Yarl’s Wood women: “We are not street dogs”
PRESS RELEASE 30 September 2013 from Corporate Watch
Over 30 women are on hunger strike at the notorious Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire, with half of them facing deportation to Pakistan tomorrow on a specially chartered flight. Corporate Watch takes a look at the deals between London and Islamabad on security, trade and aid, arguing that asylum-seekers are being treated as bargaining chips in these negotiations.
The women on hunger strike, many of whom are seeking asylum from gender-based persecution, are detained at Yarl’s Wood – itself the scene of an ongoing investigation into sexual abuse by Serco guards. A statement issued by some of the hunger strikers challenges the legality of “mass deportations”, noting that the women “have not had access to legal aid”, and that there is a “huge waiting list” for lawyers, “due to [a] mass round up” of Pakistani asylum-seekers in preparation for a chartered deportation flight to Pakistan tomorrow, 1 October. Corporate Watch has already conducted extensive legal research into ‘charter flights’, which corroborates many of these women’s claims.
The women’s defiant resistance must be particularly sensitive for the Home Office, because the coalition government had so far got away largely unchallenged with their aggressive increase in deportations to Pakistan which began in November 2011 – it is only now that people’s pain is being heard (read Amina’s story, for example). Pakistani asylum-seekers have become the number one target for the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) secretive charter flights. Since February 2012, the UKBA has hired monthly night-time flights to Pakistan, removing between 50 and 85 people per private plane. It is standard practice for two or three times that number of private security guards to escort the deportees.
This article examines the collusion between the British and Pakistani politicians, who agreed these deportations whilst bargaining over trade, aid and security.
An ominous precursor to this deportation programme can be found in US diplomatic cables, leaked via WikiLeaks. Less than six months before New Labour lost the 2010 general election, the Conservatives’ then Shadow Defence Minister Liam Fox met the US Ambassador to Britain. The pair discussed foreign policy towards the Indian sub-continent: “Turning to India, Fox criticised the Labour government for policies which reinforce the Indian government’s long-held view that HMG’s [Her Majesty's Government's] foreign relations on the subcontinent are ‘skewed to Pakistan.’ Fox predicted this would not be a factor under a Conservative government, since the Conservatives are ‘less dependent’ than the Labour Party on votes from the British-Pakistani community.” Clearly then, deporting members of that community would not pose a big problem electorally.
Once in office, Home Secretary Theresa May travelled to Pakistan on 24 October 2010. She met Pakistan’s President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani to discuss “a wide range of issues of mutual concern”. These diplomatic discussions continued with then immigration minister Damian Green and cabinet minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi visiting Pakistan between 19 and 23 February 2011. They met with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who “stated his support for the return of illegal migrants by the UK.”
Prime Minister David Cameron made his first official visit to Pakistan, flanked by Joint Intelligence Committee chiefs, on 5 April 2011 to launch an ‘Enhanced Strategic Dialogue’ involving annual meetings between the country’s leaders and bi-annual talks between foreign ministers. Cameron announced £650 million in “education aid” for Pakistan and set “a target of increasing bilateral trade in goods and services to £2.5 billion a year by 2015.”
It was against this shift in diplomatic relations that the UK’s first deportation charter flight to Pakistan took place on 24 November 2011. The flight returned 23 men and two women. Theresa May arrived in Pakistan on the same day and held a press conference with the Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik, in which she stressed that bilateral ties were “stronger than ever”.
The Tory’s attempt to close the door on migration from Pakistan has coincided with a push for more British investment in Pakistan’s economy, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office called an “unbreakable partnership”. A press release from February 2012 said that the “UK Trade Minister Lord Green’s recent visit had highlighted the opportunities in retail, energy and mining sectors”.
Only last week, Home Secretary Theresa May visited Pakistan again to “advocate further co-operation between the UK and Pakistan in our efforts to tackle the shared threats posed by terrorism, narcotics trafficking and illegal migration” in her meeting with the new Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. According to the Dawn newspaper, Theresa May “welcomed the commitment that Interior Minister Nisar and the government of Pakistan have shown to adopting a zero tolerance approach to illegal migration”. It would seem that Pakistan’s access to British aid and investment is partly conditional on accepting deportations from the UK, as well as co-operation on counter-terrorism initiatives.
