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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

UKBA rejects again - part 2 : How to make an attack vanish into thin air

Pakistani Airport - rigorous border controls?

Having dealt in Part 1 with the distinctly unobjective nature of the ‘objective background’ in UKBA’s rejection letter, we know turn to the specific meat of the rejection letter with regard to Mr Raza’s claim for asylum. Before we deal with the two main issues, we need to cover two minor points that the UKBA used as evidence against Mr Raza’s credibility.

Firstly, in the initial screening interview, Mr Raza had said he had an uncle in the UK. In the later asylum interview Mr Raza stated that this individual was not an uncle by blood, but in fact a friend of his father’s. The UKBA claims that ‘it is not considered that your explanation for why this contradiction occurred is entirely reasonable..... Furthermore you have been in the UK for four years and do clearly understand the meaning of the word uncle’. Quite frankly, this reveals a distinct lack of understanding of Asian culture, particularly familial ties. To the majority of Pakistani young people any family friend of a parent is called Aunty and Uncle. Irrespective of how close they are these terms are applied fairly liberally. Moreover a very close friend of parents would be held in high esteem and would be considered and accepted as a real uncle. In addition, Mr Raza says he said that this was the situation in the original interview, although UKBA records don’t record this. And let’s get one thing straight – the UKBA says that because Mr Raza has been in the UK for 4 years, he can’t have kept the cultural traits and upbringing he had from a baby? Heck, the author of this article has never been to Pakistan, yet has had people he has never met in person call him uncle. And for what it’s worth, it’s not just an Asian thing. For over 30 years as child and man I have been part of various predominantly white churches where the use of uncle and aunt for non-family church members, particularly, but not exclusively for Sunday School teachers, is quite common, although not quite as ubiquitous, perhaps as in Asian cultures.

Secondly, Mr Raza was working in Dubai before he briefly returned to Pakistan. After the incident he fled from he came to the UK via Dubai. The UKBA stated it was ‘inconsistent’ that Mr Raza did not return to Dubai where he had been employed, but rather to the UK where he had been unable to get a job for 4 years. However, there is significant discrimination against Christians in Dubai – they cannot become naturalized citizens, for instance. The freedom in the UK to become naturalized and the freedoms that Christians enjoy in the UK would be – quite rightly – a major pull for someone in Mr Raza’s position.

Mr Raza’s claim for asylum was based on two specific incidents of persecution, one relatively minor, one rather more serious. We will deal with the minor one first, briefly – that Mr Raza was the only Christian in his class, and at one point he made a joke at which the whole class turned on him because he was a Christian. A teacher was able to resolve the issue soon after, however. The UKBA, quite reasonably said because of lack of evidence, they could not make a ‘determinative finding’. The problem is that in a later paragraph concerned with Mr Raza’s ‘credibility’ suddenly the reasonable conclusion that they could not be certain about the incident becomes additional grounds for considering Mr Raza’s credibility to have been damaged by his actions, and so ‘benefit of the doubt’ is not extended. ‘In particular consideration has been given to the school incident which is considered uncertain’ the rejection letter says. How uncertainty about an event morphs into firm evidence against credibility is never made clear. This is very spurious reasoning.

The main incident that caused Mr Raza to flee Pakistan occurred on 1st December 2006. After returning home from working in Dubai, Mr Raza helped look after his fathers shop (an estate agents) for him. Three men came in wanting to talk to Mr Raza’s fathers. While they waited, they talked to Mr Raza, and when he confirmed he had just returned from the UK, they stated that white people in the UK were killing Muslims. Mr Raza replied it wasn’t so, but that Muslims were using religion to kill people in the name of Jihad. One man shoved him and called Mr Raza ‘a cleaner’ or ‘sweeper’ a derogatory term usually used of Christians. The conversation quickly degenerated into the men shouting at and attacking Mr Raza. The altercation attracted a crowd, and then people started to accuse Mr Raza of blasphemy – of attacking the Islamic religion, and that they were going to hand Mr Raza over to the police. Mr Raza managed to flee and get a taxi home. His father told him to escape and sent him to relatives in another city. Within two days a FIR (First Information Report) was filed against Mr Raza. After moving between several sets of relatives, Mr Raza’s family arranged for him to have tickets to fly out of Pakistan.

The problem starts when the UKBA starts assessing this incident. In his screening interview (used mainly for administrative purposes with no detail required), Mr Raza said he was not wanted by authorities in any country. This fact is used by UKBA as the basis for stating that ‘it is not accepted that you argued with these three men as claimed which resulted in an FIR being lodged’. Mr Raza could have just said yes, the UKBA asserts. This is an unbelievable argument! For instance, if I wanted to claim asylum after an incident in which the police were involved, and was asked such a question, I would quite naturally assume in an administrative question that this general question was referring to any OTHER situation / country other than the situation I was using to claim asylum. Yet the UKBA will not even consider this possibility and use what could so easily be a simple misunderstanding to argue that the central event of the asylum claim never happened. Astounding!

