Jail threat to asylum campaigner
"I KNOW I could face jail for supporting asylum seekers. But this is about standing up for people's human rights." That statement came from Mike Taylor, the treasurer of the National Union of Journalists in Bristol, who was due in court on Friday of this week. Mike's "crime" was to oppose New Labour's harsh treatment of refugees in Britain.
One of his supporters is Tony Benn MP, who has written an open letter arguing why everyone should get behind Mike. Benn says, "I would like to call on your support and solidarity in defence of trade unionist Mike Taylor. He is on trial for organising a protest to prevent the forced deportation of Amanj Gafor. Amanj's country of origin, Iraqi Kurdistan, is an intolerable place to live. People like Amanj have fled the devastating effects of harsh sanctions, factional wars and NATO's continued bombardment of Iraq.The protest and its repression brings into question the nature of civil rights in the UK as well as the government's 'ethical' foreign policy. It is a crime that people fleeing regimes, poverty and conflict are prevented from being granted asylum at the same time that borders to international markets are being removed by global institutions like the IMF, WTO and World Bank. I hope you will join me in defending Mike and the right to protest against human rights abuses and for the right to asylum."
Mike was arrested on 3 August last year while handing out leaflets and protesting at Heathrow airport to stop Amanj being deported to Germany. Immigration minister Barbara Roche ruled that Amanj had to go there as it was the first country he had applied for asylum in.
But the German authorities said they intended to send Amanj to Iraq as they considered it a "safe" country. Amanj knew his life was in danger. The Iraqi regime had executed his father for criticising Saddam Hussein.
This desperate refugee had been on the run in Europe for five years. He got into Britain in 1999, hidden in the back of a lorry bound for Dover. Amanj was eventually arrested and moved from one detention centre to another under constant threat of deportation. To New Labour he was a "bogus" refugee who should be deported. To Mike and other campaigners in Bristol he was another victim of the government's crackdown on refugees.
The AEEU engineering union's shop stewards committee at Rolls- Royce Test Areas in Bristol immediately backed Amanj. They drafted a petition and got the five general secretaries of the BECTU, NUJ, FBU, MSF and GMB unions to sign it. The MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Alan Simpson, Roger Berry and Valerie Davey also supported Amanj's case. "But we heard that Amanj was going to be deported on 3 August so campaigners went to Heathrow," says Mike.
"The police were waiting for us with shotguns and body armour. We came with our children and whistles. We were very dejected when we left the airport because we thought Amanj had been deported. Then we found out he had been secretly taken to Gatwick airport where he had resisted deportation. His protest caused the British Airways cabin crew to boycott the flight. Amanj was still in Britain." The only way immigration officials could get rid of Amanj was to deport him by boat ten days later.
The 34 year old is now in a German hospital suffering from mental illness and a recent stroke. People who mobilised for Amanj are also campaigning to defend Mike. The TGWU and NUJ unions have joined Tony Benn MP and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns in calling for a demonstration outside the Uxbridge court where Mike's case is to be held.
Defend Mike Taylor
Friday 6 April 10am Uxbridge Magistrates' Court, Harefield Road, Middlesex (Uxbridge tube) For petitions and union resolution contact Box 41, Greenleaf Books, 82 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5BB