The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has been accused of acting unlawfully by forcing the removal of failed Somali asylum-seekers to Mogadishu where they fear they will be murdered by Islamic militants. In what is being seen as a test case affecting thousands of Somalis in Britain, a judge has granted an injunction at the last minute halting the removal of a 23-year-old man, identified only as Abdullah, who was due to be flown back to Mogadishu on Tuesday.
His lawyers argued successfully that a decision on his future should await the imminent findings of an immigration upper-tribunal. This will consider UK government claims that Mogadishu is safe.
The man was reprieved, but his lawyers still fear he could be removed within days or weeks depending on the findings of the tribunal.
Speaking to The Independent from the Harmondsworth detention centre near Heathrow on Monday, Abdullah said: “I do not have words to describe it. I am overwhelmed with fear. It is a place that I escaped from and I came to this country hoping my life would be changed for the better.”
In January, Abdullah was forcibly put on board a flight to Istanbul en route for Mogadishu but a last-minute legal challenge meant he was brought back to the UK. He has spent the past months on bail under curfew wearing an electronic tag until he was taken back into detention.
The aftermath of a car bomb in Mogadishu in February (AFP/Getty)
During the course of his removal he said he had been “handcuffed… assaulted, punched and dragged” by escorts in front of other passengers who heard him screaming for help.
He said his message for the Government was straightforward. “Britons might have shed their blood in multiple continents in protection of human rights but it seems that human rights [are being] violated here at home,” he said.
The Home Office issued new advice to case workers considering asylum appeals from Somalis in April this year. The UK Government still acknowledges that Somalia remains too dangerous to return people to areas outside the capital, but says the general situation has improved since the overt withdrawal of the Islamist terror group al-Shabaab in 2011.
The advice adds: “There is no frontline fighting or shelling any longer; and the number of civilian casualties has gone down. The available country information does not indicate that, at present, the situation is of such a nature as to place everyone who is present in the city at a real risk of treatment such that removal to Mogadishu would be contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Toufique Hossain, of solicitors Duncan Lewis who is representing Abdullah, said: “The law has not changed whatever the Secretary of State chooses to say in the country guidance, because that is up to the tribunal to decide and there should not be attempts to remove people until then.”
He said there was a clear risk that his client’s human rights would be breached if he was sent back and that the security situation in Mogadishu had recently worsened.
Abdullah said he had been in contact with another man who was removed in similar circumstances last month who is now in hiding. The man, who also wishes to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera this week: “I have surrendered myself to death. All I am thinking is that I am a dying man.”
The Home Office’s own guidance notes that Mogadishu’s four main hospitals treated 4,412 people for weapons injuries in 2013.
Al-Shabaab, which was responsible for the assault in February on the presidential palace in which a government official died, has warned that individuals returning from the West would be targeted as infidels.
Abdullah described how he was a member of a minority clan and that his father, a university professor, had been shot and injured and many members of his family killed.
“We are an easy target and we are made to be victims. I have seen many bad incidents happen to my family. I made my own way to this country – this is my last hope,” he said.
Home Office figures show that there were 33 enforced returns to Somalia in 2013. In the first quarter of 2014, 19 people were sent back although the figures do not show how many were returned to Mogadishu where the violence is worst.
Louise Calvey, director of delivery at Refugee Action, said she was “very concerned” that the Home Office had recommenced forcible removals to Somalia. “This is in the face of serious security concerns reported through UNHCR, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.”
Jasmine Sallis, of the Unity Centre in Glasgow which has been campaigning against the enforced returns of Somalis, said: “It is completely absurd that the Home Office is even attempting let alone successfully sending people back to Somalia given that it is extremely dangerous there.
“The Government is clearly failing its human rights obligations.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We believe that those who fail to establish a genuine fear of persecution should return home voluntarily. If they do not, we will enforce their removal.
“There has been no change to our returns policy in relation to Somalia and Somaliland, and removals continue to take place.”