On Sunday night, Samim Bigzad walked through the arrivals hall at London Heathrow, dropped his bag and ran into the arms of his friends. This was no ordinary end to a long flight. Rather, it was just one leg of a journey that saw Samim thrust into the centre of British politics and the debate about how the government should protect asylum seekers.
It also placed Samim at the centre of a growing constitutional crisis that could land the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, in court for contempt – and ultimately, in prison.
Samim’s case is remarkable. The Home Secretary authorised his removal to Afghanistan, sending him on a journey of over 4,000 miles to Kabul, via Istanbul. This journey occurred in breach of three High Court orders made by three different judges.
Every mile of Samim’s journey was unlawful. It was only after four hours of legal argument in the Court of Appeal on Saturday afternoon that confirmation was received that Samim would be returned to the UK. Another 4,000 miles later and Samim arrived safely at Heathrow on Sunday evening.
While extraordinary, Samim’s case is not unusual. It represents yet another example of the continued abuse of the rights and freedoms of migrants and asylum seekers in the UK.
Samim is just one such vulnerable person. The cost to him of these events is hard to quantify. He was removed to Istanbul in breach of a specific policy on considering asylum claims, and then sent from Istanbul to Kabul in breach of the order of Mr Justice Morris made while he was being transferred between planes in Istanbul.
After that, he continued to be held in a hotel in Kabul, with armed men outside, in fear of his life, and in breach of the orders of Mr Justice Jay and Mrs Justice Lang, which demanded Samim’s immediate return to the UK. Instead of abiding by these orders, the Home Secretary unsuccessfully took the matter to the Court of Appeal, seeking to overturn the orders for Samim’s return.
The stress and fear that Samim experienced during his unlawful journey is likely to have been severe, particularly as he knew that his legal team, led by Stephen Knight at One Pump Court Chambers, had repeatedly obtained court orders to secure his immediate flight back to the UK.
If we turn the clock back to when Samim’s case began in 2015, the cost escalates. Samim fled Afghanistan in fear of persecution after reportedly receiving death threats from the Taliban, as a result of his role in a family firm which is said to have worked for the American military.
He made his way to the UK, where his father (a British citizen who himself had been persecuted by the Taliban in the 1990s) had already found refuge. Samim became a carer for his father, who suffers from PTSD due to the severity of his treatment by the Taliban. Samim integrated into the community in which he found himself: he made friends, learned English and wanted to start work.
At the time of his removal, Samim had made further submissions to the Home Office about his case. That should have stopped his removal, as the Home Office is barred from removing asylum seekers from this country without considering evidence in support of their cases. Plainly, this policy was ignored.
But there is a further cost: to the rule of law, and to public confidence in the administration of justice. The Home Office told Samim’s lawyers that the order preventing his removal to Kabul had been complied with. But this was not true: the Home Office had ignored the judge’s order and decided not to take Samim off the flight.
In a witness statement read out in court, a senior civil servant in charge of deportations admitted that despite being aware of a legal barrier to Samim being sent to Kabul, he ordered that Samim should not be removed from the flight. His reason for defying a High Court judge was that “Mr Bigzad had checked in baggage”, and this might delay the aircraft.
This, and the Home Secretary’s obstruction of his return to the UK, demonstrates a worrying disdain for the principle that Government ministers are subject to the same laws as the rest of society.
The significance of Samim’s case is hard to overstate. The issues arising from it demand change: not just to the Government’s regard for the law, but to the way in which we treat the most vulnerable members of society.
Rachel Francis, immigration and human rights barrister at One Pump Court
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