Current Affairs

Gay Syrian in ‘legal limbo’ as he waits for immigration tribunal decision

Tony Grew May 22, 2008
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A teenage refugee is waiting to find out if he will be given permission to remain in the UK or returned to his Syrian homeland.

JoJo Jako Jacob, who is 19, claims he will be executed if he is returned.

He escaped two years ago after suffering severe abuse at the hands of the Syrian police and prison guards when he was arrested for distributing anti-government leaflets.

After discovering he was homosexual, prison guards beat him so severely that he fell into a coma.

At a recent hearing, British government officials accused him of lying about his sexuality and his treatment by the Syrian police.

The tribunal judges accepted he is gay and he now awaits their verdict.

JoJo was held at Polmont Young Offenders in Falkirk, Scotland for the last 12 months after being arrested for possessing a fake Belgian passport.

His lawyers said an asylum application for his stay in the UK was mistakenly withdrawn and, as a result, he had been served with a deportation order, pending a final hearing earlier this month.

JoJo is currently on ‘bail’ and staying in the home of a supporter in Edinburgh.

Campaigners have highlighted the behaviour of the Home Office, which offered Jojo £46 to go back to Syria and sent him a letter every week asking his permission to be repatriated.

Members of the Scottish Parliament and a former Big Brother winner have called on the government not to deport him.

A cross-party motion in the Scottish Parliament in support of JoJo and calling for an immediate moratorium on the deportation of gay and lesbian refugees has been backed by more than 20 MSPs.

Campaigners have written to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to plead for leniency for JoJo.

The Scottish National Party’s Westminster Home Affairs Spokesman Pete Wishart MP said:

“After Mr Yakob’s terrible ordeal in Syria, it is unacceptable that the Home Office would consider sending him back.

“There is a very real risk that he would suffer further ill treatment or even possibly death.

“He has sought asylum in Scotland and I will make an immediate representation to the
Home Office in an effort to overturn their ruling.”

A spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London denied that torture of gay people took place.

“Homosexuality is illegal in Syria, but there are no special units to deal with this problem,” he said in March.

“People are not prosecuted – society looks at this as a disease for which they can be treated – it is a similar position to that taken by the Vatican.”

John Loughton, who won the reality show Big Brother: Hijack in January, has added his voice to the campaign.

The 20-year-old is Chairman of the Scottish Youth Parliament.

“The situation this poor young man is in is incredibly distressing for anyone that hears about it,” he said.

“Jojo came to this country to seek refuge but has been utterly failed by the entire system and now faces death on his deportation back to Syria.

“He has suffered more in prison than most other young offenders in Scotland.

“I think that the immigration, asylum and court services should be ashamed of the way they have treated Jojo.

“They have shown a total lack of human compassion, and now it is up to the Scottish people to do everything they can to save his life.”

JoJo’s story echoes that of Iranian teenager Mehdi Kazemi, who earlier this week was given leave to remain in the UK for five years.

His deportation was reviewed following the intervention of more than 60 members of the House of Lords asking for the Home Office to “show compassion.”

Mr Kazemi, also 19, was studying in the UK and applied for asylum after his boyfriend was arrested and reportedly executed in Tehran.

The boyfriend named Mehdi as a homosexual, and police turned up at his father’s house with a warrant to arrest him.

His asylum application was unsuccessful in the UK, so Mehdi fled to Holland, although he was eventually returned to the UK.

Supporters of the Jojo Yakob campaign are asked to visit the Save JoJo website for more information.

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