The UK asylum system: an Afghan experience

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
14 August 2008

One man's experience of the UK asylum system, as told to openDemocracy at Sheffield's City of Sanctuary, as part of Refugee Week 2008.

When I came out of Afghanistan it was during the Taliban, and I think all people know about this difficult time for our country.

We people over there in Asia, especially in countries like Afghanistan, we are talking about Europe - not only UK but Europe - as democratic countries, as countries where you receive fair treatment. And so when I came here I was expecting that "they will listen to my story, and they know about our problems - especially the problems of Afghanistan - and I will be definitely granted indefinite leave to remain and I can stay there and improve my life".

This didn't happen really. I don't know why, but it may have been timing. When I arrived here the Taliban was removed from Afghanistan, and maybe the government was thinking that democracy is coming, but it's a long way for democracy to be restored in Afghanistan.

Before I came here, all of my family members were here, and they all were granted at that time either indefinite leave to remain or exceptional leave to remain. That's why when I started my journey I aimed to come to the UK because I knew my family was here.

When I arrived at Dover I gave myself to the police, and the policeman took me to the police station, he interviewed me over the phone using an interpreter, which took around 2 hours. The questions were about "how did I arrive to the UK?", about the journey, and why I came, though mostly about the route, about the way I came.

The next day they sent me to a camp in Cambridge - normally you stay about a week in this camp and I stayed 8 days. During this time you need to give your case, be interviewed by one of the Home Office officers, and after one or two days the result comes, and normally - around 99% of the results - are negative. Then they release you and allow you to go out and look for a solicitor - you have around 10 working days to appeal against the decision and to the court. I came to Sheffield to be with my family and find a solicitor to appeal against the decision.

I went through the court process, but unfortunately my solicitor did not turn up at the court. I think the reason I was refused at the court was because somebody else (another solicitor) came and he didn't know about my case. I asked him "do you know about my case" and he said "no". I had only five minutes, with no interpreters, with a very basic level of English, to explain my case so it was difficult for him to fight for me.

I lost my case there, and afterward I had the right to appeal. My solicitors refused to take my case forward so I wrote a letter to say why I wasn't happy with the decision. I asked where I should send the letter, but they directed me to the wrong address, so a month after that when I went to report at a police station, they detained me at a detention centre.

There is no nice experience in a detention centre. From my point of view, when you go to a detention centre you've got your own problem. But there are other people out there and they have got their problems as well. Really that makes you very upset, because all people have problems so every time you sit beside somebody they tell you and every time you speak about these things, it puts you off and makes you more upset. This is the life. There is nobody to give you some comfort or say something positive. You know, there were two other people before you in that room, and they were deported yesterday, so not good news.

It is very difficult, especially for some people who do have some family or friends here as they are afraid of being sent away from their family, friends, wife or children. My family were here.

The good thing is that when I arrived in Sheffield, I got involved in many things like volunteer jobs, I went to college and I played in a chess club, got involved in a conversation club in other places, so luckily I made many nice friends. When I was detained for the first time, they raised concern, wrote letters to the immigration authorities, and so I found a solicitor who could prove I had sent my letter to the court, but just to the wrong address.

When I went to the detention centre they were concerned about it and sent letters to immigration authorities to stop it. It was stopped through the letters and the help of the solicitor. So they stopped my deportation and allowed me to go on with my appeal to the court of appeal.

I lost this appeal, I think because they don't look for new information in the court. They base judgment on old information. The most important thing for me I told them was that I am the eldest son of the family. You need to take into account our culture, and I need to stay with my family because of this reason, apart from the situation going on Afghanistan. In their conclusion, they didn't use it because it was a new raised issue so they couldn't base it on that.

I was refused and sent to a detention centre again. Then I was on a tour from one detention centre to another. In my case I think they knew there was a big campaign, because the second time they didn't tell me about my flight (to be deported). They sent me to Manchester Airport detention centre, afterward to Colnbrook in London, and I was kept in an individual cell for 2 days. It was the time I was supposed to be deported. Luckily I had very strong friends here, even the media (newspapers) had my mobile number and I made a number of interviews over the phone from the detention centre.

In January 2006 after being in a detention centre for 45 days I was granted leave to remain.

I think it would help people who are arriving, instead of taking them to camps and detention centres which normally the government does nowadays, to send them to their own community to meet people who have been in this country already for a number of years to help them to find a solicitor for their case - this would be better.

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