The Socialist 19 July 2003
Blair: Time To Go!
Asylum Seekers Fear Repression
SHAHIN PORTOHFEH, an Iranian asylum seeker living in Coventry sewed up his lips, eyes and ears in protest at the threat of deportation last week. He took no food or fluids for nearly five days.
Rob Windsor, Coventry Socialist Party councillor
For reasons to do with his personal life Shahin feared the death penalty under Shariah law, even if he escaped this the next penalty could be ten years jail and 70 lashes.
The Home Office turned down his application but it was later revealed that the interpreter provided for him early in his application spoke Arabic whereas he speaks Farsi.
Shahin was helped during his protest by friends, Iranian refugee groups and the local community in the street where he lives.
Around 30 people were mobilised from the street within 15 minutes when they heard his protest was ending.
Socialist Party members were there and I called a doctor to check him out after five days of pain and dehydration. I'd written to ask his local MP Jim Cunningham to raise the issue with immigration minister Beverley Hughes, saying:
"The case follows that of Abbas Amini in Nottingham in May and it is clear that the Immigration And Nationality Directorate of the Home Office need to have a serious look at these cases.
"Abbas Amini was granted leave to remain but continued his protest on behalf of other asylum seekers from Iran. [There should be] a serious re-appraisal of whether or not countries or regions should be considered safe."
We worked with a tenants' group to get legal representation to look at the case again. We put pressure on the accommodation agency managing Shahin's address to let Shahin stay on whilst his case is re-examined. Normally failed applicants can be evicted from properties within a week.
This is the second such protest in just over a month. Only desperation could force people to engage in such painful acts.
Whilst taking nothing away from their courage, self-mutilation is not the best form of protest against deportation.
Protests need to be collectively organised and focus on the message that risks are high in a number of countries including those considered safe.
They also need to orientate towards the trades unions to get the message across to many more organised workers who may be unaware of the real situation.
Vitally, any campaign around asylum seekers must highlight the fact that they're often housed in the poorest communities bearing the brunt of Tory and New Labour cuts.
Campaigns should call for more resources to be provided for areas taking asylum seekers to benefit the whole community, and show solidarity with local people fighting cuts, school closures and reductions in services and housing. That's the best way to cut across the national media's vile misinformation campaign.
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