Welcome to Britain: a young Afghan’s experience
What follows is the transcript of a telephone conversation with a teenage detainee awaiting deportation on the next charter flight to Afghanistan (11th June 2012). It is a typical story of one of the many Afghan youngsters put on the fortnightly charters.
“I am from X province in Afghanistan, it is a very very heavy situation there with Taliban. The Taliban control everything. They killed my relatives and then my father. My mother died afterwards – she was sick. Then X, a powerful man in my village, came and said to me I am young and no-one can look after me now, so I must join the Taliban. My uncle don’t want this and he pays an agent to take me out of Afghanistan.
I was taken to Iran and I stay in one room, there are no windows. Then I was taken to Turkiya. The agent put me in a room again and I have to stay there. I was taken to Greek. In Greek the agent put me in a dark room. I asked him, “please can I leave now we are in Europe?”, but he says no.
Then he take me to Italy – I hear you have a good chance there for refugee so I ask the agent, I beg beg beg him to let me go, I want to stay here, but he don’t let me.
Finally then I was taken to France and my agent don’t let me stay there, he says your uncle said you must go to UK. Then he put me in the lorry.
When I came out of a lorry there was police, I asked what country I am in and they say “UK”. I was happy.
They did interview and asked me like 160 questions. Then they put me in a children’s home, but the other Afghani boys they are saying that they deport the people there back to Afghanistan. I was very scared. Some of the other Afghani people told me to run away they said you will be deported as well. Other people said you must stay to get asylum. I don’t know what I should do. I don’t know the police in the UK are good or bad, so I run away.
I don’t know where to go but I have a friend in Derby, so I go on a train to Derby. I don’t speak English but I ask a lady if I can use her mobile to call my friend. She look at me and see my clothes are very bad, my hair is bad because I been in lorry… I am like animal. So she ask me what country I am from and I say Afghanistan. But she don’t give me the phone, she call 99-? What is it? She called the police. I said to her please, please I’m scared and I don’t understand what to do.
I run away and go to another carriage of the train. I ask another man if I can use his mobile. This man is so so kind, he let me call my friend and give me £10 as well.
My friend meet me in Derby and I stay with him. I go to college and it is ok. Then one day my teacher ask me questions, like who is looking after me, how do I eat, something about social service. I don’t answer any question. I don’t have nothing, so I leave college and don’t go back there.
Then in December the police arrest me in the street. I been 7 months in this detention centre and I am going crazy, I am getting headaches. Where can I live in Afghanistan? It’s impossible. Please help me I am scared.”
Hamedullah: The Road Home
What happens to young returnees? Do they survive? And how? Who do they become? Sue Clayton’s film, Hamedullah:The Road Home, answers these questions… and the answers are both moving and surprising…
Deportations to Afghanistan: summary
Known as Operation Dickens, formerly Ravel , the charter flights to Afghanistan are the most regular of the mass deportations from the UK, taking place roughly once a fortnight and usually involving two coaches of deportees. Detainees are given Removal Directions (RDs) with a standard flight number ‘PVT800’. Companies known to have participated in these flights over the years include Hamburg International Airlines  and more recently, Lufthansa-owned BMI . Notorious coach company, WH Tours, based in Crawley, provide transport to the airport.
**Afghan asylum claims
Afghans comprise the largest number of asylum applicants on detained fast-track  – ie; people whose cases the Home Office believes can be decided quickly. Many Afghans are therefore detained and deported within months of claiming asylum.
Despite – or rather because of – the 11-year occupation of Afghanistan by US and NATO forces (British troops form the second largest foreign military contingent after the US), it is a cruel irony that those who seek sanctuary in Britain are being sent back on such a massive scale. Many Afghans in the UK have fled Western military operations: from violent armed raids on their villages and their homes to targeting for their imputed political opinion based on family members’ involvement in militant groups.
Grossly undereported, NATO air strikes are increasing in frequency, with up to 1000 air stikes now taking place every month according to an independent news source . While records are scarce, according to UN figures  9,759 civilians were known to have been killed in 2007-10 alone. The civilian death toll is currently on the rise .
In this context, what seems clear is that a fear of ‘opening the floodgates’ and, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the desire to push the narrative that Afghanistan is now a safe country – thanks to NATO intervention – are significant factors in this harsh policy towards Afghan asylum applicants. Other applicants include those who have been targetted for apparently colluding with US & NATO forces, those forcibly recruited or who fear forcible recruitment by militant groups, and those otherwise targeted by these groups.
Most of the Afghans claiming asylum in the UK are young, and many are minors. As such, a considerable number of those being deported en-masse are teenage boys who are deemed (largely on the basis of appearance and behaviour) to be over the age of 17 1/2: the permissable age for deportation to Afghanistan. In the absence of adequate care and reception facilities for children whose families cannot be traced, the Home Office tends to give temporary permission to remain to child asylum applicants from Afghanistan. This is called Discretionary Leave to Remain (DLR), and in the case of minors lasts up to 3 years, or until the age of 17 1/2 years – whichever, of course, is the shortest. In view of this policy, when it comes to assessing an asylum seeker’s age, it therefore is in the interests of the government for the authorities to to state that they are older than claimed and to remove people as soon as possible, which is a regular occurence.
**The ‘re-integration centre’
However, this doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy the Home Office, and the government has made moves to lower the age at which Afghans can be deported. To legitimise this, The British government is currently building a ‘re-integration centre’ in Kabul to allow for the deportation of 16-17 year olds whose families cannot be traced .
This is part of the broader policy on the part of a number of European states to coordinate efforts to rid themselves of these young asylum seekers: in January 2011, the British, Swedish, Dutch and Norwegian governments launched the European Return Platform for Unaccompanied Minors (ERPUM)  to devise strategies for the deportation of minors which circumvent basic child protection law and encounter minimal resistance. However, what is clear is that if the age assessments continue as they are, we will almost certainly be seeing orphaned 14 and 15 year-olds being returned alongside their older compatriots. Plans are afoot to start these deportations this year.
As the deportation rate increases, Afghans – as other asylum seekers, treated as mere numbers – have bravely resisted deportation in spite of the constraints imposed on them (at the removal stage, there are two guards for every deportee). In the past year, Afghans in detention have embarked on hunger strike  and have physically resisted attempts to remove them. In September, Afghan detainees started smashing up parts of Harmondsworth IRC after a fellow detainee was beaten by guards for protesting his deportation. Although the original charter appears to have been cancelled as a result of their actions, the men were taken to solitary confinement and the flight went ahead the next day . A similar incident occured in October, also in Harmondsworth.
4 http://www.irr.org.uk/pdf2/FastTracktoDespair.pdf Detained fast-track has a 99% refusal rate