These children lived here for years. Now they're being frogmarched out of Britain

Despite a huge campaign for them to stay in Britain, Yurdugal Ay and her four children will be thrown out on Tuesday
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The Independent Online

Time has run out for the Ay family. On Tuesday the four young children and their mother, who have spent the last 13 months locked up in an asylum detention centre, will be placed on board a specially chartered 142-seat jet with no other passengers and deported to Germany.

From there they are likely to be sent back to Turkey, which their mother fled 15 years ago claiming persecution. The children, aged between seven and 14, have never set foot in Turkey. Their father, who was deported by British authorities a year ago, has not been heard of since.

Campaigners, including a Catholic bishop, human rights lawyers, the children's schoolteachers and senior politicians, say the family should not be deported. Their plight has been reported in The Independent on Sunday, which campaigned against their detention.

The family is being deported after the House of Lords last week backed a previous legal decision that the mother, Yurdugal Ay, "had no legal right to remain in the UK". She came to Britain with her husband after living in Germany and, under the Dublin Convention, her asylum application should be heard by the German authorities. They fled to this country four years ago after the Germans had decided to deport them.

The Home Office welcomed the Lord's decision. In a statement a spokesman said: "We are pleased that the decision has brought this protracted litigation to an end. The family should be returned to Germany for consideration of their asylum claim."

The family has already made multiple applications for refugee status in Germany, all of which have been turned down. But campaigners argue they have been picked on as a soft target because children in schools are easy to track down in the system, as opposed to young men who go missing.

The family's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, says the Government has refused to consider an asylum application by the children, which is a breach of international law. He has been sent a letter by government lawyers warning him not to try to stop Tuesday's deportation.

Mr Anwar says the family - mother Yurdugal, 34, and her children, daughters Beriwan, 14, Newroz, 12, and Medya, seven, and son Dilowan, 11 - were woken at 5am on Friday by 10 security guards and, without warning, taken on a 10-hour journey to a detention centre near Gatwick airport. Their removal from their tiny room was filmed by security guards.

"They have been treated worse than alleged terrorists have been treated," he said. "The children are totally traumatised by what's gone on."

He added that earlier in the day he had been denied access to them. He was not told they were about to be moved, and when he found out he was not told where they had been taken to.

Yurdugal and her husband Salih, who are Kurds, left Turkey 15 years ago claiming persecution by the military police. They spent 11 years in Germany, where their children were born, but came to Britain four years ago when the German authorities threatened to deport them. Campaigners argue the Germans do not accept that Kurds are persecuted in Turkey, which is why they were due to be deported.

"They do not accept there is a problem with the Kurds in Turkey," Scottish Nationalist MSP Linda Fabiani said, "even though Turkey cannot get into the European Union because of human rights abuses. I do not know the intricacies of the German asylum system, but if it is anything like ours it could take a long time for applications to be processed."

The children settled well into school in Gravesend in Kent where they originally lived. They quickly learned English, and the elder two were tipped for university places. "We thought Britain was a fair and democratic country," said Beriwan. Her tearful sister Newroz said they were shocked and upset at the Lords' decision. "We can't believe this is happening. We have been here for a year and we thought there was a chance but it has just disappeared."

Their friends in Gravesend also expressed dismay yesterday at their deportation. Julie Coleman, the family's next door neighbour, said: "They were brilliant neighbours, a wonderful family. They looked out for me all the time. I couldn't say a bad word about them. The mother didn't speak much English but she'd try to talk to people; she used to try to interact. She'd sometimes come round with food parcels - stuff that she'd cooked from her own country.

"It's really sad that they got ripped out. Everything was fine, then the next minute the dad got taken away. Since they've gone we've had no contact with them. I would have got a petition together if I'd realised what had happened. I felt safe when they were here. They'd look out for us.

"My daughter Lydia played all the time with their youngest, Medya. They were really good friends - she felt such a loss when they moved."

Another neighbour, Karen Ball, said: "It's terrible. What's going to happen to them if they get sent back? You hear all kinds of things."

"They were good kids who wanted to learn," said the chair of governors at Dover Road school, Andy Crawford. "They've been dismissed by the system. It's a shame they were dealt with in that way."

But when Salih was deported to Germany in March last year, Yurdugal, fearful to go with him, absconded. As a result she was taken to Dungavel Detention Centre in Strathaven, Lanarkshire, and her children were taken out of school to go with her. Dungavel has been condemned by MPs for its prison-like conditions.

