Jimmy Mubenga and our troubled asylum system
The Guardian, Monday 18 October 2010
Your report on the death of Jimmy Mubenga (BA 77 passengers haunted by the last cries of dying man, 16 October) makes no mention of why it was that he was being deported. Given that his wife and children are still resident in the UK, it seems most likely that he and his family belong to a rapidly growing contemporary social category: denizens. Such persons have a legitimate presence in the UK, since they have been granted a right of abode, but have not yet jumped the ever more complex hurdles they are now required to surmount before becoming full British citizens.
Such denizens exist in limbo; although required to fulfil all the duties of citizens, they do not enjoy the same rights. In particular, their rights of abode can be terminated if the authorities decide that their presence in the UK is no longer in the public interest. One of the most commonplace grounds on which this occurs is if a criminal offence has been committed. This appears to have been the cause of Mr Mubenga’s deportation, since he received a sentence of two years imprisonment having been found guilty of actual bodily harm.
However, denizens find themselves facing double jeopardy when so convicted. Having served their sentence, they find themselves presented with a further sanction: a letter from the UK Border Agency revoking their right of abode. Mr Mubenga appears to have appealed against that decision on the grounds that it undermined his right to family life, contrary to article 8 of the European convention on human rights. However, his appeal was refused, presumably because the tribunal accepted the argument regularly deployed by the Home Office: that, given modern means of communication, he could readily sustain a viable form of family with his wife and children by letter, by telephone and over the internet.
So there we have it. Foolish Mr Mubenga failed to realise that if he had only been prepared to make the most of modern technology, he could easily have continued to enjoy a fulfilling family life along the lines so helpfully suggested by a ministry which, as its letterheads indicate, is committed to Building a Safe, Just and Tolerant Society.
Centre for Applied South Asian Studies
• Your leading article regarding the death of Jimmy Mubenga (16 October) lays down some of the necessary steps to prevent such a tragedy happening again. It also highlights the claims of abuse suffered by many failed asylum seekers, and the inadequacy with which they were investigated. But it seems there is a more fundamental underlying defect with the way the Home Office and the private security firms it employs deal with immigrants – a lack of empathy. Empathy could be developed if, as part of their training, employees heard some first-hand accounts of the hopelessness of those seeking sanctuary. Forcible deportations, which are sometimes necessary, would then be tempered with compassion and respect which, when combined with appropriate training, should prevent such tragic deaths. Technical knowledge of the danger of restraint on its own is not enough.
We are privileged to be living in Britain, where there are journalists, organisations and lawyers to ensure the state uses its power proportionately and fairly. Most of those seeking refuge in Britain come from countries where state power knows no bounds. Their lives, in many cases, are further blighted by poverty, war and terrorism. Empathising and showing these people some respect when they are being deported is the least we can do.
Dr Adnan Al-Daini
• The Independent Asylum Commission (2008), on which I was a commissioner, expressed its concern that improper force is used by escorts in the return of some asylum seekers. The tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga highlights the reasons – based on the evidence we heard – for our concern. It will not have been in vain if it throws new light on this dark and difficult corner of the asylum system. We recommended that “from time to time, and without prior warning, an independent monitor should accompany refused asylum seekers forcibly removed from the UK”. Fellow passengers on flight BA77 are now coming forward as independent witnesses. An independent monitor might have saved Jimmy Mubenga’s life.
Rev Canon Nicholas Sagovsky
Canon theologian, Westminster Abbey
• The treatment and subsequent death of Jimmy Mubenga while being deported to Angola is nothing short of shocking. I have witnessed similar scenes on a flight back to India where the force to restrain the person was unbelievable. In this case the person was upset and shouting, but not in anyway being physical. However the rough treatment he was getting from the private security guards was frightening (for him as well as persons on board the flight, particularly children who were visibly upset). Why is no one doing anything about protecting deportees and dealing with them in a more humane way?
• What would you do if a passenger near you was shouting “I can’t breathe” and being held down? Many passengers on such flights have complained to the captain and objected to having to fly in such conditions – usually with the result that the deportee is taken off the plane. I hope that passengers in the future will be more ready to object.
• Can we be the first to offer odds, of 6-4 on, that your report in early 2013 will be that the official investigations of Jimmy Mubenga’s death have exonerated everybody involved?
Mary Pimm and Nik Wood