Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The cost of a hard line

In 2002, Abdullah Tokhi and his family arrived in the UK and applied for asylum. A Pashtun from Afghanistan, they were fleeing persecution from America's new allies, the Northern Alliance. But after the US invasion, the British government decided (in the face of all evidence to the contrary) that Afghanistan was safe, and so it sent them back. Tokhi was dead within a year, murdered in broad daylight by the people he had fled. One of his brothers, and now one of his sons have also been murdered.

This is the cost of a "hard line" on refugees, of trying not to be a "soft touch": people sent back to face persecution and death, in clear violation of the Refugee Convention. The Blair government in the UK seems to be particularly good at this, but our own government doesn't exactly have clean hands either. In the past, they've deported Takshila, a Sri Lankan girl fleeing sexual abuse, and have tried to deport a Burmese democracy activist. And they're still trying to deport Thomas Yadegary, an Iranian Christian who will face murder or execution for apostasy if returned to Iran, and trying to send Ahmed Zaoui back to the people who tortured him and who have sentenced him to death for speaking out against Algeria's military regime. So far, we've been lucky - Takshila was ultimately granted refugee status by the UN to protect her from her relatives, while the other deportations have not proceeded. But eventually one will, and the victim of our suspicion and "hard line" will end up facing the same fate as Abdullah Tokhi.

Our country has banned the death penalty, and enacted laws to ensure that suspected or even convicted criminals (regardless of citizenship or immigration status) will not be extradited if they face a risk of execution or torture. But we seem to be quite happy to deport refugees to those same fates. This violates international law, it violates New Zealand law, and it violates our values. We should not be doing it. The price of maintaining a "hard line" against refugees is one that is simply not worth paying.


If my understanding is correct, Zaoui was granted asylum in Burkina Faso whilst receiving money from the Swiss government. He left this arrangment volutarily. If indeed this is true, why then are we obliged to spend millions on him? He was provided with safe refuge in BFand a refugee cannot travel the world like a tourist, deciding which country appeals the most. I would rather my tax dollars were spent on refugees with real need, not bogus asylum seekers with links to appalling organisations like the FIS.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/06/2007 08:33:00 PM

He's a refugee (see: RSAA decision) and he's here. That's why we have to let him stay. He has fled from other countries in fear of persecution (ibid). The only reason we're spending millions is because the Government is continuing to try to avoid that responsibility - if they'd dropped the court battles and SRC years ago we'd have however many hypothetical hip operations more in the bank.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/06/2007 10:42:00 PM

You are telling me anon2, that Zaoui fled Burkina Faso because of fear of persecution? That seems highly unlikely to me.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/06/2007 10:52:00 PM

Anon: You are mistaken. Zaoui was not granted asylum in Burkina Faso, and officials apparently refused to accept an application from him. See here for a brief mention.

As for the money, I regard it as appalling that the government would spend so much to undermine human rights and in essence argue that it can detain people indefinitely. Given the precedents that have emerged against the government's position - precedents that protect each and every one of us from abuse by the state - I regard the legal aid money as having been worth every penny.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/07/2007 01:09:00 AM

I must say that the mention is very brief and seems to evade the issue - he was not deported from BF but left of his own will. If his life was not endangered whilst in BF - and I imagine the Swiss had made sure BF was a 'safe third country', then he has no right to pretend to be a refugee. Until I see evidence that he was forced to Indonesia from BF I will continue to regard him as a bogus refugee. I am amused that AI skip the bit about leaving BF - maybe the truth is a tad awkward!

Posted by Anonymous : 2/07/2007 07:49:00 AM