To follow UK diplomacy in Pakistan, keep an eye on www.flickr.com/photos/ukinpakistan/sets/
 British High Commission in Islamabad, Press Release, 23 February 2011.
 Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Press Release, 05 April 2011.
Obama admits illegal CIA drone attacks on Pakistan
[Al Jazeera, 31 January 2012]
Meet ‘X’ from Pakistan
“We often hear about stop deportation activists campaigning against deportations. However, we rarely hear that some people inside detention centres put themselves at risk to stop their fellow detainees from being deported. I imagine that this is because if these ‘activists inside detention centres’ are found out, they face further repression – being isolated within the prison and losing any real chance to remain in the UK.
Meet ‘X’, from Pakistan. He has been detained for some time in one of the UK’s Immigration Removal Centres. His story might be similar to many people who are detained, but he has made a special effort to support other detainees win their legal battle to stay in the UK.
X from Pakistan is an anti-deportation campaigner inside the detention centre where he is detained. So far, he has helped 35 people get released from detention. He has learned about the different laws, such as Article 8 in the European Convention of Human Rights, which can prevent people from being deported. He has explained that when people have removal directions (deportation flight tickets), they often ask him to do their application for a Judicial Review, and/or for applying for asylum or to stop the deportation by filling the section 39 for the European Human Rights Court.
He says that the UKBA is breaching human rights. He compares his knowledge of asylum law with the reality of what is happening inside the detention centres. He can see that people are detained although they have been tortured. That people are deported even when they have legal reasons to stay in Britain. He keeps saying how sad it is to see people being deported back to countries where their chance of being able to survival are hardly none.
X for Pakistan had a good life in the UK. He loved going out clubbing, drinking and having fun. He also had a job and was paying taxes like many of us. One day, he was put in a situation where he got angry and lost his temper. He became violent towards two people and due to this, he was sent to prison for more than a year. In prison, he started studying to learn how to administrate paperwork. After been in different immigration removal centres, he has learned how the immigration system works. He combines this with other administration skills to stop people for being deported and to provide them with what all human beings deserve, a safe life.
These activists inside detention centres are not known. Sometimes, we hear how a detainee did someone else’s Judicial Review but we never normally meet the detainee who made these applications. I was lucky to meet one of them and to be able to know more about what he is doing and about his story. He is doing what he can to prevent others detainees being deported back”.
Conservative Government launch assault on Britain’s Pakistani Community
Tory Party Immigration Minister, Damian Green, announced in Parliament on 7th February 2012 that “We continue to exploit opportunities to increase returns. This includes opening and consolidating new charter routes to Ghana, Pakistan and Sri Lanka”.
There was a mass deportation charter flight to Pakistan from UK on 6th February 2012, its unclear if this was the first. Another took place on 19th March 2012 [PVT120] – at least one of the airport-transfer buses for this flight was branded “Just Go! Holidays by Coach” and the plane allegedly departed from London Stansted Airport. Then another took place on 11th April 2012, and another on 1st May 2012 – Anessa Bibi was booked onboard.
The political context behind these deportations might lie in the power shift from the Labour Party to the Conservatives . A wiki-leaked cable from 9th December 2009, (less than 6 months before the Conservative Party won the UK General Election from the incumbent Labour Party) details how the Shadow Defense Minister, Liam Fox, met the US Ambassador to Britain. The pair discussed Labour’s preference for Pakistan in foreign policy, and suggested this would change under the Tories because “the Conservatives are ‘less dependent’ than the Labour Party on votes from the British-Pakistani community“.
Britain’s Pakistani community is more than a million strong and should have the capacity to resist this attack if it decides to organise against deportation.
Identifier: 09LONDON2768 Origin: Embassy London Created: 2009-12-10
2. (C/NF) Ambassador Susman met December 9 with Liam Fox, Shadow Secretary of State for Defense. (Mike Threadgold, Head of Fox’s Private Office, and U.S. Embassy Political Officer Chris Palmer attended the meeting as notetakers.) Fox, a committed Atlanticist, underscored his desire to work closely with the U.S. if the Conservative Party wins power in next year’s general election. [...]
7. (C/NF) Turning to India, Fox criticized the Labour government for policies which reinforce the Indian government’s long-held view that HMG’s foreign relations on the subcontinent are “skewed to Pakistan.” Fox predicted this would not be a factor under a Conservative government, since the Conservatives are “less dependent” than the Labour Party on votes from the British-Pakistani community.