Samim Bigzad: Home Office's second attempt to deport Afghan man threatened with beheading fails

Judge grants last-minute application for injunction to stop transfer from Istanbul to Kabul

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 12 September 2017 09:00 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

The British Government's second attempt to deport an Afghan asylum seeker threatened with beheading by the Taliban has failed.

Samim Bigzad was granted his first dramatic reprieve last month when the pilot of a passenger plane due to remove him to Kabul via Turkey refused to take off.

Relatives were informed on Tuesday morning that the 22-year-old had been forced onto another Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul - but lawyers have successfully applied for a last-minute injunction requiring the Home Office to transport Mr Bigzad back to the UK.

Mr Bigzad's cousin, Arash, told The Independent G4S guards informed the asylum seeker he would be removed with less than four hours’ notice.

“Samim said 'they are coming to take me back to the airport'. He was crying and then the phone cut off,” he added.

Mr Bigzad later phoned his cousin from Gatwick Airport after being given a mobile phone to make a last call to relatives.

“He was very emotional, very upset – he was crying and saying ‘I’m scared for my life’,” Arash added at the time.

“I’m sure 100 per cent that the Taliban will assassinate him, they will kill him.”

Samim Bigzad, an Afghan asylum seeker, is facing a new attempt to deport him to Kabul (Supplied)
Samim Bigzad, an Afghan asylum seeker, is facing a new attempt to deport him to Kabul (Supplied)

G4S guards allegedly covered Mr Bigzad’s mouth and restrained him to prevent a disturbance that would result in him being removed from the flight.

Pilots are able refuse any passenger because of safety concerns or using their own discretion – a power that thwarted the Home Office’s previous deportation attempt.

Campaigners had travelled to Heathrow Airport in August to alert passengers and crew to the fact Mr Bigzad would be on board, resulting in concerns reaching the captain, but were not able to mount the same action on Tuesday because of the short notice given ahead of his removal.

After his flight took off for Istanbul, lawyers continued their efforts to stay the deportation in a 10-hour window before Mr Bigzad was due to travel onwards to Kabul.

They managed to obtain a last-minute injunction to prevent Mr Bigzad being put on a connecting flight to Afghanistan that was supposed to take off shortly after midnight local time.

A legal representative said the order would force the Home Office to return him from Turkey to the UK pending the “proper examination” of his case.

Solicitors are applying for a judicial review into the handling of Mr Bigzad’s original asylum claim, which was refused, and other actions by the British Government.

Meanwhile, campaigners were launching frantic attempts to lobby Turkish Airlines and the Home Office online, on social networks and by phone.

Bridget Chapman chair of the Kent Anti-Racism Network, said the “world was watching”.

“Sending him to Kabul him would be the gravest injustice,” she said, adding that any agencies and companies taking part in the deportation could “have a death on their conscience”.

Mr Bigzad's initial application for protection was refused last year and was detained without warning during a routing immigration appointment in July.

He has been held at Brook House, where nine G4S guards were suspended after the mistreatment and abuse of asylum seekers was revealed by undercover footage broadcast by the BBC.

Mr Bigzad told The Independent he believes he will be killed if he is deported to Kabul, which he fled in 2015 to join his father and cousin in the UK.

“I escaped from my country because I was targeted by the Taliban and I am scared to go back,” he said. “I just need a chance for the Home Office to save my life.”

Mr Bigzad said he hoped to build a life in the UK, where he has been living in Margate, Kent, while learning English and acting as the primary carer for his father.

The elder Mr Bigzad, a British citizen, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban two decades ago.

He previously applied to bring his son to the UK using asylum legislation in 2010 but was refused.

Mr Bigzad said he was threatened with beheading by Taliban militants who targeted him because of his work for a construction company 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.

Islamist insurgents have launched frequent attacks on “puppets” accused of colluding with their enemies, amid a rise in conflict and terror attacks in Afghanistan.

Afghan security forces arrive at the mosque after a recent terror attack in Kabul
Afghan security forces arrive at the mosque after a recent terror attack in Kabul (Reuters)

Humanitarian organisations have appealed for the British Government to halt deportations to the country, where it announced it would be sending more troops to fight the Taliban earlier this year.

But Kabul has been ruled officially “safe” for returns after Theresa May won a legal battle as Home Secretary in the Court of Appeal.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “Only a cold, cruel Government would push through this deportation.

“The Home Office could end up with blood on its hands if it sends Samim Bigzad to Afghanistan and I urge it to reconsider. After military involvement in the country for 13 years it is appalling that the Government would seek to wash its hands.

“We have a moral duty to offer refuge to those fleeing conflict and persecution in Afghanistan.”

The British Government forced 284 people back to the country last year despite the intensifying conflict and terror attacks linked to the Taliban, Isis and al-Qaeda.

Mr Bigzad’s cousin accused the UK of hypocrisy with its treatment of Afghan asylum seekers, adding: “On the one hand they’re sending more troops and saying they need to bring security, but when people flee from the Taliban and the terrorists they’re sending all the young people back and saying ‘we don’t care’.”

A Home Office spokesperson would not comment on Mr Bigzad's case or “operational” details of the deportation, but said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. Where someone is found not to need our protection we expect them to leave the country voluntarily. Where they do not, we will seek to enforce their removal.

"All country policy and information is based on a careful and objective assessment of available evidence from a range of sources including media outlets, local, national and international organisations, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“We continually review our country policy and information to ensure it is up-to-date, accurate and relevant, so that staff can make fair and considered decisions.”

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