Release Juan Ibrahim, victim of torture and abuse by the Syrian regime, the UK Border Agency and G4S
Stop Deportation | 01.07.2011 22:22 | Migration
* New asylum claim dismissed, medical and objective evidence overlooked, because it's easier for the UKBA to shrug it off as a third country Dublin II case. He is due to be deported to Bulgaria on 6th July.
* Instead of being offered adequate treatment for post-traumatic stress and self-harm injuries, he is put in isolation and cut off from the outside world.
* Denied access to papers, phone and other belongings by the G4S management.
* On hunger strike since Monday, 27th June, in protest at his mistreatment by the immigration authorities and the detention centre management.
* Please see below for what you can do to help.
“I fled Syria because my life was in danger, having been tortured and forced to join the army by the murderous Syrian regime. I came here seeking relief and safety. Instead, I've been put in prison and abused again, this time by the British immigration authorities and their private security that run this prison called Brook House.” - Juan Ibrahim, 29 June 2011
1. Victim of torture
Juan arrived in the UK by lorry on 17th May 2011. He had given up on the asylum system in Bulgaria and returned clandestinely to Syria the month before. Shortly after crossing the border, however, he was stopped at a security check point and arrested as he did not have any ID on him. Not having served his military service, he was threatened with being sentenced to 6 months in prison for deserting the army and 3 months for applying for asylum abroad. Alternatively, he was told, he could start his military service straight away and go fight the “terrorists” and “armed gangs” that the Syrian government claims are behind the ongoing popular uprising.
Along with other conscripts, he was given a hasty training for about a week at a military compound near Damascus, where they were merely taught how to use a Kalashnikov. They were then given a rifle each, with lots of bullets, and dispatched to the suburbs of Damascus that were witnessing mass, peaceful demonstrations.
On his first day of service, he and other soldiers were told that they were going to fight “the terrorists” and ordered to shoot at them and kill them with no mercy. All they found, however, were unarmed civilians shouting anti-regime and pro-democracy slogans. Juan could not obviously kill anyone but was aware that he had to pretend to be shooting at them. It is well-documented now that those who refuse to obey shooting orders are being shot dead by their commanders or colleagues and then the government would show their bodies on TV and claim they were killed by the armed gangs.
On the second day, the same happened again. This time, however, Juan's hands were shaking and he could not fire. The commander, who must have noticed that, suddenly hit him from behind and he fell to the ground.
He was blindfolded and put in a car and taken back to the military compound. He was hit all over his body by the commander and accused of being a traitor. For five days he was tortured by being hit with metal objects all over his his body, whilst pouring cold water and urinating on him. The torture marks on his back and shoulders can still be clearly seen.
After five days, he pleaded with the senior officer that he was not a traitor and would fight as a loyal soldier, but that he was only afraid because he did not know how to use the Kalashnikov properly because he did not receive proper training. The commander was convinced by this argument and released him.
The following day, on 5th May, Juan and other conscripts were dispatched to another close-by area of Damascus. Soon after they were ordered to shoot at peaceful protesters, about 50 or 60 soldiers left their positions and ran away with their weapons to join the people. Juan found this a golden opportunity and ran with them. Other solders behind them were shooting at them and some of those who ran away must have been wounded or killed. His family managed to find an agent and smuggle him out of the country through Turkey.
Juan is still traumatised by this awful experience. As a victim of torture, according to Detention Centre Rule 35, he should not have been put in detention in the first place. The detention centre's nurse at Brook House who completed his Rule 35 report (report of special illness or condition, including torture claims) on 27th May, noted his “wounds”, or torture marks, and his “flashbacks” and “insomnia” problems. A medical note by one of the detention centre's doctors who saw him on 28th May states he had 8 red and brown marks on his back, circular in shape, while those on his shoulders and legs were linear.
The Rule 35 report was simply ignored by the Home Office, which stated that Juan could “raise any issues or concerns with the Bulgarian authorities” after he is returned there. He was subsequently declared “fit to travel” and, instead of counselling and care, he is being stuffed with sleeping pills and pain killers.
2. A 'fair and robust' system?
On his arrival in the UK, Juan claimed asylum on the basis that he has a well-founded fear of persecution at the hands of the authorities in Syria. His claim was refused straight away because his fingerprints showed that he had claimed asylum in Bulgaria in 2010, although this was on a different basis and in a different context. In legal jargon, his case was dealt with as a straightforward third country case. Under the Dublin II regulations, the first EU country that an asylum seeker enters, in this case Bulgaria, is responsible for their case, even if they choose to leave that country. Other European countries are not required to consider their claim, no matter how badly their case is dealt with by the first country, and can simply remove them back there without considering their claim.
