Socialist Worker

Blunkett condemns Ahmadis to new agony

Issue No. 1814

DAVID BLUNKETT, the home secretary, lied through his teeth to get a refugee family deported at top speed from Britain. That scandal was revealed last week in a Home Office letter about the Ahmadi family, who fled from Afghanistan to Britain last year. The letter was a key piece of evidence used in a court hearing on Tuesday of last week.

The court ruled in Blunkett's favour, allowing him to force the Ahmadis and their children, aged four and six, back to Germany, the first European country they escaped to. The letter said, 'The family are no longer asylum seekers in Germany, having been granted residence there on humanitarian grounds. The family will not be settled in a reception centre, as these facilities are for people whose asylum claims are being processed, and not for people in this family's position who have been granted residence in Germany. Accordingly, upon their return to Germany the family will have settled right of residence. This means they will be housed within the community. As they are lawfully entitled to receive them, they will have full access to the various social and welfare provisions of the German state.'

But the German authorities had turned down an asylum application from the Ahmadis before they left Britain. 'They will probably be out of Germany within a few months,' confirmed Roland Dorfner from the Bavarian Refugee Council this week.

Blunkett and Beverley Hughes, his immigration minister, either knew the German government was going to deport the Ahmadis or covered up the truth.

When the Ahmadis' solicitor asked in court for time to check the Home Office information the court refused. But now the family are locked away in a German refugee camp, in fear of the moment they are forced back to war-torn Afghanistan. But David Blunkett got what he wanted - to show the anti-refugee press and politicians he is brutal towards refugees.

The Home Office chartered a special plane to remove the family from Britain to avoid a repeat of successful protests that have stopped deportations on ordinary flights. Beverley Hughes admitted the government was using the Ahmadis' case to set an example.

The Ahmadis' reason for leaving Germany is shown in psychiatrists' reports on the mother, Feriba, and the two children. Dr Steve Turner described in his report the fits Feriba has suffered since the Taliban launched a missile attack on her home in Afghanistan. They are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her husband, Farid, was also imprisoned twice and tortured by the Taliban. The trauma of the German refugee camp and the racial harassment they experienced there meant Feriba had a bad fit and was in hospital for two days. 'She is physically sick, has a bad headache, has numbness of the left arm, has a sort of pain which radiates from her neck down her back and is then replaced by numbness affecting the back and both legs,' said Dr Turner.

When the family were transferred to a second camp, 'the pain in her feet and hands started again. It got to the point where she could not stand or walk normally.'

Her health improved when they arrived in Dover and joined the community in Lye in the West Midlands. The children went to school and the family made friends. But the doctor felt if Feriba was wrenched away from there her health would deteriorate.

The Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers says, 'It is highly undesirable that these children continue to be held in detention anywhere. Such a move could well be seen as emotional abuse within the meaning of the 1969 Children Act. The mother's own health is clearly also at risk now she has been returned to Germany.'

Country still at war

IF THE Ahmadis are forced back to Afghanistan they won't find the safe, stable society that the US and British war was supposed to deliver. Bush is still sending planes over to bomb people. The rivalries that the war opened up between different Afghan factions continue to rage.

These had already led to assassinations of various government ministers and their supporters. Afghanistan's minister for women was forced out of the government for breaking sharia law.

The returning refugees, 1.5 million so far this year, live among piles of timber and concrete beams, and sleep in tents. Resettlement of the refugees has already cost £141 million. But the key infrastructure needed to help the returning refugees settle has not been built. Amnesty International has called on countries to stop sending refugees back there.

'Now is not the time to be encouraging and promoting the return of Afghan refugees,' said a spokesperson. The refugees get just $100 in transport costs, three sacks of wheat, two plastic floor mats, blankets, soap, and a few food essentials like sugar and milk to build a new life with.

Seven months after the Western countries pledged to provide billions in aid relief money is already running out. The UN appealed for £175 million this year. But it is still short of more than £55 million, or 200,000 tonnes of food. This is the 'safe' country New Labour believes families like the Ahmadis should be dumped back into.

Being forced to live like animals

PRESSURE FORCED the German government to move the Ahmadis to the Landsberg centre near Munich, which has better facilities. But they were first housed in squalor.

Elane Heffernan, from the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers, went to visit them there last weekend. She told Socialist Worker: 'When the family were taken away in a van last week to the airport they thought they had refugee status in Germany. But now they are shocked and stunned.

'We went to the reception centre in Munich where the family are staying. It is huge, a warehouse with four or five floors divided into rooms. The family are in a room ten foot by 20 foot. It is dirty and horrible. It's about making people live like animals. I came away with flea bites from the bed. There is no lock on the door.

'Opposite them are the toilets with urine all over the floor. It stank so badly it made you physically sick. This is apparently a typical reception centre in Germany. They have nothing to do all day. They can't leave the environs of Munich town. The family even got into trouble because we took them to a park during the day and they weren't back by 8pm.

'The children are banned from going to local schools. The huge kitchen has nothing like chairs and cutlery. There are just four tiny camp stoves with two rings. People are not supposed to be housed there for long. But another Afghan family we met had been there for five months.

'The key thing is that the Ahmadis are completely isolated from society. This was pointed out as particularly harmful in the psychiatrists' assessment of the Ahmadis. They are frightened now of speaking out because they fear they will get punished.

'They were interviewed when they arrived and intimidated about making complaints. Feriba talks openly of killing herself. I watched her young daughter curl up in a ball on the bed and cry for ages. There was a fight inside the hostel and they believed one of the people was killed. There was a pool of blood left for ages that the children had to walk through. Feriba's daughter pointed it out to me, saying, 'I hope they don't kill me'.'

Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers
We urgently need money so that we can carry on the campaign for the Ahmadi family. Can you help? Send donations to CDAS, Box 4289, London WC1X 3XX. Phone 07941 566 183

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Sat 24 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1814
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