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Samim Bigzad: Afghan asylum seeker at heart of case that 'could jail' Amber Rudd speaks out

Home Office faces contempt of court action after allegedly violating court orders

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 21 September 2017 15:40 BST
Samim Bigzad, an Afghan asylum seeker, is facing a new attempt to deport him to Kabul
Samim Bigzad, an Afghan asylum seeker, is facing a new attempt to deport him to Kabul (Supplied)

An asylum seeker at the centre of a legal battle that could see the Home Secretary found in contempt of court has described the moment the Government defied a judge to deport him to Afghanistan.

Samim Bigzad, 23, was removed from an immigration detention centre without warning 12 September and forced on to a plane to Kabul via Turkey.

But before the connecting flight from Istanbul took off, his lawyers secured a last-minute injunction to stay the deportation.

Mr Bigzad said he was already on the plane when one of the G4S guards with him received a phone call.

“One of the security guys had a call from the Home Office telling him that the judge wants him to go back to the UK,” he told BBC Newsnight.

“After that he told me ‘ok, you are going back to the UK’. At that time I was very happy, but after a couple of minutes the Home Office called him again and said ‘send him to Kabul’.

“I was scared - of the Taliban, for my life.”

Amber Rudd avoids contempt of court allegations

The episode is now at the core of a legal case bought by Mr Bigzad’s legal representatives, who accuse the Home Office of violating the judge’s order by forcing him onwards to Kabul.

The Government claims it was not in contempt and argues that it was “too late” to remove the asylum seeker from the plane.

Critics have caused for Amber Rudd to resign over the case, with one immigration barrister claiming the Home Secretary could be jailed.

Barrister Rachel Francis said the wrangling over Mr Bigzad’s fate had put him at the centre “of a growing constitutional crisis that could land Amber Rudd in court for contempt and ultimately, in prison”.

Although jail sentences for contempt are exceptionally rare, Ms Francis said “every mile” of the Afghan man’s forced journey back to Kabul was unlawful.

“The stress and fear that Samim experienced during his unlawful journey is likely to have been severe,” Ms Francis wrote in a piece for The Independent.

“But there is a further cost: to the rule of law and to public confidence in the administration of justice.”

The former Lord Chancellor compared the Home Secretary’s actions to those of a “16th Century monarch” with a divine right to rule by defying court orders.

Samim Bigzad was returned to Heathrow from Kabul on 17 September (Duncan Lewis ) (Duncan Lewis)

Lord Falconer said Ms Rudd had “displayed a disdainful arrogance for the courts and the law,” adding: “Unless she has an explanation, she has to go as Home Secretary.”

Mr Bigzad’s case is now the subject of a judicial review and his representatives said separate contempt of court proceedings could start at the High Court, as they gather evidence for a new asylum claim.

The Home Office is accused of defying the initial injunction and then two further orders from separate judges who ordered it to immediately fly Mr Bigzad back from Afghanistan – the country he fled in 2015 after being threatened with beheading by the Taliban.

In a second order issued by the High Court, Justice Jay said the Government appeared to have committed “prima facie contempts of court” and must “take all steps available to procure [Mr Bigzad’s] immediate return to the United Kingdom”.

But he was left awaiting his fate for five days at a hotel in Kabul, where armed men were seen outside, in fear of his life.

Mr Bigzad was finally returned to the UK after the Government lost a four-hour hearing at the Court of Appeal, with friends describing how he dropped his bag and ran into their arms in an emotional arrival at Heathrow on Sunday night.

The Home Office initially attempted to deport him in August but was thwarted when a Turkish Airlines pilot refused to take off from Heathrow with him on board after campaigners alerted passengers and crew to his plight.

Judges have now ordered the Home Office to keep Mr Bigzad in the UK until legal proceedings are concluded.

Mr Bigzad has now returned to Kent, where he had been living with a British host while learning English and caring for his father.

The elder Mr Bigzad, a British citizen, suffers from severe post-traumatic stress syndrome after being captured and tortured by the Taliban in the 1990s.

Relatives say the militant group later targeted his son because of his work in a construction firm that had contracts with the Afghan government and American military.

The Independent has seen evidence including contracts, tax returns and rental agreements that support Mr Bigzad’s claims, and the Taliban has launched frequent attacks on “puppets” accused of colluding with its enemies amid worsening conflict in Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said Mr Bigzad’s original asylum claim had been “carefully considered” before being refused.

“We took action to comply with the court order [on 12 September] and worked to return Mr Bigzad as soon as possible despite significant logistical challenges in securing the necessary documentation and limited flight availability,” he added

“While we maintain that it was too late to disembark Mr Bigzad from the Istanbul to Kabul flight by the time the injunction was served, some 10 hours after the removal process began, the Home Office has followed the orders of the court and returned Mr Bigzad to the UK while he challenges the removal decision. The outcome of Mr Bigzad’s asylum claim remains unchanged.”

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