They then go on to further support their argument by a detailed appeal to the Pakistani border and security processes. They claim that because Pakistan checks all people leaving the country to see if they are wanted individuals, the fact that Mr Raza was able to fly out of the country indicates that no FIR could possibly have been outstanding against him. Mr Wilson Chowdhry, head of the BPCA, married to a Pakistani woman, and himself the head of a security company is eminently qualified to comment on these issues. His observations are rather revealing. Here are his comments :

In point 33 .... of the “Reasons for Refusal” (RFR) letter .... you have highlighted rather awe-inspiring processes purported to be undertaken by the Pakistani border authorities. In reality however the scheme alluded to is the construct of a rather vivid imagination. My wife is a Pakistani National and has never been the subject of such an inquisition even for her first trip to the UK. Moreover, I have personal knowledge and experience of how simple it is to circumvent any such procedure with a small bribe. When travelling to Pakistan in 2009, I was informed at Heathrow Airport by a PIA member of staff that despite having forgotten to obtain a visa to Pakistan they would allow me to travel on their plane. They had stated that with a small bribe I would be able to enter the country due to my wife’s nationality. I opted for a later flight. I have seen my father, when he was alive avoid customs duty on gifts for his family by paying a small bribe, a tradition I have not continued I assure you. My point here is that even if a system exists it can be circumvented, moreover the lack of consistency has created a culture of avoidance of duty, nullifying any real expression of any prescribed practice. Besides, simple arithmetic would illustrate that the number of international flights coupled with the limited Military, Police and border authority deployment prevents any effective operation of your described Pakistani border process.

In a later paragraph in the same point 33 and for point 34 you refer to PISCES and it’s ability to control ingress and egress of blacklisted travellers. The system described to work effectively would required to be in tandem with a CRB operating system or criminality systems. The UK’s own Security Industry Authority (SIA) in 2009 had meetings with the Pakistani Embassy to fashion a way to authenticate CRB Checks in Pakistan due to the inability to obtain them and the lack of a central database. The SIA and has highlighted on several occasions during seminars that CRB checks from Pakistan are unreliable. For the UKBA’s attention I remind them that CRB reports are still only available at a local level and are in written not typed format.

Mr Wilson then goes on to note the inability of Pakistani security and police processes to prevent the entry and prolonged residence of Osama bin Laden, arguably the most wanted person in the world.

I would only add that the UKBA should be very well aware that rhetoric and reality over border controls are often very far apart..... after all the UK’s border controls have been scandalously lax compared to what they are supposed to be, and those border controls are run by ..... (ahem) the UKBA! I’m sure I read that the three most senior UKBA executives have been suspended over something to do with border controls..... And didn’t a proscribed Islamic extremist waltz in to the country in July after being explicitly banned by the Home Secretary? Ah well, you know what they say – ‘birds of a feather flock together’. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised if border agencies believe each others’ rhetoric!

Finally, the ridiculousness of UKBA’s approach is shown by a paragraph in their rejection letter which notes the fact that Mr Raza’s father owned an estate agents which ‘by your own evidence utilized by Muslims, including the men you claimed attacked you’ and says that this ‘clearly demonstrates that your family were able to live openly in society with other faiths with no apparent difficulties’! Now that takes the breath away. Apparently Pakistan is some multi-cultural paradise! Firstly, very often Christians in Pakistan undergo insults, attacks, threats, discrimination and the like without too much complaint – it is something they are used to. Christians live openly in Pakistan? Sure. They have to. They can’t exactly disappear into some bolt-hole. They also die openly in Pakistan for their faith, they are also attacked, arrested, bullied, persecuted and discriminated against openly in Pakistan. According to the UKBA Mr Raza’s family can freely live openly as Christians, if you manage to ignore the attack on Mr Raza, which the UKBA ingeniously manages to do. Perhaps the UKBA should add a little common sense and consistency in argument to their ingeniousness. BPCA awaits with bated breath......

In summary then, our concerns are

1) In general the UKBA seems to severely downplay the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, using highly selective lines of evidence and reasoning, and

2) They dismissed Mr Raza’s application on highly spurious grounds that involve using a simple misunderstanding in the initial stages of the interview to dismiss the main incident when he was attacked, and a breathtaking confidence in Pakistan’s allegedly inviolable border control and security systems.

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