Demonstrations in protest against the deportation of students and children will be staged this Saturday in Manchester and London.
The Stop Deporting Children and Students day of action aims to raise awareness of the plight of many young asylum seekers, who arrive in the UK seeking a safer life and a decent education but are deported before their schooling is complete.
- Manchester demonstration, Saturday 19 November 2005, assemble at noon in Manchester University Students’ Union, Oxford Road, Manchester to march to Peace Gardens, St Peter’s Square, Manchester for a rally and performances and London demonstration, Saturday 19 November 2005, assemble at 1pm in Horseguards Avenue, (off Whitehall) to march to Hyde Park for a rally.
Stop Deporting Children Campaign
The Stop Deporting Children Campaign is ‘a network of organisations, trade unions and concerned individuals taking action against the deportation of children to countries where their health, their freedom, their education and ultimately their survival will be imperilled’. It was founded on the belief that the government has subverted the importance and legality of children’s rights in favour of an obsessive and inhumane emphasis on immigration status. Save the Children has estimated that around 2,000 children are imprisoned in detention centres each year for up to 268 days. The startling frequency of hunger strikes and suicide attempts amongst adults in such establishments bears testament to the unsuitability of detention centres for children and of the potential psychological trauma this environment can induce.
Pressure to split families
Doug Holton, of the Stop Deporting Children Campaign, told IRR News of his hopes for Saturday’s event and of his broader plans to promote greater exposure and ‘raise the profile of the way that the government is riding roughshod over its own policies and guidelines when it comes to asylum-seeking children’. He referred to the government’s plan to make people go back to their country of origin to appeal against a refusal to grant leave to remain in the UK and to the controversial Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004, which enables the government to withdraw benefits from failed asylum seekers with dependent children if they cannot explain why they have not taken any practical steps to leave the UK ‘voluntarily’. This withdrawal of benefits can lead to destitution and homelessness and, according to Doug Holton, ‘pressurises local authority workers to split up families’. This argument has gained momentum over the past year, as a growing number of councillors have expressed their opposition to the Section 9 legislation.
In August 2005, the Khanali family, of Bury, Greater Manchester, who were facing eviction from their home, were granted a last minute reprieve. Councillor Tim Chamberlain told the Bury Times: ‘If we act to do what the immigration authorities want, we would be in breach of our duty under the Children Act. We don’t feel that we are the right people to throw them out. The Home Office has washed its hands of the problem and passed it on to us.’ He added that: ‘A functioning family with a supportive background is the best place for children to be. Taking them into care is the very last resort.’
Local campaigns to stop deportations
The Stop Deporting Children Campaign is backed by a number of reputable organisations, (including the Green Party) which have been vocal in their condemnation of the government’s child deportation policy. Schools Against Deportation, for example, has recorded a number of cases where children’s lives have been upset and schooling interrupted. One such instance involved Sebrin Thaha, who had been a pupil at Notre Dame School for Girls in Plymouth. Following a controversial dawn raid on her home, she was deported with her mother and sister, before being separated from them in Germany. The polarity between the potential happiness and educational possibilities afforded by the English city, and the fear of retribution when returned to one’s native country, was expressed simply but poignantly by the teenager: ‘We want to live in Plymouth not die in Iraq.’
In October, the Friends of Abdul Majid Amiri group and the Kent Campaign to Defend Asylum Seekers, publicly fought to save 19-year-old Abdul Majid Amiri from imminent deportation. Majid, a student at Canterbury College, had come to the UK in 2002, following the murder of his father and threats on his life. He had integrated well into the local community and had worked hard to speak English. The protest groups allege that the Afghan student was ‘snatched’ by immigration officials whilst visiting friends in Chatham before being taken to a detention centre where the stress and anxiety coupled with the constant fear of deportation, exacerbated his health problems.
Earlier this year, the deportation of the Vucaj family, including their three children – Saida 13, Nimet 16, and Elvis 18 – caused a public outcry in Scotland and led Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell to speak out against the UK asylum and immigration system. Like Abdul Majid, the Vucaj children had integrated well within the local community and, having spent the most formative years of their young lives in the city, regarded Glasgow as their home. They attended local schools St. Brendan’s Primary and Drumchapel High, where their popularity encouraged friends and peers to appeal to Scottish ministers to allow the family to remain in Glasgow. For these school friends it was a case of history repeating itself as, in March 2005, they had begun a letter writing campaign to defend two other asylum-seeking schoolchildren from deportation.
Deporting children is a European issue
The removal of children from school and their subsequent deportation is not confined to the UK. It has become a European issue. In Ireland, the president of the National Teachers’ Organisation, Austin Corcoran, addressed the situation at the union’s annual congress in March 2005. He claimed that deportations were ‘terrorising pupils’ and advocated giving Irish schools the status of embassies in order that: ‘Parents should have an assurance that when their children are placed in a school, they will not be abducted from their place of learning by the state.’