14-year-old Sebrin Thaha, who was detained with her mother and younger sister by immigration authorities a month ago, claims that she was mistreated by escort officers during her deportation last week.
A month ago, she was just another teenager at Notre Dame School for Girls in Plymouth. But on 24 February 2005, Sebrin Thaha’s home was raided by immigration officers and, along with her mother Ruir and 12-year-old sister Hannah, she was taken to Tinsley House Removal Centre, near Gatwick airport. Over the following weeks, as the sisters were first put in foster care and then allowed to join their distraught mother (by then at Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, Bedfordshire), supporters struggled in vain to prevent the family’s removal. The deportation finally took place on 17 March.
Speaking by telephone from Germany, where the family is now battling to avoid being returned to Iraq, Sebrin told supporters of her deportation ordeal. Five escort officers – four male and one female – woke the family at two in the morning to accompany them to the airport. Sebrin saw her mother being hand-cuffed and told the female officer that she did not want to go into the waiting van. She says that the officer then pulled her hair and threatened to punch her if she caused any problems. ‘Then she grabbed me by my wrist and my arm and dragged me to the van. It was very disturbing and I was crying. When I tried to say something the woman put her hand over my mouth to stop me.’
Sebrin says that she was then pushed into the van. ‘The woman [officer] started swearing at me and pulled my hair and hit me in my body. I was pushed into the van and hit my head.’ She says that her wrist and arm were sore and swollen and that her younger sister also had blue marks on her wrist. Their mother was cuffed to the seat all the way to the plane while Sebrin and Hannah were held during the van journey by escort officers. (RSI Immigration Services Ltd, the company involved in the deportation, has declined to comment on these allegations.)
After the flight to Düsseldorf, the family was split by the German authorities, leaving Hannah twenty miles away from her older sister, while their mother was taken to a mental health clinic. Sebrin fears that her mother may attempt to harm herself again, as she attempted to do three times during her detention in Britain. Sebrin’s greatest fear, though, is that the family will be deported to Iraq shortly. ‘We want to live in Plymouth not die in Iraq’, she said.
The Monitoring Group (TMG), an anti-racist charity which has been supporting the Thaha family since last September, has called for a police investigation into the allegations of mistreatment and has added its voice to those calling for a full public inquiry into allegations of violence during detention and deportations. Last week, IRR News revealed that thirty-five different complaints of abuse in detention centres have been lodged with solicitors, who are pursuing civil actions. Earlier the BBC documentary Asylum Undercover revealed evidence of violence against detainees by escorts during deportation.
Jon McKenzie, of TMG, told IRR News: ‘The immediate future of the family remains unclear. But there is growing concern for Ruir Thaha’s mental health. After these past weeks, how much more persecution does this family have to undergo?’