- Posted by Maryam Namazie
- On February 9, 2001
- 0 Comments
A Case Study of Ramin Khaleghi and the failed UK asylum policy
Presented at the Iranian Researchers’ Association conference
February 9, 2001
In one month, two Iranian asylum seekers killed themselves in Britain because of the UK government’s anti-asylum policies. Saeed Alai, a 26-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, hanged himself 4-5 days before Christmas in Nelson, Manchester. His flatmate said he was deeply depressed and afraid of a refusal from the Home Office. On January 18, Ramin Khaleghi, a 27-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, was found dead in his room at the International Hotel in Leicester a week after receiving a refusal from the Home Office.
Looking in detail at Ramin’s case can highlight some of the major rights violations asylum seekers face in Britain.
Firstly, Ramin was forcibly dispersed to the International Hotel in Leicester despite a large network of family members. He wanted to live with them. Being far from them depressed him further. He tried on numerous occasions to be transferred to London but to no avail.
Ramin’s case is not isolated. Asylum seekers in their thousands are drifting back to London after dispersal, or are simply choosing to remain in the capital or the South East without any money for housing so they can have access to attorneys, interpreters, and a support system.
The forced dispersal program has made asylum seekers more vulnerable to racist attacks. Residents at Leicester International Hotel have faced hostility from sections of the local population. This has also become a major problem for asylum seekers in the UK. Racial abuse and attacks have become so great that the Association of Chief Police Officers has warned of “significant public disorder” if it’s not tackled. Racist incidents reported to the police have risen by 107% last year, according to the Home Office. The total number of race crimes spiralled from 23,049 in 1998/99 to nearly 48,000 the following year in England and Wales. Racist incidents are in actuality much higher since asylum seekers do not often report such incidents as they believe or have seen that the police do not intervene as required.
Secondly, the living conditions Ramin was forced to endure was intolerable. Ramin lived at the Leicester International Hotel, a hostel housing around 400 asylum seekers. Asylum seekers there complain of serious sanitation problems – some have gotten skin diseases- and filth. There is inadequate heating and poor food, which is sometimes expired. The lifts often don’t work. Cutlery and crockery are dirty. The cooking facilities are unhygienic. There are not enough washing machines and several are not working. Fire extinguishers are empty.
Again this is not an isolated example. A report by the UK charity Shelter outlines how safety is being put at risk as landlords exploit asylum seekers’ need for housing. In a survey of 154 homes housing 309 people, including 48 children, they found dampness, overcrowding, poor sanitation, unhygienic cooking facilities and inadequate fire escapes.
To further exacerbate the intolerable living situation, Ramin and other residents were forced to live on 10 pounds cash per week to buy all their necessities.
Ramin’s isolation and living conditions had a huge impact on his despair. When the IFIR representative in Leicester told him that he could appeal the negative decision, Ramin said he could not tolerate living in that hotel for a lengthy appeal process. A few days before his death, he had come to London to request being transferred near his family. He was told to come back later. The isolation, dispersal, poverty and inadequate living conditions, exacerbated Ramin’s despair and trauma but it was the Home Office refusal, which finally killed him.
Despite the fact that Ramin had been imprisoned in Iran for being a conscientious objector, had escaped Iran while being transferred by prison officials, and been seriously tortured, his claim was refused. Doctors at Nuffield Hospital examined him and in a report noted that his injuries were consistent with torture, including Handcuff lesions on both wrists, scars on his wrist indicating he had been suspended from ceilings, wounds on both legs and feet from iron bar beatings, dislocated toes, and other scars and marks on his body. Despite overwhelming evidence that he has a well-founded fear of persecution, the Home Office refused his claim.
The UK government’s high refusals (including 26,630 applicants – 30% – on non-compliance) are again an important aspect of its policy to depress, deter, traumatise, and break asylum seekers. One reason for the high refusal rates is the general anti-asylum environment and their efforts to diminish the right to asylum after the end of the Cold War. Home Office statistics clearly reveals this fact. The general recognition and exceptional leave to remain rate was 77% in 1989, 26% in 1999 and 22% in 2000. In the year 2000, the UK refused 78% of asylum applicants while in 1989 it had accepted around that many. Approval numbers are even lower when considering refugee recognition rates (not exceptional leave to remain), which was 12% in 2000.
Clearly, the diminishing rates of recognition have nothing to do with actual claims and country conditions causing flight but everything to do with the diminishing right to asylum in the UK and Europe, especially since asylum seekers today are fleeing similar violations and persecution as well as from similar countries they fled in the 1980s. During 1990-1999 the main asylum seekers also came from Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, etc.
Currently, the top five countries where asylum seekers are fleeing from are Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. There are yearly increases in the refusals of Iranian asylum seekers as well, both because of the general anti-asylum environment and European governments’ attempts to legitimise the Islamic regime of Iran in the face of increasing protests.
27,100 Iranians applied for asylum in Europe in 2000, 5,170 of them applied in the UK. The April – December 2000 Home Office statistics (there are no country specific statistics for January – March on their web site), reveals an average refusal rate for Iranians of 82%. The average asylum recognition rate is only 10.8%. In 1999, it was higher – 37% were recognized as refugees and 50% were refused. In 1998, 23% were refused.
The Islamic regime has been a major source of refugee flow since its establishment so such decreases in recognition rates reveal other realities, including improved political / economic relations between the UK and Iranian governments. In 1999, where recognition rates for all countries are available in a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, there are huge variations in the recognition rates depending on the closeness of relations.
UK 37% 50%
US 89 11
Turkey 73 27
Pakistan 87 13
Zealand 100 0
Canada 77 23
Belgium 67 33
Refusal rates also increase with the increase in applications as a deterrent to others. Moreover, racism is involved in refusals rates. Iranian asylum seekers have been refused and told “you could have lived a clandestine life in Iran – there was no need to flee,” “you acted against your country’s laws and therefore the government had a right to prosecute you,” or that “Iranian prisons are satisfactory for Third World standards.” Governments use cultural relativism to deny a more tolerable and safe life to those fleeing Islamist societies assuming that those born in such societies deserve no better.
Of course governments have not been able to completely deny and destroy the right to asylum because of resistance from asylum seekers, progressive organisations such as the International Federation of Iranian Refugees (IFIR), and trade unions. At the International Hotel and Leicester where Ramin lived, such resistance was taking place. The UK Civil Rights Caravan of which IFIR was an active organiser, had visited and set up the Leicester Civil Rights Movement to work with asylum seekers, provide support, advocate and organise. There were regular meetings with asylum seekers in the International Hotel. The group organised demonstrations, meetings with MPs, and a meeting with NASS (social services for asylum seekers in the UK) to discuss the situation in the hotel. It had been able to galvanise support from individuals living in Leicester, many of who joined a recent February 3 demonstration in memory of Ramin and for asylum rights. The demonstration was the largest anti-racist demonstration seen in Leicester in recent history.
To push back the assault on asylum rights, a widespread social movement has to be organised, something the IFIR has been working on. The Campaign for Ramin is an important aspect of this resistance and can further expose the inhuman conditions for asylum seekers living in the UK. The Campaign is demanding a meeting between the Home Office and his family, improvements in conditions at the International Hotel, and an investigation into the Home Office’s policy of dispersal and refusal of Iranians.
At a public meeting the IFIR attended in Leicester a day after Ramin’s body was found, many asylum seekers asked who would be next. Clearly, we must ensure that no one is next. If anything, the UK government’s policy of dispersal, vouchers, refusals, detention and deportations must be next if asylum seekers in the UK are to enjoy the right to asylum.