However, the basis of Juan's new asylum claim is completely different from his previous one in Bulgaria, and the situation in Syria has changed significantly since then. A Fresh Claim application arguing this was submitted on 9th June, along with fresh evidence that had not been previously considered by the Home Office or the Bulgarian immigration authorities. This included evidence that he was in Syria in April and May 2011, medical evidence that he was tortured, as well as objective evidence corroborating his claims. The application was refused by the Home Office and he has now been issued with new Removal Directions (deportation order) to Bulgaria for 6th July.
If he is returned to Bulgaria, Juan fears, based on his previous experience, that he will be put in detention in very bad conditions. Bulgaria's detention centres, like those of Greece, are known for being notorious and have been repeatedly criticised by international human rights organisations for meeting basic legal and humanitarian standards. Having been through that for two months in 2010, and then leading a destitute and miserable life on the streets for another few months, that is precisely why he left Bulgaria to Syria in March this year. It is also likely that the Bulgarian authorities would simply refuse his claim again and deport him back to Syria, where he might be killed or, at least, imprisoned and tortured.
3. Welcome to Brook House
Juan was due to be removed to Bulgaria the first time on 13th June. The night before, in a desperate attempt to prevent his deportation, he cut himself 40 times with a razor blade on both arms, chest and abdomen. Whilst most cuts were superficial, a couple required stitches, including two on his right-hand arm and wrist. The Surrey emergency department that stitched his wounds recommended, in a report dated 16 June 2011, that the patient needed one-to-one monitoring and to see a psychiatrist. Instead, he is being seen by a different detention nurse or doctor every time, each saying a different thing, and has not been seen by a professional psychiatrist or a counsellor to date.
A medical note by a “mental health nurse” who saw him on 5th June states that he is “unable to sleep due to pain from old wounds and the constant worries from being sent away. He has flashbacks of being beaten up by the army in Syria.” The treatment? He is being stuffed with Kalms tablets and various types of pain killers, including Codeine and Ibuprofen, which Juan says are not helping much. In fact, on 8th June he reported to the detention centre's clinic that the pills are making him “dizzy and unwell” and that he was “fed up of taking medicines.” Three weeks on, not much has changed.
According to his Patient Health Questionnaire, dated 06 June 2011, he is “feeling down, depressed or hopeless” most of the time, has “trouble falling or staying asleep”, has “poor appetite” and is “feeling bad about [him]self.” To make him feel better, the G4S management at Brook House has put him in an isolation cell since he self-harmed on 12th June. He does not have TV or any other means of entertainment and is only allowed a 10-minute break a day. Furthermore, he has not been able to access his mobile phone or papers, which are apparently in the locker in the wing. As a result, it has been difficult for refugee support organisations to help him, for instance in getting him a new solicitor. His previous solicitors, Duncan Lewis, had dropped his case.
On 24th June, Juan self-harmed again and attempted to commit suicide in protest at his isolation and prolonged detention. According to his medical notes, he was found on the floor in his cell vomiting after drinking soap, with new cuts to his arms. The detention centre's management claim his wounds are healing and he is recovering, but it is feared that this will be repeated again in the near future unless his situation changes.
On 27th June, Juan started a hunger strike and has reportedly been very distressed and is refusing to accept anything from the detention centre's staff. “Everything here keeps reminding me of what happened to me in Syria,” he had told one of his visitors the day before.
4. Action points
Juan has gone on hunger and decided to launch a campaign in protest at his mistreatment by the UK asylum and detention system. He is demanding that he is taken out of isolation, released from detention, and his asylum claim dealt with properly. You can help with his protest and campaign in the following ways:
- Write to the Home Office demanding his release and asking that his case is reviewed (model letter attached).
- Write to the UKBA and Brook House management demanding that he is taken out of isolation and that adequate medical care is provided to him (model letter attached).
- Forward this email to your contacts and post on your blog, website, lists, etc.
- There might be a public demonstration in support of Juan early next week. It would be good to have as many people as possible as this is not an isolated case. Watch out for the details.
Juan has been issued with Removal Directions for 6th July. The carrier is EasyJet. Please find attached a model letter to the airline urging them to not carry Juan on their flight no. U28973.
Please help stop Juan's deportation by sending protest letters to EasyJet, and also to the Home Office and G4S (model letters above).
Campaigners were preparing to go to Gatwick airport tonight to leaflet passengers and cabin crew to try and stop the deportation in case the legal challenge failed. But they obviously don't have to do that now.
If Juan is not released within the next couple of days, we're still planning to hold a demo at Brook House demanding his release. We will keep you posted.
Thanks for all those who faxed/emailed the Home Office etc., and for those who helped with the legal process.