How can it be the action of a civilised society to take a woman who has fled domestic violence and send her back to Pakistan with her 8 month old baby where she is at risk from reprisals from both her and her husband's family?
Home Secretary Theresa May is imminently deporting Sehar Shabaz and her 8 month old daughter Wania. Sehar was at the centre of controversy earlier in the week after she and her baby were detained at Dungavel after both Tavish Scott and Alistair Carmichael had said that child detention would stop. It has now been confirmed that the Liberal Democrats have been successful in ending this practice and no children will be detained at Dungavel in the future.
That's all well and good, but I'm not convinced that sending them to Yarls Wood is actually a better solution. I'd have liked to have seen all detention of children suspended while the system was reviewed.
The reason Sehar was being removed is that she came in to the country on a spouse's visa but she left her husband becaus of his violence towards her. She had no right, therefore, to stay in this country. The difficulty is that if she is returned to Pakistan, where women, particularly young women, have no power, her actions in leaving her violent husband are likely to be viewed dimly by both her own and his family. This means that both her and her baby are at risk. What I don't know and I can't find out is that she appears to have been living apart from her husband for 3 years and her baby is 8 months old and so I assume that she's formed another relationship which will be even more frowned upon back in Pakistan. UPDATE: Thanks to @NoetiCat on Twitter for alerting me to this site which gives more information about Sehar's case.
It turns out that she arrived in this country in 2007 on a student visa to marry a Pakistani national living in the UK. She fled her abusive husband in November 2009 and her application for asylum has been turned down by the UK Border Agency's fast track system. The fact that there is new information which was not considered prior to removal is extremely worrying.
I'd like to know more about her circumstances. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I wonder if she actually took up her studies after entering the country on a student visa. Could it be that she had a place on a course and her new husband prevented her from taking it up? Did she study? If not, then the UK Border Agency, whatever the circumstances, would have taken a very dim view of that which may have stood against her in the asylum system. If they ruled that she'd not fulfilled the requirements of her student visa, then her application for asylum would in their eyes have had less credibility. I am not saying that's right, but I suspect that might have been what's happeened.
I think, though, particularly where young children are involved, there needs to be some sort of full welfare assessment and the UK Border Agency needs to take into account evidence based knowledge of the dangers people face in their home countries. We know that honour killings are common in certain countries. That knowledge should be sufficient to prevent deportation in my view at least.
My task for the next few days is to read this report which I suspect will confirm my long held suspicions that there is institutional bias against women in the immigration and asylum system.
I've tried to find out whether Sehar was in fact deported last night. I have learned from experience to assume the worst of the UK Border Agency so with a heavy heart, I'm assuming that she was. This is not the way for a compassionate, civilised society to behave.
I think it is absolutely wrong to return a vulnerable young woman to face attacks with acid or even murder in an environment where she will have no power or little chance of recourse to the law to protect her. The UK Border Agency accepted, way too late in my opinion, that it was wrong to return gay men and lesbians to countries where they will be persecuted and the Coalition Agreement specifically guarantees this. I don't understand why sending women into harm's way should be any different. If you are in any doubt about what could happen, read this Amnesty report on honour killings.
On occasions like this I'm ashamed to be British. It's time the UK Border Agency was forced to learn some compassion. Things aren't going to change overnight, but I wonder why this particular young woman was singled out for deportation at this particular time. It's unnecessary and utterly, utterly wrong.
And also a word about Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats in Government. He alone can't stop every single mistake that the Government is going to make and it's not realistic to expect him to be able to do so. I have faith, though, that if he is made aware of a problem, then he will do what he can to change things. I know that he's not going to win every single battle within the coalition - by its nature that's impossible - but I trust him to argue the case for change as hard as he can. There is much more chance that injustices like what's happened to Sehar will stop under this coalition than by either Labour or the Conservatives governing on their own.