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Gay man who fled Afghanistan aged 10 told by Home Office he could be sent back

Patrick Kelleher August 26, 2021
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Protesters outside the Home Office holding a sign that reads: Seeking asylum is a right not a crime

Protesters outside the Home Office. (Getty)

A gay man has been told by the Home Office he could be removed to Afghanistan.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, revealed on Wednesday (25 August) that they are working with an undocumented gay Afghan called Ahmad, who has spent the last eight months in detention in the UK.

Ahmad, 29, has been living in the UK since he was just 10 years old, when he arrived as an unaccompanied minor – but he remains in detention and was told just last week that his removal to Afghanistan is “pending” by the Home Office.

The letter was issued despite the fact that the Taliban has seized control in Afghanistan, according to The Times. The extremist military group is known for its harsh approach to women, LGBT+ people and countless others. Under its strict approach to Sharia law, gay men could be stoned to death or crushed by towering walls as punishment for their sexuality.

Speaking to PinkNews, Sankey said Ahmad’s case is “not uncommon at all”.

“It’s a very typical case for us, that somebody came to the UK as an unaccompanied child – lots of Afghan children and teenagers have come since the UK and US invasion in 2001 – Ahmad came when he was 10.

“What happens to people in his situation is they get put in the care system because they are lone children and there are no parents, and then when they reach 18 the Home Office starts removal proceedings against them.”

Asylum seekers who have fled Afghanistan could be targeted by the Taliban if returned

Sankey said the practice is “very problematic” for the likes of Ahmad, who grew up in the UK. “The reason he’s come is he clearly doesn’t have the protection that a child needed in Afghanistan, so I would really question the practice full stop of trying to remove people, children, that come as refugees.

“But this has been standard fare for the Home Office for years and it’s obviously not just Afghanistan, it’s any country in the world.”

Reports from Afghanistan suggest that the Taliban is already introducing its strict version of Sharia law, which could see huge swathes of people executed – including LGBT+ people. And Sankey says that the UK’s actions are putting people at risk.

Members of the Taliban stand holding weapons
A photo of Taliban members in 2008. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think anyone that has travelled to the UK to claim asylum, whether or not they were a Taliban target at the time, would absolutely be a Taliban target now,” Sankey said.

“We’re hearing that extended family members and interpreters have been executed, so just imagine someone that’s travelled all the way to the UK and tried to seek refuge from the Taliban and all of their family members as well.”

The Home Office has announced a programme to bring vulnerable Afghans to safety in the UK, with plans to welcome 5,000 refugees in the first year. However, activist groups have been critical of the lack of action surrounding LGBT+ asylum seekers specifically, while others have suggested that the targets are insufficient.

The Home Office have been gravely complicit in these people now facing very real fears for their lives

“Frankly, we don’t think what’s being offered by the Home Office at the moment is good enough at all,” Sankey said. “Five thousand people in the first year doesn’t nearly cover the people that they’ve forcibly removed and we’ve had no indications that they would seek to prioritise these people – as I say, that will include LGBTQI people who are now fearful for their lives in Kabul. So we think that the Home Office have been gravely complicit in these people now facing very real fears for their lives.”

men stand outside barracks, in a photograph taken through a wire fence
The Home Office has been under fire for keeping people who are seeking asylum in poor conditions in barracks. (Getty)

Sankey hopes Ahmad’s story shines a light on the “huge discretionary power” the Home Office has when it comes to detention of migrants. “One of the big problems we have with the system is there’s no time-limit on detentions. People can languish there for months and years.”

Needless to say, sending LGBT+ people back to Afghanistan under Taliban rule would be detrimental. “You can’t conceive of a more dangerous situation,” Sankey said. “Anybody that’s been involved in the liberalising of society is now hugely at risk of torture, execution – it doesn’t get more serious.”

New legislation could make the situation even worse for asylum seekers

The situation is not good for asylum seekers in the UK right now, but Sankey expects things to become even worse. Legislation is currently making its way through parliament that would “criminalise and deny asylum to anybody that arrives here through any means to claim protection but doesn’t come on an official resettlement scheme”.

“This is insane, it’s unlawful, the UN has spoken out against it. It’s absolutely madness, it breaches the Refugee Convention, but it’s Priti Patel’s flagship law that she’s trying to bring forward to deal with the boat crossings,” Sankey said.

“What that means – and there’s no two ways about it – if an LGBTQI person in Kabul today or the provinces manages somehow to get out of the country by paying smugglers, getting over a land border, if this is law is passed, they would have committed a criminal offence. They wouldn’t be allowed to make an asylum claim – it would be deemed inadmissible because of the mode in which they arrived – and they would then be liable to indefinite immigration detention, including in an offshore detention facility in the way that Australia has done and the UK is now exploring.

“You just see the massive contradiction here at the heart of Home Office policy making. It’s totally irrational, totally unreasonable, unlawful. You really can’t overstate how bad this is.”

Detention Action is now hoping members of parliament will vote against the legislation to ensure that refugees have safe passage to the UK in light of the worsening situation in Afghanistan.

“This is legislation that’s going through that’s going to have such a huge effect on potentially thousands of Afghans yet to arrive, including LGBTQI people, but also LGBTQI people from all over the world.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office told PinkNews: “The Government has been clear that enforced removals to Afghanistan have been paused.

“We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”

Related topics: Afghanistan

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