Shine A Light

Locked up, pushed out. Shaida’s welcome to Britain

While European leaders bicker over their asylum rules, Shaida waits in dread.

Lucy Alper
21 May 2016
Demonstration at Dungavel, 2016 @Etza_Hdez

Demonstration at Dungavel, 7 May 2016 @Etza_Hdez

Shaida Mahmoodi is Kurdish. She fled Eastern Kurdistan last year and arrived in Glasgow five months ago. I met her and her brother as I was volunteering at the Unity Centre, Glasgow, an organisation that provides practical support and unconditional solidarity to asylum seekers and other migrants. Shaida and her brother have fingerprints in Germany, they say they were taken by force when Shaida and her brother had no knowledge of where they were. They told me that they continued their journey to the UK because they simply were not safe.

Shaida has been detained and faces removal this Monday 23rd May to Dortmund, Germany. Meanwhile, her brother signs as requested at the Home Office every week. No such request has been made to return him to Germany and no attempts made to detain him.

Last week I drove Shaida’s brother to visit her in Dungavel immigration removal centre, a former prison in South Lanarkshire. We went with a volunteer interpreter. The drive was long from Glasgow, Shaida’s brother was confused as to why the centre was so far away, so remote, so hard to come to as a visitor. Not speaking English he said he would never have found his way. At the sight of the barbed wire, the battlements, the 20 foot fences, he asked why his sister was in prison? His face contorted, refusing to cry, as I had seen it every day on the run up to our visit — he stated simply that his sister had done nothing wrong. 

Imagine a system in which people’s lives are not safe at home, where they are forced to risk their lives making the journey to safety and, once their destination is reached, they can be pushed back. A system in which the “safe country”, instead of considering someone’s experience and offering protection, spends money on imprisoning and forcibly removing people. This is the effect of the ‘Dublin Regulation’ on asylum claims. 

In essence, the Dublin Regulation decrees that the first country in which an asylum seeker is detected, should be responsible for their asylum claim. A person detected by immigration authorities is supposed to be fingerprinted. Fingerprints are then uploaded to a database called EURODAC. When someone claims asylum they are first fingerprinted and EURODAC searched. If there is a match, a country requests to transfer the person back to that territory. Signatories to the Dublin Regulation are EU countries plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. In the furthest western reaches of Europe, surrounded by sea, the UK benefits most from this agreement.

According to established case law some element of choice is open to asylum seekers, as to where they claim asylum. Yet the Dublin Regulation ensures that this choice is systematically denied. The issue at hand is fingerprints. If you have fingerprints in another Dublin signatory country, your case is certified as a “Third Country Case”, there is no right to appeal this certification and steps are then taken to forcibly remove you.

The Dublin Regulation operates even though it is accepted that many member states fingerprint asylum seekers using force. Many governments decree that using force is sanctioned by law and common practice. Force is encouraged further by the Council of the European Union, even for the most vulnerable. Countries reluctant to use force are under considerable pressure to do so.

For asylum seekers who do not face forced fingerprinting, there is still an unknown system to navigate. Shaida explained through our interpreter that she did not know the names of the countries through which she was travelling, nor the laws she was subject to. “It is hard to know what to disclose and to whom,” she said. Information key to challenging Dublin removals is often sensitive and the asylum system hard to comprehend, especially for somebody suffering shock or trauma.

Challenging removal to supposedly “safe” 3rd countries is commonplace but Greece is the only country to which challenges have been successful. Since 2011 removals have ceased to Greece

Challenges are routinely made to the lawfulness of removal to Hungary, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta and Italy. (In these challenges it is argued that reception conditions in the supposedly “safe 3rd country” breach people’s Article 3 rights — that is the right to be free of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Yet despite these legal challenges, despite almost daily fascist attacks in Germany, hate crime in Bulgaria, the Calais ‘jungle’, the Home Office declares that European countries are safe countries. Indeed, the Dublin Regulation ensures that this presumption is enshrined in law.

This is not Shaida’s first ticket to Germany. The Home Office booked her onto a flight on 9th May but she spent the days leading up to the flight in hospital. Medical attention was needed so seriously that Dungavel guards from the private prisons company GEO had no choice but to transfer Shaida from to Hairmyres Hospital. She was released back into immigration detention with strict instructions to take 7 different pills a day, because of problems with her kidneys.

But no sooner was Shaida discharged from hospital, the Home Office issued her another ticket. Last night Shaida was transferred from Scotland to England in the run up to her forced removal. Such transfers mean legal representation is lost as Scottish lawyers cannot act in England. For Shaida the move means her brother cannot visit and her only support, volunteers at The Unity Centre, will find it near impossible to maintain contact.

And so it is that on Monday Shaida faces being forcibly removed on an Easyjet plane to Dortmund. Shoulder to shoulder with those flying for business and pleasure, Shaida will be escorted by guards in fear of her life. Shaida speaks no English and has not been able to secure legal representation. And so a volunteer interpreter translates words lost in the ether. Shaida’s words: “if I go back to Germany I will kill myself”. And her brother’s: “my sister will die in Germany”.

We are urging people to stop this forced removal, to contact Easyjet and explain that Shaida will be flying against her will, with suicidal intentions and to country in which she has nobody.

Passengers and pilots on commercial flights can request that someone such as Shaida should not fly. The flight details are: U22175. Departing 7:15am 23rd May, London Luton to Dortmund. Click here for Unity Centre's tips on challenging a removal. EasyJet’s contact details follow.

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