Thursday, 8 November 2012

Tracking the deportees

A new project to track the experiences of failed asylum seekers after they are deported has been launched.

Anti-deportation campaigners fear many deportees are suffering persecution, imprisonment, torture, disappearance and even death. Organisers hope the evidence they collect can be used to change the government policies and they also intend trying to develop contact networks for those at greatest risk.

In 2010 Britain deported 39,030 people, whilst France last year deported 32,912.

The project will be co-ordinated by the Refugee Programme of the Fahamu Trust, which has offices in the UK, Kenya, South Africa and Senegal and describes itself as ‘a network for social justice.’ Pambazuka News, its weekly online newsletter, is distributed to 28,000 readers from 195 countries. Training is also provided in refugee law.

What happens to failed asylum seekers after they have been deported is largely unreported. However in 2009, Amnesty International examined the experiences of over 1,200 Eritreans, removed the previous year from countries across North Africa and Europe. They found people ‘were routinely subjected to human rights violations, including incommunicado detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment.’ Even the Office of the UN High Commissioner for refugees was denied access to those detained.

Justice First, a charity that works with people in the Tees Valley who are seeking asylum, last year published Unsafe Return to Congo, a booklet about nine former Congolese clients removed between 2006 and 2009 and who have suffered imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, rape and torture by the state authorities on their return. In Uganda the Refugee Law Project has recorded returnees having been disappeared.

Sheffield City of Sanctuary, which welcomes refugees and has the support of the city council, is one of the first organisations to back the new project.

Co-ordinator Sarah Eldridge said: “We are concerned that many asylum seekers, who are returned because they haven't been able to break through what has been described as the 'culture of disbelief' at the Home Office, may face the life-threatening situations that led them to flee in the first place.

“It's hard to keep track of people we've supported once they 're sent back. The British Government does not monitor what happens to deportees and there are no mechanisms in place to do this. We also feel there is a pressing need to set up channels of support so asylum seekers have someone to turn to once they are deported.”

Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond of the Fahamu Refugee Programme admitted support networks in places such as Eritrea and the Congo might run the risk of putting supporters in danger of state persecution. A probable solution would be to work through foreign NGOs with private contacts in the country to which failed asylum seekers are being deported.

She added: “Where we are able to demonstrate that returnees are facing widespread persecution we hope to persuade governments that have deported people to stop doing so. “

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