Joy as teenage asylum seekers win battle against deportation

Two teenage asylum seekers described as a credit to Scotland are celebrating after winning their battle to escape deportation to Pakistan.

Brothers Somer Umeed Bakhsh, 16, and 14-year-old Areeb have spent most of their lives fearing that they could be forced to leave Glasgow and sent back to the country of their birth where Christians are persecuted.

Somer and Areeb Umeed Bakhsh
Joy - Somer and Areeb Umeed Bakhsh now have some certainty in their lives

But they have only been granted “limited leave to remain” in the UK until February, 2022.

The Home Office decision, which also applies to their parents, Maqsood and Parveen, hopefully signals the beginning of the end of a seven and a half year struggle for the family.

Campaign

It is the result of a high profile Church of Scotland campaign, which led to more than 94,000 people signing two online petitions which urged the UK Government not to deport the brothers to their birth country.

The family fled to Glasgow in 2012 from Faisalabad after Mr Umeed Bakhsh was subjected to death threats from Islamic extremists due to his Christian faith.

They were repeatedly denied asylum and the parents were prevented from earning a living, despite the fact that he is a trained data analyst and she is a midwife/nurse.

Tough time

Somer, who got four As and a B in his Highers and aspires to be an astrophysicist, said: “We have gone through a tough time and I am really happy that we now have the freedom to stay in the country we love.

“I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders because the threat of deportation was always in the back of my mind.

“Scotland is my home, I have grown up here, all my friends are here and I feel like a Scottish boy.

“I am very thankful to everyone who has supported my family and the people who signed the petitions - we could not have got to this point without you.

“But I am disappointed that we will have to apply to the Home Office for an extension in just two and a half years.”

Rev Linda Pollock
Family minister, Rev Linda Pollock described the boys as "brave, inspirational, compassionate, intelligent and well rounded despite their ordeal.

The process to secure permanent leave to remain will likely cost the family tens of thousands of pounds.

Somer, who is now in sixth year at Springburn Academy and studying three Advanced Highers, said he was hopeful that he will be accepted to the University of Glasgow next year.

Normality

Areeb, who is in fourth year at the same school and studying seven National 5s exams, said he was “overwhelmed” by the news.

“It has been very stressful but Glasgow is such a lovely place, everyone is so welcoming and my friends at school have always been there for me,” he added.

“They will be really happy to hear the news and I am looking forward to a degree of normality and hopefully life will be easier because we have been opened up to many more opportunities.”

Mr and Mrs Umeed Bakhsh will soon be granted work permits and have the opportunity to drive and take their sons on holidays aboard.

The family, who are now seeking new accommodation, are active members of Possilpark Parish Church in Glasgow.

Their minister, Rev Linda Pollock, has led the campaign to stop them being deported to Pakistan where blasphemy carries the death penalty.

Christian friends of Mr Umeed Bakhsh were murdered in 2010 which was the catalyst for his decision to flee with his family to the UK because Islamic extremists threatened his life.

The 51-year-old said that once you are marked there is nowhere safe in Pakistan to live.

Very Rev Susan Brown
Former Moderator Very Rev Dr Susan Brown has been very supportive of the family and urged commissioners at the General Assembly in May to sign the petition.

Ms Pollock said: “I am relieved and feel deep joy that this decision has been made because these youngsters have been living in a psychological prison and in bondage for too long.

“They are brave, inspirational, compassionate, intelligent, well rounded boys who have experienced sorrow and heartache.

“But through all of this they have maintained their dignity and integrity which has not been easy.

“They have not allowed the barriers of the prison that they have been forced to live in to make them bitter which is a credit to them and their parents.”

Ms Pollock said Mr Umeed Bakhsh, a Kirk elder, and his wife could scarcely believe the news when they received the Home Office letter from their lawyer and were “bouncing up and down with wide smiles on their faces”.

“Going forward I would say look out world, this family are going to do something wonderful,” she added.

“Don’t be surprised if Somer becomes the first Scottish astronaut with Areeb standing behind him ready to fill in.

“They are so imaginative and creative, I see no limits for them.”

Resilience

Family friend, Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, secretary to the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said the news was “enormously welcomed.”

“I have constantly marvelled at the family’s resilience, kindness and faith and the decision to give them limited leave to remain is the first good news that they have received from the Home Office,” he added.

“I am proud that the Church has stood beside them and others seeking refuge in this country over the last number of years and I am confident that we will continue to do so in the challenges that still lie ahead."

Former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Very Rev Dr Susan Brown, said she is “absolutely delighted” that the fear the family has been living in has been removed.

“I really don’t know how they have coped with it for so long, they are truly amazing,” she added.

“What the boys have achieved in the midst of all this uncertainty is fantastic and Scotland is blessed to have them.”

House of Commons

The family’s case was raised with former Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons by Paul Sweeney, MP for Glasgow North East, and in the Scottish Parliament by Bob Doris, MSP for Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the brothers as a “credit” to Scotland and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the Home Office to grant the family leave to remain.

Scotland’s Communities and Local Government Secretary, Aileen Campbell, also made representations on their behalf.

Paul Sweeney
MP Paul Sweeney took the family's case to the House of Commons and secured an undertaking from former Prime Minister Theresa May that it would be reviewed.

Mr Sweeney said: “I’m delighted at this news and in particular I’m pleased for Somer and Areeb, who will be able to continue their education among the school friends who stood by them through this campaign.

“I would also like to pay tribute to those at Possilpark Parish Church and beyond who have supported the Bakhsh family.

“We have taken this case to the very top, but it is disgraceful that it should take a question to the Prime Minister, tireless work from my constituency staff and the solidarity of thousands of Glaswegians who signed the petition to get a result.

“However, whilst the family now have the freedom to work and contribute their talents to our community, they remain in a temporary state of limbo over the next decade before they can apply for permanent settlement.

“Prior to this they will be required to apply every 30 months for further leave to remain with each occasion costing approximately £8,000.

“That is a disgraceful financial burden and I and I will be campaigning in parliament to have these exploitative costs abolished.”

Mr Sweeney said that the toll the struggle has taken on the family demonstrates the human cost of the UK Government’s hostile environment policy and the need for fundamental changes in Home Office policy.

Paul Sweney Somer Areeb
L-R Bob Doris MP. Somer, Areeb and Paul Sweeney MP.

Mr Doris said: “I am delighted that the family now have a degree of stability and security.

“Somer and Areeb have been flourishing since arriving in Scotland and they can now hopefully get on with their lives.

“Of course we must exercise a degree of caution as their leave to remain has not been made permanent.

“No-one should have to flee their country in fear of their lives just for practicing their faith but Scotland is now their home and they are making a valuable contribution to the country and their community.”

Tracy Kirk
Tracy Kirk

Tracy Kirk, a children and young peoples’ rights expert at Glasgow Caledonian University, said the UK’s immigration and asylum processes fail to take account of what is in the best interests of the child.

“This is one of the cornerstones of children’s rights and I would challenge the Home Office to justify where and in what way they consider the rights of the child, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” she added.

“It is becoming more and more apparent that children’s rights are missing from the entire process, leaving the UK in breach of their international obligations.”