Below we reproduce an article by Stuart Crosthwaite of South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG).
Long-standing supporters of SYMAAG and active members of the group will know something about Delshad Zorab from Doncaster/Iraqi Kurdistan. In October 2007, he marched to Lindholme detention centre to demonstrate for ‘Dignity Not Detention’. Last February he was detained (without charge) at Campsfield detention centre and released weeks later (without explanation or apology) after a successful campaign by the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR) and SYMAAG.
Like most asylum seekers Delshad is not allowed to work legally. He has been waiting seven years for a decision on his claim for asylum. Seven years of uncertainty; separation from his family, friends and home. Seven years of living on food vouchers. During this time Delshad has been actively supporting many other asylum seekers and doing voluntary work that benefits everyone in Doncaster. It is difficult to walk through Doncaster town centre without meeting someone who wants Delshad’s advice or is thanking him for help he has given.
In February, immigration officials came to Delshad’s house to detain him for working illegally. Delshad offered his wrists for handcuffing and explained that, yes, he had been working illegally as a mig welder, a highly-skilled, dirty and arduous job. He needed the money to send to his wife and large family in Kurdistan and to spend on ‘shoes, clothes, bus fares and beer’. At his first hearing at Doncaster magistrates court, Delshad explained that by not allowing him to work ‘the law makes me a criminal’.
On 17 March Delshad appeared at Doncaster crown court for sentencing. Outside the court he showed me pictures of his family, including his youngest son (called ‘First of May’!) who was 6 years old when Delshad had to leave Iraq seven years ago. He handed his keys and wallet to a friend in case he was directly sent to prison after the hearing. The barrister representing him presented a thick file of supporting documents to the judge. This contained Delshad’s history of persecution in Iraq; of his political activism there (Delshad is a communist); character references and supporting letters from his many friends and comrades in the UK. We had heard that the judge was not the most understanding and sympathetic human being in the legal system and were worried when – during the barrister’s initial presentation – he hardly looked up and appeared not even to be listening.
Delshad had briefed the barrister well – about what he experienced in Iraq and what life is like for asylum seekers who cannot work while they wait years for a decision on their claim. A picture of the persecution that Delshad has experienced started to form: he had had to load the bodies of seventy villagers, many friends and family, onto trucks after they were killed by poison gas in Sewsenan northern Iraq in 1988; his brother was killed by Saddam Hussain’s political police; he was tortured so much that he couldn’t recall how some bones were broken; his family were harassed for their political beliefs by Saddam, Islamic groups and the conservative Kurdish PUK and KDP parties. The judge started to take notice. He seemed shocked that Delshad was totally without cash and seemed to appreciate what it must be like to be separated from your friends and family for seven years.
Delshad stood, proud and dignified, behind a glass screen with an interpreter, as the judge gave his sentence. ‘I have never heard such a testimony in my life’ he said. ‘Given such mitigating circumstances I am not going to send you to jail.’ Delshad received just a six month suspended sentence. Six months too long of course, but Delshad’s appearance in court educated his barrister, the judge and everyone else about what life for an asylum seeker can be like in our civilised country.
‘Why am I in court? Why do they call me a criminal? I am not criminal like Saddam, Bush, Hitler, Stalin and Gordon Brown,’ said Delshad as we left the court and headed for a big Kurdish breakfast.