Afghan on hijack jet wins appeal to stay in Britain

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The Independent Online

An Afghan asylum-seeker who arrived in Britain on the hijacked airplane that landed at Stansted airport has won his appeal against deportation.

An Afghan asylum-seeker who arrived in Britain on the hijacked airplane that landed at Stansted airport has won his appeal against deportation.

The 35-year-old agricultural engineer said he was an opposition leader who had been imprisoned and tortured by the ruling Taliban regime, and he faced execution if he returned home.

The head of the immigration appeals tribunal, Judge Hubert Dunn, said the man had a "well-founded fear of persecution" because of his political opinions and overturned the Home Office deportation order.

The engineer, whose name has been withheld to protect his identity and his family in Afghanistan, said he had led an outlawed political party with more than 200 members.

He claimed he had also performed secret work for mujahidin opposition groups. During a 40-day detention he was beaten unconscious with a brick, he said.

The decision is a further blow to the "get tough" policy on asylum pursued by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. Earlier this week, a special appeals tribunal gave two alleged Sikh terrorists leave to remain in Britain, despite Mr Straw's insistence that they posed a threat to national security.

The engineer's victory marks the first successful appeal out of the 51 Afghans and their families who claimed asylum after arriving here on 7 February on a hijacked Ariana Airlines Boeing 727. It had been diverted on an internal flight from Kabul to Mazar-I-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Three of the original applications were accepted by Mr Straw, but he insisted the other passengers would be quickly returned to try to deter further attempts by asylum-seekers to hijack aircraft and order them to land in Britain

But Mr Straw's attempt to "fast track" their cases, and the complications of the criminal inquiry into the hijacking, has resulted in a tangled web of asylum cases and appeals.

A total of 77 of the 166 passengers volunteered to go home, as did its crew of four. But 89 people are still here, including 12 charged with offences linked to hijacking.

The Home Office has rejected 48 applications for asylum, which also involve 26 of the applicant's dependants. Thirty-three appeals were lodged, 29 refused and one withdrawn. A further appeal is to be heard next month, but there are 15 cases involving the relatives of the accused hijackers whose cases cannot be determined until their cases are resolved.

David Enright, who represents five of those refused asylum, said there were likely to be other appeals. He was now "100 per cent certain" his five clients would win.

The tribunal's judgment suggested it did not believe the assurances given by the Taliban that unsuccessful asylumseekers would not be persecuted if they returned home.

"The appeal panel concluded that these people would be detained and investigated if they were returned to Afghanistan," he said.

The cases whose appeals were dismissed included a 21-year-old former medical student who claimed he would rather die than be sent back.

A father of seven, aged 41, who wanted to bring his family to Britain, said he had been imprisoned for 20 days and tortured by the Taliban. A mechanic, 25, claimed he had been stabbed in the knee and kicked in the testicles by a Taliban commander.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the department needed more time toconsider the tribunal decision before deciding whether to appeal. "We wouldn't make that decision straight off," she said. "There is the judgment toconsider."

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