Austin Mitchell: Treatment of model family makes me ashamed to be a Labour MP

'Model family' is deported in handcuffs. Father is left 'badly bruised' and denied vital medicine. Minister's office misled local MP
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The Independent Online

Hearts must have been uplifted by the news that Liam Byrne, our Immigration minister, and his team are deporting failed asylum seekers at a record rate of one every 27 minutes. Our borders defended at last. Particularly against women, children and anyone who's easy to grab.

This good news is very different on the ground as is shown by the deportation of the Bokhari family, wife, husband, and four lovely kids aged between eight and 14, from Grimsby. Sibtain Bokhari was a rights lawyer in Lahore, a Shia in a Sunni dominated area, where Wahhabi extremism flourishes and terrorist attacks on mosques and the minority are regular. He came to Britain in 2001 to a rights conference. On his return he was accused of being a Blair stooge, something not as career-enhancing there as it is here, and a spy. His office was set on fire, his wife fired from her job, his home stoned by students from the local madrassa.

The police, who had arrested his brother-in-law on a charge of mosque bombing, offered no protection. So Bokhari brought his family to Britain and to Grimsby, applying for asylum within three days of arrival in September 2003.

So far so normal. His application was rejected. The tribunal concurred on the grounds that the Pakistani police would protect him. He appealed through various lawyers but the response was a dawn raid in June 2005, carting the family to a deportation centre. At this point I took up the case, intervened with the minister on the grounds that he hadn't had representations from me, had them brought back to Grimsby and began to put up the case.

The children, all at Grimsby schools, were model pupils. The parents were school governors, model citizens and well loved. Minister McNulty replied that this was very nice but didn't count. He also rejected all my evidence from Pakistan about the dangers they'd face on return, though a stray note from an official sent me by accident revealed that documents in a foreign language were not translated for ministers. Perhaps he spoke Urdu, though I don't think he even saw them.

I was advised by people more expert than I to keep representations flowing. So I did. But legal advice was hard to get in Grimsby. The Humberside Law Centre went bankrupt, Grimsby lawyers stopped taking immigration cases (there's no money in it) and the lawyer the Bokharis hired repeated my representations and evidence and charged them for it.

In October last the whiz-kid new minister, Liam Byrne, announced that they had to go. He declined to meet me but I insisted, though I knew the meeting wouldn't be urgent because the Home Office is incredibly slow. I'd asked for a meeting with Byrne on trainee immigrant doctors in June. It didn't happen until December when Byrne "arrived late, looked bored stiff, and left early" - as I wrote in the House Magazine. I wish I hadn't.

A second dawn raid took place on 9 January at 6am. Used on Ruth Turner this appalling practice produces howls of protest. With asylum families it's an everyday part of the game. Vicious and cruel but a good way of catching kids before they go to school. Public protests had forced an end to dawn raids in New Zealand when Labour came in in 1984. Here New Labour sees them as the norm.

Mrs Bokhari rang a friend but was cut off. The friend went round but wasn't allowed to speak to the family who were dragged off, Mr Bokhari kicking and screaming to the horror of the neighbours who liked the family and disliked the din.

Bokhari is a diabetic but no health check had been made beforehand so the raiders didn't believe him and his insulin was left in the fridge. They were taken to Yarl's Wood, arriving unfed and uninjected at 6pm. Next day Bokhari was taken off, I hoped, for treatment, though the family weren't told where, and it was three days before he was brought back with bad bruising.

I consulted immigration barristers and a lawyer who all came back with the answer that every legal redress was exhausted. I appealed to the minister who should have met me before the raid, and now needed a meeting to cover his backside. At first I asked that the Bokharis be taken back to Grimsby because I didn't want the meeting to be as perfunctory as it turned out to be, but on Monday 15 January I met Liam Byrne, elected in 2004 and risen without trace. I presented him with a full case, emphasising that the young children were little Grimbarians and shouldn't be carted off to an alien country. Had they been here seven years, or come in before the last amnesty for families in 2000 they'd have been OK. As it was they weren't.

Liam listened coldly, promised to consider the case and left me with a week of anxious phone calls from the Bokharis, who'd been told they were scheduled on a plane at 8.25pm on 22 January, though Byrne's office told me that this was a formality and wouldn't go ahead before the minister had decided. I told the family this and they believed it as I did. Big mistake.

On the morning of 22 January at midday the eldest boy rang. "We're being deported at 8.25 tonight." The phone went dead. Later Mrs Bokhari rang to say they'd all been handcuffed, put in a car and carted off to Heathrow. I went back to the minister. Not there. "Who's running this department?" His secretary told me he hadn't yet made the decision and promised to get on to Heathrow. I did too. My last phone call came from the plane to a background of Mr Bokhari shouting, Mrs Bokhari sobbing, the kids all crying. They took off at 8.25.

The fax from the minister saying he'd rejected the case was sent to my Grimsby office after it was closed and his e-mail reached me next day. Cunning that. Three days later the Bokharis arrived in Lahore to find their house daubed with the sign of the cross and occupied by squatters.

It leaves a nasty taste. An out-of-control Immigration and Nationality Directorate is doing what it wants to get deportations up. The minister goes along, ratifies its decisions (he hardly ever rejects them), observes its deadlines and strings MPs along, pretending to listen while doing nothing. Perhaps scarring young souls will teach them not to come here when they grow up.

Perhaps it will win votes to Labour from the lumpen lunatics who've deluged the Grimsby Telegraph's website with abuse of their soft, immigrant-loving, geriatric, fool of an MP. Perhaps we'll win enough National Fronters to compensate for the loss of the many liberals this has alienated. I don't know. But I do know how I feel. Ashamed.

Austin Mitchell is the MP for Great Grimsby

Ordered out of Britain

* Vera Kachepa and her four children, from Malawi, were deported in August 2005. A mix-up over passports and tickets led to two failed deportation attempts, before the family were removed amid protests.

* Mikhail Bodnarchuk, 42, was found hanged by his shoelaces in Haslar deportation centre in Gosport, Hampshire, in February 2003, a day before he was due to be deported to Ukraine.

* In September last year, after dawn raids around London, 32 asylum-seekers were extradited to Iraq's Kurdish region.

* Hussein Nasseri, a gay asylum-seeker from Iran, shot himself in his car in Eastbourne in June 2004. He had been refused asylum despite saying he would be killed if he went home. Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in Iran.