The Home Office was tonight warned it risked getting “blood on its hands” over moves to forcibly send a Syrian political activist back to his war-torn home country.
Only a last-minute legal challenge prevented the UK Border Agency from returning the man to Daraa, the centre of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The human rights organisation Amnesty International said it was “deeply alarmed” over the moves to expel him and urged Britain to follow the lead of other European nations and stop sending asylum-seekers back to Syria.
The Independent disclosed last week that the number of Syrians claiming refuge in this country has leapt from about ten a month to more than 100 a month since civil war broke out in spring 2011.
The new claimants include the man at the centre of the legal wrangle, who is not being identified to protect his safety and that of relatives living in the Daraa area.
The man, who originally came to Britain on a student visa which has since run out, became a high-profile demonstrator against President Assad, joining numerous protests in London.
His solicitors argue his life would be at risk if he was sent back as the Syrian embassy has been compiling information about prominent dissidents in this country.
He claimed asylum last summer and was rejected just over a year later. Two weeks ago as he reported to the UK Border Agency (UKBA), he was arrested and taken straight to detention, warning he was about to be deported.
The removal was stopped by the High Court less than 48 hours before he was due to be flown out of Britain and his legal team is preparing a fresh appeal against his removal.
His solicitor, Alice Cunliffe, of the Brent Community Law Centre in north London, said: “He was absolutely petrified when he was detained. It was a terrible situation for him to be in.
“He feared that as soon as he arrived in Syria, he would be detained or tortured, or could well even be executed.
“It is crazy to remove people back to Syria – there is absolutely doubt they would be at serious risk from the very fact they are being handed back by the British authorities.”
Amnesty International has raised the case in a letter to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, in which it urged her to suspend all forced removals of Syrian nationals for the moment. Britain is understood to be the only country in the European Union still carrying out enforced removals to Syria.
Its UK refugee programme director, Jan Shaw, said: “The government has been instrumental in pressing the United Nations to take action to address the serious abuses being perpetrated in Syria and so it is astonishing that whilst actively acknowledging the scale of such abuses, it would seek to return someone. At best this might be a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, which is unacceptable.
“Had it not been for an eleventh hour intervention, the UK government could have blood on its hands over this case.”
The deteriorating situation in Syria has led to the UKBA issuing new guidance to staff handling asylum applications from Syrians.
It warns that the Syrian security agencies routinely extract confessions by torturing suspects and locking up their relatives and estimates there are up to 3,000 political prisoners in the country.
The Home Office did not comment tonight.