On Wednesday 19 May, we published a piece that began, 'At 11.36 this morning the mother of an 8-month old baby made a desperate plea for help on her mobile. "I told them please don’t send me and my baby in the van for nine hours, she is too young, I asked them to speak to my lawyer. But she just told me, “Look either you go in the van or we will take your baby in a separate van and you won’t see her until you get to Yarl’s Wood.” '. Here Robina Qureshi, director of Glasgow-based charity Positive Action In Housing, continues their story.
On Wednesday Sehar and Wania were taken to Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. Sehar was so distressed to see the other families locked up. She mentioned an Iranian couple who had been detained eight months and the wife is due to give birth next month, having spent her entire pregnancy in detention and clearly not fit to travel on a plane so why detain her?
All week we worked hard lobbying the government. We obtained copies of police reports and letters from Blackburn Women's Aid confirming that Sehar had been subjected to domestic violence, as she had claimed, a fact that the authorities had refused to believe.
We sent the new evidence to immigration minister Damian Green. Baroness Shirley Williams took up the case. More than 600 people wrote letters to their MPs and the Home Office. This campaign was particularly vociferous because Sehar and her baby girl were incarcerated in Dungavel on the same day that the new coalition government told us that child detention would end – and end immediately in Scotland – whereupon Sehar was summarily removed from Scottish soil and driven down to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre to be locked up there instead.
On Friday, Heather Jones from Yarl’s Wood Befrienders visited Sehar and her baby just before they were segregated to the ‘family care suite’ — which is Border-Agency speak for solitary confinement prior to deportation. That’s where Sehar and her baby spent their last night on British soil.
On Saturday morning at 8.30 AM we made a last minute plea to all the key players including Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg, Damian Green, and Home Secretary Theresa May.
Friends from Glasgow took a bus down to say goodbye to Sehar at the airport and give her the belongings left behind in her flat when she was detained by Brand Street Reporting Centre on the Monday. Dr Imtiaz Rasul and his family from Birmingham also went to say goodbye at the airport.
‘It was really terrible,’ Dr Imtiaz told me. ‘Sehar looked very small and quiet. She had security officers and police around her as if she was a criminal. It was truly humiliating to say goodbye to her like that. Other people in the airport were watching. Sehar told us to say thank you to everyone, she tried to smile but in front of police we could feel what she was feeling. My country takes in more asylum seekers than the UK. If the UK only wants to humiliate people then why have an asylum policy, just tell people don’t come here. I feel very sad for Sehar and her baby was just upset. We hope in her hearts that her pain does not continue but we are very worried about what might happen.’
Sehar had been detained in Yarl’s Wood just as the families were working together on the letter to Nick Clegg (published in the Observer this past Sunday): ‘We know that it has been agreed that no child should be detained for immigration purposes, but are we still here in the detention centre with children facing deportation,’ said the families: ‘We do agree to maintain border controls but not to the extent where families can be destroyed and human rights abolished...Please, we are kindly asking you to take action and end our nightmare for families and children.’
Sehar added her signature to the letter.
Sehar Shebaz and Wania were deported on a PIA flight at 17:00 HRS on Saturday.