THE First Minister has told David Cameron to investigate mounting concerns about the safety of Majid Ali who was deported from Scotland to Pakistan a month ago.
by: Martin Williams
Nicola Sturgeon’s intervention comes as Scottish Government ministers remain concerned about the silence from their counterparts in Westminster over the safety of the Glasgow student. Ali was deported on a military flight – a highly unusual step – and there are fears that he may have been killed on his return. Members of his family have already been targeted in Pakistan.
A previous attempt for reassurances from the UK government by Humza Yousaf, the minister for Europe and International Development, was rebuffed.
Human rights activist Gary Spedding, who is involved in Ali’s case, and has also been demanding answers says he believes there is a “conspiracy of silence” over what has happened to him.
Ali, first sought asylum in the UK in 2011 after his brother was made the victim of enforced “disappearance” by Pakistani authorities. His family home was allegedly raided by government forces two months ago, and his uncle and cousin were shot and killed.
Ali had told tutor Rosie Quin, an English language lecturer at City of Glasgow College, “I’m scared, I’m scared” as he faced a flight aboard a military plane back to Pakistan a month ago amid serious concerns for his safety.
Friends of the student, who sought asylum in the UK in 2011 have been unable to contact him since he was removed earlier this month – prompting fears he may have been detained by security forces or even killed.
The Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have steadfastly refused to discuss what has happened to the peaceful opponent of the Pakistan government on his arrival in the country, with some activists calling for further legal action against the UK Government if he is discovered to be dead.
Sturgeon’s told Cameron in her letter: “It has been more than two weeks since Mr Ali’s removal from the United Kingdom and nobody has heard from him or received any information about his whereabouts.
“The Scottish Government has received a number of representations on his behalf from MSPs, NUS (National Union of Students) Scotland and his friends, who are now deeply worried about his safety and wellbeing.
“I share their concerns and seek your urgent assurance that you will investigate what has happened to Mr Ali and provide me with confirmation of his safety or otherwise.
“Although asylum is a reserved matter, the Scottish Government is clear that all claims for asylum must be thoroughly and fairly assessed and that people must only be returned to their countries of origin if their safety can be guaranteed.”
Humza Yousaf said the Home Office refused to provide any information to the Scottish Government despite “the clear concern that exists over Mr Ali’s safety”.
“Instead they have maintained that they will not speak to me about Mr Ali’s case and only deal with MPs on individual asylum cases. This is an unacceptable response considering the real concerns that exists surrounding Mr Ali’s safety,” he said. “The Scottish Government is deeply concerned that there has been no contact with Mr Ali since he left the UK.”
He said all asylum seekers must be treated with “respect, dignity and humanity” throughout the asylum process and particularly where claims are unsuccessful and people are removed from the UK.
Ali, was detained on May 29 at the Dunvagel Detention Centre in Glasgow after his application for asylum was rejected by the Home Office and a number of appeals against his deportation order failed.
More than 15,000 people were tweeting about Ali’s case just ahead of his deportation as activists tried to stop his removal. The hashtag #DontDeportMajid began trending on Twitter.
Protests were held in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow and included a gathering of 40 demonstrators outside the Scotland Office.
However, he was removed on a non-commercial military flight late on June 9 and has not been heard from since.
Some 74 MPs have so far signed an early day motion which raised concern about the detention of Majid Ali and called for changes to the asylum process, the second most supported EDM of this session of Parliament.
It received support from 50 SNP MPs, 15 Labour, three Social Democratic and Labour Party MPs in Northern Ireland, two from Plaid Cymru, two Liberal Democrats, one Green Party MP and one independent. No Conservative MPs signed it.
Spedding expressed his frustration at the refusal to give any assurances about the welfare of Ali.
The Home Office responded to his letter to the immigration minister James Brokenshire saying that he would need the written authority of Ali to divulge any information about his safety.
“We have no record that Majid Ali has provided us with written confirmation that they wish you to act on their behalf,” they said. “However if you can provide us with this authority, we will be happy to respond…We do consider the content of each piece of correspondence carefully and I hope that you can appreciate that this reply is not simply a question of secrecy for its own sake, but is a proportionate response to protecting the privacy of the individual.”
Spedding said: “Of course it is impossible to get that written authority because Mr Ali has been missing since he was deported by the Home Office, so I think they are playing a very callous game with his case.
“As far as I am aware there is nobody who has any official documentation to act for him from Mr Ali. It means the Home Office is entirely unaccountable.”
The SNP’s Glasgow South West MP Chris Stephens has also asked Home Secretary Theresa May about the status of Ali since his deportation, what assurances the Home Office had received from the government of Pakistan on the protection of his basic rights, wellbeing and safety, and what steps her department took to ensure the protection of the rights and safety of Ali on deportation.
The response given by Mr Brokenshire to each of the three questions was: “We do not comment publicly on specific cases.”
The Sunday Herald approached Patrick Moody, deputy high commissioner to Pakistan to ask about concerns over Ali’s safety. He declined to comment and passed the inquiry to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office press office, who also refused to discuss the matter.
A Government spokesman said: “We don’t routinely comment on individual cases.”