Sushil helping raise awareness of asylum seekers at Sharrow Festival 2013

UK government accused of unlawful deportation of Buddhist monk

Sheffield campaigners express outrage at “illegal and immoral” deportation of Sushilananda Sraman, a Buddhist monk who fears persecution in his native Bangladesh.

Despite numerous and exhaustive efforts of campaigners to halt what they claim is an illegal deportation, Sushilananda Sraman was deported from the UK at 8am on Monday 1st September.

On Sunday 31st August, I wrote about new fears for Sushil here on Sheffield Unchained.

I reported how Sushil, who arrived in the UK in 2005 and has been living in Sheffield since 2011, had been moved to Brook House Immigration Centre near Gatwick airport without explanation.

Sushil fears for his safety and his life back in his own country. When I first wrote about Sushil here, I explained how, as a Buddhist monk in Chittagong, Bangladesh, he says he was targeted by local fundamentalist Muslims, who forbade him to campaign for girls’ education and began persecuting him.

Campaigners claim that Sushil is in greater danger because of the ‘potentially illegal’ conduct of the Home Office in making officials in Bangladesh aware of his case. Sushil expressed these same fears when he spoke to me from inside Morton Hall Immigration Centre before he was deported:

“I gave all the evidence to the Home Office, but they do not believe me and they have disclosed all my information to the Bangladeshi authorities, so I fear for my safety. My life is in danger, my life is not safe, if the government doesn’t imprison me, the fundamentalist muslims will kill me.”

‘Illegal and immoral’

There is further concern that Sushil’s claim for asylum in the UK reached the European Court of Human Rights last year, but the UK government offered to settle it domestically. Campaigners say that the Home Office then refused Sushil’s claim and appeals and placed him in detention.

Campaigner Katelyn McKeown claims that the Home Office has behaved “immorally” and with “sneaky actions” in order to continue their plans to deport Sushil. She points out that the Home Office also refused to consider Sushil’s fresh claim which was sent on 27 August by MP Meg Munn’s office to try and halt the deportation.

“It is illegal to deport someone with a claim still outstanding, however the Home Office say that the claim was received, but stored as a file copy rather than considered. This is morally wrong if not illegal.”

Jim Steinke, Chief Executive of the Northern Refugee Centre agrees:

“I very rarely get involved directly in campaigns about individual deportation issues, but I feel very strongly about the potential illegality of this removal. The importance of a robust immigration and asylum system depends on the Home Office working within legal boundaries, or the whole system becomes corrupted.”

‘The worst kind of dirty tactics’

During the early hours of Monday morning, Sushil was taken to Heathrow airport and he rang Katelyn McKeown terrified at what was happening to him.

“Sushil rang me from a guard’s phone at 2.45am and 4am on Monday morning absolutely terrified. I could hear the guards laughing and joking in the background. Sushil was given no notice of the flight. I spoke to him many times on Sunday and he had no removal directions.

“My colleague Sarah Eldridge from City of Sanctuary Sheffield also spoke to Brook House Immigration Removal Centre on Sunday and they said no removal orders had been issued.

“Solicitors confirmed that it is a legal requirement for deportees to be given 72 hours notice. The Home Office, however claim that Sushil resisted being deported on Thursday morning so special rules apply.”

McKeown says that Sushil offered no resistance:

“Sushil said ‘No thank you, I have made a fresh claim today,’ when the guards came to his cell on Wednesday 27th and they left. He offered no physical resistance and he was aware that as a fresh claim had been submitted it would have been illegal to deport him while it was outstanding.”

McKeown went on:

“Sushil’s life is in danger in his country. He will be captured and tortured. Sushil had made a fresh claim for asylum on Wednesday 27th August but this claim is outstanding. You cannot deport someone with a claim outstanding.”

Sarah Eldridge, from City of Sanctuary Sheffield, delivered a petition with more than 1000 signatures and a copy of Sushil’s fresh claim to the Home Office on Monday afternoon.

Campaigners were hoping that the fresh claim would be considered and that Sushil’s deportation would be stopped at Doha where his flight was due to arrive before he would go on to Bangladesh. However, the deportation was not stopped. McKeown says:

“Sushil phoned me from Doha airport on Monday afternoon. He says thank you to everyone for trying to help. There was no halt on the flight so he returned back to Bangladesh at 2.30am on Tuesday morning.

“This should not have happened, but it did. Now the 1060 people who petitioned the Home Secretary and got no acknowledgement or response deserve to know why.”

She added:

”Sushil was absolutely terrified when I spoke to him during Sunday night. His worst fears were coming true and he and I felt completely powerless to do anything about it.

“Solicitors’ offices and airline customer services were closed and it was not possible to alert many people at that time on a Sunday morning. It seemed like the worst kind of dirty tactics were being used but there was nothing we could do.”

Image courtesy of City of Sanctuary Sheffield

This article was also published on Open Democracy