Mr Anwar believes they were moved at short notice to take them out of Scottish jurisdiction to prevent any appeal against their deportation. He has also been warned against any further attempts to prolong the family's stay in this country by the Treasury Solicitor.

No asylum application has yet been heard on behalf of the children. But Mr Anwar has lodged one - the first to be made in this country on behalf of a child - after being contacted by Beriwan. But the letter from the Treasury Solicitor makes it clear this will not be heard.

"In the Secretary of State's view your threat of yet further judicial proceedings is frankly an abuse of process designed solely to disrupt the lawful removal of the Ay family to Germany," it says. "For the avoidance of doubt I confirm that even if proceedings are issued, removal will not be deferred. The Ay family has now, in any event, been removed out of Scottish jurisdiction. The Secretary of State takes the gravest view of any further attempts to prolong the Ay family's stay in this country by unfounded allegations."

"On Thursday the children officially became asylum-seekers," Mr Anwar said, "so the British government now has an official policy of jailing child asylum-seekers. In the past they said the children were only in detention so they could be near their mother.

"The manner in which they treated the children is barbaric. I've never had to speak to children who are in prison and petrified and do not know what is going to happen to them.

"To remove them from the country before their application for asylum could even be processed is completely underhand. I really do think they have taken a special interest in these children because their treatment has completely exposed the barbarism of the British government in terms of jailing children behind barbed wire."

Bishop John Mone of Paisley, who made a personal appeal to the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, on behalf of the family, condemned the actions of the Government. He said there was a "groundswell of support" in Scotland for the Ay family.

"When I visited them they seemed so depressed," he said. "They have lost their childhood and need their childhood restored. This shouldn't happen to any children. They had no hope. They have moved them to get them away as quickly as possible so they can't make any fresh appeals. But if the law allows them to apply for a fresh hearing they should be allowed to have one. David Blunkett, when I spoke to him, blamed the family for keeping the children here for making numerous appeals.

"I'm saddened and disappointed that Blunkett didn't listen to my personal appeal when I met him. The groundswell in Scotland is very much against what is going on. The whole asylum system needs looking at."

Linda Fabiani added: "I am really concerned that they have been removed from Dungavel while an application has been lodged on behalf of the children. It strikes me as an awful thing. I'm worried they've moved them from Dungavel to get them out of Scotland as that's where the campaign is focused. They want to take the heat off so they can quietly deport them on Tuesday. To take the children out of the education system they were happily in to put them in a detention centre is appalling. In Scotland there's a skills shortage. To me, the likes of the Ay family are people we should be looking at as future citizens of the country. I don't get how they totally discount the contribution they can make."

Campaigners

Linda Fabiani, Scottish Nationalist Party MSP

"To take the children out of the education system they were happily in to put them in a detention centre is appalling. In Scotland there's a skills shortage, and to me, the likes of the Ay family are people we should be looking at as future citizens of the country. I don't get how they totally discount the contribution they can make. I'm worried they've moved them from Dungavel to get them out of Scotland, as that's where the campaign is focused, by church groups and asylum groups, to take the heat off so they can quietly deport them on Tuesday."

Sarah Parker, from the Ay family campaign

"People are very upset. We feel it is a great pity that the Home Office has ignored what's been said, that it would not be safe for them to go back to Turkey. But the Home Office has sheltered behind the fact that Germany is a safe country. The Government wants to see Turkey as an ally but it is baffling that the Government ignores the reality of what's going on in Turkey. They are doing what they are doing because they are desperate. They are not doing it for fun."

John Mone, Bishop of Paisley

"They have lost their childhood and need their childhood restored. This shouldn't happen to any children. There's a lot of people who can contribute, especially in Scotland where the falling birth rate is a real worry. David Blunkett, when I spoke to him, blamed the family for keeping the children here for making numerous appeals. I'm saddened and disappointed that David Blunkett didn't listen to my personal appeal. The groundswell in Scotland is very much against what is going on. The whole asylum system needs looking at."

Andy Crawford, chair of governors at Dover Road school

"They were good kids who wanted to learn. They've been dismissed by the system. It's a shame they were dealt with in that way."

Aamer Anwar, solicitor

"The manner in which they treated the children is barbaric. I've never had to speak to children who are in prison and petrified and do not know what is going to happen to them."

Julie Coleman, the family's next-door neighbour in Gravesend

"They were brilliant neighbours, a wonderful family. They looked out for me all the time. I couldn't say a bad word about them. The mother didn't speak much English but she'd try to talk to people. She'd sometimes come round with food parcels - stuff that she'd cooked from her own country. It's really sad that they got ripped out."

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