Ramin's death other asylum seekers at the International Hotel have been camped out in the hostel's lobby area in protest at the death of their friend. They held angry meetings on Wednesday and Friday of last week.
A refugee representative read out a statement saying, 'After Ramin received a refusal he became sad, depressed-he felt hopeless. The National Asylum Support Service had stopped giving him benefits and threatened him with deportation. When young Ramin escaped from Iran all he wanted was a chance to live. 'Ladies and gentlemen, we would like the Home Office to answer the question, 'Is is a crime to ask for a right to live?' Now that Ramin is gone we have a big question-who is next? Some of us who have received refusals have no other choice. We would rather go back as corpses than be deported and suffer a humiliating death in our countries.'
Residents have been complaining for several months of conditions in the Leicester hostel. The campaign is demanding justice for the refugees housed at the International Hotel so that the tragic death of Ramin Khaleghi will not be repeated.
For further information phone Priya Thamotheram, Leicester Civil Rights Movement, on 0116 253 1053.
'Sometimes you get so frustrated when your life is in other people's hands. You fear for your life back home in Iran but when you get here you live in fear too. When you get an answer from the Home Office it is likely to be a refusal. Hopelessness can easily trigger suicide. All of us can identify with Ramin. We're all in the same situation.'
IRANIAN REFUGEE, Leicester
Death ignored by Mail
The Mail on Sunday last weekend ran a story about refugees at Leicester's International Hotel, but it did not mention Ramin's death. Instead it criticised a scheme to target and recruit refugees with nursing skills at the hostel to help overcome acute nursing shortages in the NHS. Leicester is piloting the scheme organised by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. It would mean refugees could help the NHS instead of being holed up in a hostel.
Disgustingly Tory MP for Aylesbury David Lidington attacked the idea, arguing it would 'serve to reinforce the view that Britain is a soft touch for economic migrants'.
A prison where an Asian inmate was murdered last year by his racist cellmate has been damned as 'institutionally racist' in an official report. Zahid Mubarek was murdered at Feltham Young Offenders Institution by his cellmate, Robert Steward.
A leaked report by senior investigating officer Ted Butt concludes, 'Racism exists at Feltham, both overtly and by more subtle methods. 'Minority ethnic staff should not have to tolerate the level of harassment that exists in order to feel accepted as part of the team. Similarly prisoners should be able to live free from racist abuse by staff.'
The report backs up what the director general of the prison service, Martin Narey, has admitted, that at Feltham 'it goes beyond institutional racism to blatant malicious pockets of racism'.
Despite these admissions the prison service has failed to suspend or discipline any of the staff at the institution. The family of Zahid Mubarek are demanding that the government launch a full public inquiry into his killing.
Scrap vouchers campaign
Barbara Roche, New Labour's immigration minister, admitted last week that the voucher scheme for refugees has cost over £1 million of public money. Roche said the scheme cost £6.6 million to administer between April and September last year.
Yet the face value of the vouchers given to refugees was £5.1 million. TGWU union leader Bill Morris said, 'These figures support the TGWU's call for the scheme to be replaced with a cash benefit system more befitting a wealthy, humane society.'
Protests against the vouchers have achieved some results. Two supermarkets, Sainsbury's and Somerfield, have now written to home secretary Jack Straw to complain about the voucher scheme. This move should boost campaigners. It is vital to step up the pressure on Sainsbury's, Somerfield and the other supermarkets and build the pressure on New Labour to scrap the voucher scheme altogether.
The Metropolitan Police have suspended a superintendent active in the Black Police Association. Ali Diazei, an Iranian-born Metropolitan Police superintendent, has been suspended, charged with 'a significant number of counts of misconduct'. His wife, Natalie Dizaei, said, 'My husband has endured racist abuse ever since he started as a PC-several times he has been stopped and searched by police in London.'
Scotland Yard has admitted the Metropolitan Police figures for race and recruitment do not add up. The force had claimed it successfully recruited 218 officers from ethnic minorities between March and September 1999. The Met has now admitted that all but four of the new recruits were white.
New police crime figures have been met with press headlines claiming a 'rise in street crime'. In fact the police statistics say the level of reported crime in England and Wales has fallen by 0.2 percent in the last year, making a total fall of 7 percent since 1997.
This picture is backed up by the more accurate British Crime Survey, made up of surveys of people's experience of crime. The increased ownership of mobile phones has contributed to the 21 percent increase in robberies, a total of just over 90,000 offences. Meanwhile, though, thefts from motor vehicles have plummeted by more than the increase in robberies of items such as mobile phones.
The figures suggest that the pattern of crime has changed and there has been a reduction in overall thefts.
Satpal Ram will be 35 on Thursday 25 January, and this will be the sixteenth birthday that he has spent in prison. His only crime was to defend himself from a racist attack.
He is still waiting for the result of both his parole hearing and the decision of the Criminal Cases Review Commission on his case. Send birthday cards direct to Satpal Ram, HMP Blakenhurst, Hewell Lane, Redditch, Worcestershire B97 6QS, or send a greeting via email to [email protected]