Now for some humane lessons from the UAE

IT IS amazing how cruel human beings can sometimes be to each other. For sometime now there has been growing unease at the way the British immigration authorities have been treating asylum seekers who are waiting the outcome of their appeals against the Home Secretary’s decision to deport them.

By Phillip Knightley (ONE MAN’S VIEW)

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Published: Sat 21 Aug 2004, 10:29 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:54 AM

Many of them, although they have committed no offence, are locked up in soul-destroying detention centres. Sometimes life there becomes so unbearable that they commit suicide. Protest rioting follows, destruction, fires and attacks on officers occur. This leads to heavier repression and so the cycle continues. This is bad enough but recently details have emerged of what happens when the asylum seeker exhausts his or her legal process and immigration officers come to deport them, using whatever force is deemed necessary. Some are women who have married men who are either British citizens or who have the right to reside in Britain. Some of them have children who have been born in Britain and therefore hold British citizenship. The decision to deport the mother places her in a terrible position: she has to choose between taking her child with her back to the country from which she fled, or giving up the child and leaving its father to look after it.

Two recent cases are particularly harrowing. In the first case the mother resisted deportation and clung to her 18 months-old child. The officers took the child from her by violence and five of them then forced the mother to the ground and held her there by sitting on her. Seeing her mother assaulted and not knowing why, the child naturally became terribly upset. Before relatives could arrange for the child’s father to come to collect her, the immigration officers had placed her in the care of social workers and it was some time before the father could secure her release.

In the second case, immigration officers descended on a woman and her child at 3am. Giving her time only to put on the scantiest clothing, and no time to prepare food for the child, they rushed her and her child to the airport and tried to bundle her on to a plane. When she resisted, the officers snatched her child from her arms and carried the child on to the aircraft, thus forcing the mother to follow. But in this case, the captain of the plane saved the day. He refused to allow the woman to remain on board saying she was improperly clothed and too distressed to travel. The immigration officers had to abort the deportation. In fact, the increasing unwillingness of decent airline staff to carry the victims of Britain’s harsh immigration and asylum policies is the only bright spot in this dismal scene. Why can’t things be different.

In some places they are. According to British police superintendent Dr. Ali Dizaei, in the United Arab Emirates, immigration and asylum is celebrated rather than demonised. Dr. Dizaei has just finished examining policing policy in the UAE and has decided that Britain can learn an enormous amount about how law enforcement can help achieve community harmony. “Unlike in Britain, the host community in the UAE is in a minority and the majority of the population are there to work -invited for their skills. Dubai has transformed its standing as a centre of commerce by utilising the skills of migrant workers and professionals, who are subject to stringent but realistic conditions. Their welcome does not include placing them in immigration holding centres, giving them food vouchers; there is no daily tabloid press portraying them as parasites.” Dr. Dizaei points out that rather than adopt Britain’s conventional method of putting police officers in classes and telling them what a Muslim or Hindu looks like, UAE officers are sent on intensive courses to learn the languages of the migrant communities, encouraging a true understanding of different cultures.

The way a nation polices its people -and this includes officers given the responsibility for enforcing immigration policies -is a good indication of its national values and a true gauge of its commitment to its citizens’ well-being. At the moment, it would appear that British immigration officers are so inhumane, uncaring and oblivious of the emotional damage they can inflict on asylum seekers, particularly children -people already traumatised by what they have been through -that the coutry’s reputation for justice, consideration and fair play are seriously endangered. As Dr. Dizaei concludes, “If we overcome our prejudices, Britain and its police can earn a lot from the Muslim world.”

Phillip Knightley is a London-based columnist and commentator

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