This is a stressful time of year for many families with teenagers, as A-Levels loom and emotions run high. But most parents will not have to worry about their children facing the ordeal that has confronted Yashika Bageerathi during the past two weeks. The 19-year-old student at Oasis Academy Hadley in Enfield, London, was arrested and taken to Yarl’s Wood detention centre on 19 March pending deportation.
Yashika came to the UK from Mauritius in 2012 with her mother and siblings, to escape a violent and abusive relative. The family claimed asylum last summer, but because of her age Yashika’s claim was considered separately and has now been rejected. Hence the Home Office decision to deport her alone. Yashika’s deportation has been scheduled and then delayed at the last minute twice in the past week, with British Airways refusing to take her on 25 March and an Air Mauritius flight on Mother’s Day also leaving without her.
The eleventh hour reprieve may be due at least in part to the momentum behind the energetic campaign for her to stay, which has been organised by her fellow students and teachers. A petition on change.org has gathered more than 170,000 signatures, while the hashtag #FightForYashika has attracted much attention on Twitter, at times from some unlikely quarters – with Tory MP for Enfield Southgate, David Burrowes, tweeting that the decision to deport was "out of order".
The campaign has focused on the fact that Yashika is a talented mathematician only weeks away from sitting her A-levels, which makes the Home Office’s timing seem especially cruel. There has also been much criticism of the decision to deport Yashika alone without her mother and siblings, with supporters referring to the right to a family life outlined in the UN Convention on Human Rights. But far from being an aberration, the disregard for the family life of migrants is consistent with the current government’s thinking on immigration. For example, a radical reform of family migration policy in 2012 made it impossible for those earning less than £18,600 to bring a spouse or partner from outside Europe, which has had a devastating impact upon many families.
Although Yashika’s case has attracted much attention, other children and young people are regularly being deported from the UK. Hamid Gulam Ali, a 20 year old from Afghanistan, was deported two weeks ago on 18 March. Hamid arrived in the UK alone in 2007 when he was just 14 and waited two years to be granted discretionary leave to remain, while living with a foster family. A member of the persecuted ethnic Hazara minority, he recently learned that his father had been killed in a massacre in Pakistan. Hamid was arrested during a routine immigration appointment and deported three weeks later, having run out of asylum channels to pursue.
Hamid was deported on a charter plane with 60 others, away from the public gaze. Alan Morrice, a former ESOL teacher in South London who campaigned against his deportation, has spoken to Hamid since his return to Afghanistan. “He is terrified. I am getting texts from him saying, ‘You’ve got to get me out of here’.”
In 2013, there were 1,174 asylum applications made by unaccompanied children like Hamid. If current trends continue, 70 per cent of them will have their claims for asylum rejected after reaching their 18th birthday. Even from a purely economic perspective, it is ironic that we invest in the education of these young people often over many years, only to force them to leave Britain just as they are in a position to start contributing to its economy.
The decision to deport young people like Yashika and Hamid when they legally become adults raises many questions. Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, former Children’s Commissioner for England, says:
“The deportation of children and young people as failed asylum seekers should be a matter of profound public concern, since the process is open to potential for not only a breach of human rights, but also injustice and sheer lack of humanity. Without denying the need for governments to decide who stays and who goes, nonetheless there is evidence that children are being deported in ways that the compassionate man in the street would find abhorrent.”
Many of these young people are being returned to an uncertain future, some to situations of danger and others to countries where they no longer have friends or relatives. Having spent, in some cases, years of their childhood in the UK they have become part of British society.
Yashika BageerathiYashika has been praised not only for her academic prowess, but also for being an integral member of the school community, coaching younger students in maths and taking part in voluntary work. The connections she has made in the short time she has been here are evident in the banners carried by her friends demonstrating outside parliament at the weekend, which declared: "We are Yashika’s family!"
While the popular discourse surrounding immigration is one of fear and suspicion, it is heartening to see communities welcoming new arrivals and defending their right to stay. Alan Morrice, who has helped more than 50 young asylum seekers over the past two years, confirms that many build strong bonds in school and foster care. “I’ve come across several of the lads in foster families with children of a similar age and then the friendships really do form.” Indeed, one of the reasons that Kent teenager Najibullah Hashimi escaped deportation last September and won the right to remain in the UK was the negative impact that his deportation would have had on his young foster brothers who see him as their sibling.
The increasing trend to restrict the arrival of asylum seekers in the UK (for example, through the use of UK Border Agency outposts in France), as well as the detention of asylum seekers once here, will limit, perhaps intentionally, the formation of such bonds. UN guidelines state that asylum seekers should only be detained in exceptional circumstances, but roughly half of those who claim asylum in the UK are now detained at some point during the asylum process.
The coalition government made much of its commitment to end the detention of children when they came to power, but 141 asylum-seeking children still entered detention in 2013. The impact this incarceration has on the mental health of these children who are being denied their rights has been well documented and the detention of children can surely not be defended in any situation.
Of course Yashika is no longer a child in the eyes of the law, a fact which will be of no comfort to her as she remains in Yarl’s Wood, the country’s largest immigration removal centre for women and children. There have been repeated calls for the closure of this controversial facility amid claims of maltreatment and abuse, and the Home Office is currently investigating the ‘unexplained’ death of a 40-year-old woman who died there just the other day.
As she awaits the Home Office’s next move, Yashika must now hope that she will leave the facility soon and be reunited with her family.
- Petition: https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-rt-hon-theresa-may-mp-home-secretary-fightforyashika-stop-this-sixth-form-student-being-deported-alone-she-deserves-a-future
- Twitter: #FightForYashika
- Other links: