I am writing to ask you for your support to help 25 year old Sehar and her 8 month old baby, Wania, who have been locked up in Dungavel Removal Centre since yesterday morning, despite Lib-Con assurances of ending child detention. Sehar and her baby face removal on Saturday 22 May 2010 to Pakistan.
On Monday 17 May, Sehar went to Brand Street Reporting Centre (UKBA/Home Office) where she was expected to report every 2 weeks. When she arrived at the Reporting Centre officials told her she was being detained with her baby, even though she had no clothes or baby’s belongings with her. Sehar had never absconded or missed her reporting visits. She said:
“I told them I was signing every two weeks and I am continually running from a very bad situation, why are you detaining me? They said to me “This is what we have decided”. I said I have a small baby and I have none of her clothes or baby things. They said that was not their problem and I was put into the back of a van and after an hour my baby and I were taken to Dungavel. I just could not stop crying. My baby was due for medical treatment today (Tuesday, May 18th) and despite giving them a medical letter at the detention centre they insisted on detaining me. This is just a prison. We are kept locked in in the family area. But why? We have never ran away or tried to break the law. I can’t take my baby out for fresh air when she needs it. That is the worst thing, not being able to play in the open with her, and I don’t like her seeing the barbed wire or to know what it means – that we cannot leave.
“I just want to be able to raise my daughter in peace, find work and stand on our own two feet and make a simple life for us. Nothing else. My daughter is just a baby, she has done nothing to harm anyone. I just ask the government to release us from here.”
Sehar has been living in the UK for 3 years. She states that she was forced to marry her husband against her will and that he was often drunk, violent and threatened to kill her. He repeatedly forced himself upon her sexually. Sehar claims that her husband left her for days on end locked in his flat in Blackburn, England. Sehar begged her family in Pakistan to take her back. However they said thery could not support her. Sehar says she cannot forgive her family for deserting her. In May 2009, Sehar’s daughter was born and she could not cope anymore with the abuse. She had no money and was worried her husband would kill her. She called the police but they referred her to the Social Work Department in Blackburn. Sehar asked Social Work for refuge accommodation but they said they could not provide accommodation because she is not a UK citizen. They suggested that she go to the Refugee Council. Sehar left in December 2009 and came to Glasgow. Social work in Glasgow put her into homeless accommodation and she was assisted to make an asylum application at the Scottish Refugee Council. Sehar’s husband followed her to Glasgow and she was given help to move elsewhere in Glasgow. It is impossible for her to return to Pakistan. Sehar’s in-laws began harassing her family and claiming that there was no abuse but that she had run off with another man. Sehar and her baby daughter face a life of fear and social ostracisation if they are returned to Pakistan.
Sehar said: “This is the system I would be returning to if they deport us. They won’t spare me, it’s not a small issue if a girl runs away from her husband or in-laws. Our only value in Pakistan now is if I am dead”.
Sehar Shabaz’s story is typical of many Pakistani women fleeing violent partners. They become stigmatised by society for leaving their husbands and it is impossible to live without fear. Since 2001, Positive Action in Housing, together with human rights campaigners and others, has campaigned for the release of children and their families who were locked up in detention centres across the UK. In every case we dealt with, not one single family had absconded either before their detention or after. All endured the terror of the current asylum policy, and in many cases, won their right to remain after enduring dawn raids, destitution or detention. The facts speak for themselves. So why is this young woman being locked up with her young baby? Especially after the coalition government made a show of ending child detention only a few days ago.
Being in government is about more than words of intent. It is utterly shameful that children continue to be locked up in detention centres in the UK when the coalition government itself only days ago took news headlines for its intention to scrap child detention and condemned it as an inhumanity towards children and families.
We call on the government to stand by its words and release Sehar Shabaz and her baby immediately and all families with children who are currently detained. There is no need for prevarication while alternatives are sought. The evidence of harm to children is incontrovertible. The alternative to detention is extremely straightforward – allow asylum seekers to stay in their homes while their asylum claims are still ongoing.
Sehar Shabaz has been told that she will be deported to Pakistan on 22 May 2010. Please email your MP and MSP and ask for the release of Sehar Shabaz and an immediate end to the shameful practice of child detention in the UK. Please write to Damian Green, Immigration Minister at email@example.com and ask him to reconsider Sehar’s case with a view to giving the family leave to remain in the UK. Please copy any correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thank you for your support,
Positive Action in Housing Ltd is a Scottish wide charity working with communities, housing providers, voluntary organisations and faith groups to enable everyone to have an equal chance to live in good quality, affordable and safe homes, free from discrimination and the fear of racial harassment and violence. We offer advice, information and support to people from new migrant, refugee and minority ethnic communities. We run a free, confidential and impartial casework service for those facing poverty, homelessness, racism or poor housing. We run a Hardship Fund and provide emergency shelter and practical resources for destitute asylum seekers and their families. We provide volunteering and sessional work opportunities. We support human rights and anti-racist campaigns. We inform social policy from a user-led perspective.