'Terrified' Ay family go on the run

The Turkish refugees, deported from Britain despite a major campaign highlighted by the 'IoS', have now gone into hiding
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The Independent Online

A family of asylum-seekers, who spent 13 months languishing behind razor wire in a British detention centre, were last night in hiding in Germany. The Ay family, whose plight was first brought to public attention by The Independent on Sunday, now fear deportation to Turkey, a country where they face persecution just for being Kurds.

The four Ay children have never set foot in Turkey, having grown up in Germany and spent the past four years in Britain. The Ays had become the focus of a widespread campaign - backed by bishops, MPs and human rights activists - to allow them to stay in Britain. They held the unenviable record of being imprisoned in British detention centres for longer than any other refugee children.

Before they went into hiding, Beriwan Ay, who at 14 is the eldest of the children, told The Independent on Sunday they were terrified of being seized by German immigration officials and sent to Turkey.

Last week, they were finally deported on the orders of David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, after the House of Lords rejected their last-minute appeal to stay in the UK on human rights grounds.

"We don't know what is going to happen to us now. My mum thinks that because they [the German authorities] only gave us a month, they can deport us at any time," said Beriwan. "Now that we've had to register our address with the police they will know where to come and find us."

For nearly 13 months, Yurdugal Ay and her four children languished together in a cramped room behind the razor-wire fence at Dungavel detention centre, near Glasgow, while immigration officials deliberated over their fate. They were flown to Germany last Tuesday where the family had lived for 11 years before travelling to Britain in a lorry in 1999. As many as 15 security officers guarded them on the flight to Frankfurt in case Beriwan, her sisters Newroz, 13, and Medya, eight, and her brother Dilowan, 11, tried to escape with their mother.

The German authorities have granted them a stay of one month before they are likely to be sent back to Turkey. Last week, The Independent on Sunday tracked Beriwan and her family down to a tiny hamlet in Rheinland Pfalz, where they have been placed by immigration officials.

On Thursday, the day after our interview, the Ay family packed their few belongings, left their top-floor flat near the village of Friesenhagen and did not return. They had spoken of their fear of being seized by immigration officials and being sent back to Turkey. Beriwan told how depressed and scared she was.

On the day of their deportation, they were woken without warning at 5am and taken on a 10-hour journey to a detention centre near Gatwick airport before being forced to board a 142-seater jet bound for Germany

"It was awful," said Beriwan, through tearful outbursts. "Each of us had guards around us. I had two guards around me. I wasn't allowed to sit with my brother or sisters on the plane. We had to sit apart."

When they landed in Frankfurt, they were put in a police van and taken to a small room within the airport complex. They were held there for several hours until friends who live locally collected them.

The next day, the family went to register at a local police station, a requirement under German immigration law. Workers from a local church-based asylum-seekers' group accompanied them to the police station.

Beriwan's sister Newroz did not eat for two days because she was so upset at having to leave Britain, a country she and the rest of her family regard as home.

Klemens Ross, their lawyer in Germany, said the family had been "very, very frightened" of going back to Turkey. The children's father Salih, who had accompanied them to the UK, was deported to Germany last March, then to Turkey. He has not been heard of since.

Mr Ross is now preparing to launch an appeal against their extradition to Turkey, though the prognosis is bleak. Human rights lobby Pro-Asyl said the speed with which the German authorities have been passing deportation orders had increased in recent months and that local officials had a reputation for taking an especially hard line with asylum-seekers.

In Germany, the Ay family are allowed freedom of movement as long as they stay in the state of Rheinland Pfalz. But that was not enough to assuage their sadness and anger at their failed campaign to stay in Britain. It had clearly prompted cynicism in Beriwan, who had previously said she wanted "nothing else" but to stay in the UK.

She and the rest of the family became visibly upset when they saw their new home, about 20 miles from the nearest small town. The youngest, Medya, sobbed, fell to her knees and begged the taxi driver to take her back with him.

Her mother Yurdugal was worried that her children would be isolated in the tiny hamlet, but said she wanted to thank people who had supported the family's struggle for residence in the UK. "There were protests against the war with Iraq, but it didn't stop it, did it? The Government doesn't listen to the people. It just does what it wants," she said.

Dungavel 'unfit for children'

Dungavel detention centre, where the Ays were kept for 13 months, is unfit to house and educate children, according to an official report.

Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, is expected to criticise the treatment of child refugees who are held at the former prison near Glasgow in an inspection report to be published this week.

This will highlight the limited activities for children, the fact that they are allowed only a few hours a day to play in the fresh air and that lessons are not adequate to meet the needs of asylum children.

These findings are based on a visit to Dungavel in October 2002 by Ms Owers. They come as David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, faces mounting pressure to abandon his draconian policy of detaining child asylum-seekers. There are no current official figures kept but immigration lawyers put the figure at about 16 children under the age of 18.

Britain is the only country in Europe which detains the children of asylum-seekers, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The practice has been condemned by MPs, church leaders and the UN.

Ms Owers has already recommended that asylum children should not be kept for more than seven days in detention centres. However, figures obtained by asylum support groups reveal children have been detained for more than two months. Asylum groups and politicians are pressing for alternatives to detention for children. These include placing them with their families in special refuges run by church groups.

Michael Connarty, Labour MP for Falkirk East, said: "The Home Office is using detention as a tool of punishment for anyone who tries to get their rights respected. The locking up of children is a moral abomination."

The Home Office said that detaining families with children was "the exception rather than the rule" and that they were kept for only "short periods".