Voice Through Silent Protest

Kurdish poet Abas Amini recently won his battle to stay in Britain after going on hunger strike for eleven days. argues that his case shows deeper problems in the asylum system

Abas Amini, an Iranian Kurdish refugee sewed up his eyes, ears and lips to protest at Home Office conduct during his application for asylum. He fled Iran following six years in prison, including a year of solitary confinement. A poet, Amini grew up with rebels in Mariwan, in the mountains of Iranian Kurdistan. As a youth he suffered repeated jailing and torture for his dissident writing, until finally managing to escape two years ago.

After the Government appealed against his successful application, he went on hunger strike for eleven days. Initially a personal gesture of outrage, international attention soon focussed on his plight. Once the Home Office was defeated, he continued his protest to draw attention to the fate of refugees arriving in Britain. Now accepting medical attention, Amini said, "I have ended this because I have come to realise that this is a very important struggle to be continued."

He is adamant that if he returned to Iran he would be executed, a claim that is vehemently denied by the Iranian ambassador to Britain. Yet the medical team assigned to examine him swiftly concluded he had been "very psychologically damaged" by repeated beatings in Iran. Spokesperson, Shermon Carrol, expressed anger at the Home Office: "all [the] medical evidence has been ignored. Instead, the Home Office has clutched at straws to have the case thrown out".

The Home Office lodged an appeal immediately following the positive ruling on the grounds that they had failed to send a representative to the hearing. However, the appeals tribunal rejected the Home Office’s appeal and Amini was granted permanant stay.

The case raises serious questions over how asylum applications are being dealt with. It comes at a time when the government is trying to take visibly tougher action to reduce the number of refugees granted asylum. It was recently announced that there was a 32 percent reduction in the number of asylum applications in the first quarter of the year, from 23,000 to 16,000 in the first three months.

At a recent press conference, Mr Blair said that the number of asylum applications should be halved by September. The Government is attempting to reduce Britain’s "pull factors", making the country a less attractive destination. Yet if one looks closely at the figures, they reveal that the largest numbers of refugees come from countries that have suffered famine, war, or similar devastation; Iraq, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan top the government’s league table. The fact that Blair is trying actively to reduce the figures speaks volumes about his supposed humanitarian passion. The unusual form of Amini’s protest may have made the headlines, but behind the figures are thousands more persecuted people the Home Office is trying to deport to reach Blair’s target.

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