My name is Abdul Basir. I am a human rights activist from Afghanistan and I cannot go back because of the Taliban. Recently the Home Office recognised that I am a refugee. But before they gave me asylum, the Home Office locked me up twice in detention, and twice threatened to send me back to Afghanistan, even organising the flights. I had to fight for justice. I didn’t give up.
Advocating human rights in Afghanistan
I got interested in human rights when a woman in our area had her nose cut off by the Taliban. She was from a big family, so the incident received a lot of attention around the world. But when, three months later, another woman’s nose and ear was cut off, no one cared. I realised I must help victims against offenders and restore justice. Only in this way can a society go forward.
So I began volunteering for the Afghan National Youth Civil Society when I was 20, and three years later I founded my own organisation called Tarinkot Youth Cultural Association. We helped prisoners against the unfairness that they faced. We would hold talks on the problems of drugs as well as bringing people together with poetry, comedy and music. At one point there were 1700 volunteers working for my organisation.
I also set up a women’s shelter in my region. It was for women who had run away or been kicked out of home, afraid of violence from their husbands or male relatives. They could stay in the shelter until their problems were solved.
I received a lot of threats from the Taliban. They said ‘if you don’t stop your work, we will punish you and your family.’ But we kept going.
And I worked for Save the Children in my region. We would go to local villages and find out what the people needed and what problems they were facing. Then we would help by building wells, or bridges, or toilets. This was also dangerous. The Taliban has kidnapped and killed aid workers for Save the Children.
In 2014 I came to London to attend a conference as a result of my work as a human rights advocate. But while I was there, I was told that the Taliban had sent a threatening letter because of my attendance at the conference. I knew I couldn’t go back, they could kill me.
I applied for asylum, but instead of protecting me, the Home Office put me in detention. They put me on the Detained Fast-Track (DFT) [a system that automatically detained some asylum-seekers while their claims were considered on a fast-track – it was found to be unlawful in 2015.]
I was in Harmondsworth [a detention centre near Heathrow]. I saw staff punching detainees in the face. I saw this over ten times. Sometimes, after someone had tried to kill themselves, maybe by hanging themselves, the staff would end up fighting them instead of caring for them. Then they would take them to the ‘black room’. This was a room where there were no cameras, you have nothing with you, you can’t speak to anyone, people would be in there for sometimes three or four days. I never went in, but many friends did and they told me about it.
One day I applied for bail. I didn’t have any lawyer, and the judge wouldn’t listen to me. When I came back that evening, they came up to me and gave me a ticket. Back to Afghanistan. Lots of other Afghans had the same ticket. They were going to fly us together in a chartered flight.
So I gathered up the Afghans, and we all sat in the sitting room, and worked out what we would do. Then we went outside, into the courtyard, and began to protest: ‘We want justice, we want freedom’. Everyone joined us, Indians, Pakistanis, Algerians, Somalis, Eritreans, everyone, all standing with us.
And then we started a hunger-strike, protesting about detention, and the charter flight. We were talking to the media, and RT sent a helicopter to film us. We wanted people to know what was going on. My lawyers stopped the charter flight, and they decided to send all the leading protesters to different centres. I was sent to The Verne in Dorset [now closed], others were sent to Dungavel in Scotland, some to Oxford [Campsfield] and others to Tinsley [near Gatwick Airport].
But later, I was detained again, this time at Colnbrook [also near Heathrow]. The conditions are just as bad here. They told me, ‘you are lucky, you’ve been put on the DAC [Detained Asylum Casework]. I remember they made a decision just a few hours after my lawyer Jamie Bell sent them the documents. They refused my asylum claim again. How can they make a decision on my life just like that?
It was so frustrating, I kept saying to them – ‘let me see my computer, I can show you evidence why I need protection in the UK’, but they said it wasn’t possible ‘for security reasons.’
I was eventually released again from detention, after my solicitors issued a Judicial Review. And in March this year the Immigration Tribunal allowed my asylum appeal, so the Home Office have finally accepted that I am a refugee.
The Home Office still haven’t sent me my BRP [card showing leave to remain in UK] so I can’t work. All they have to do is print out a card! I first claimed asylum in 2014. It is now 2018, and they’re still making me wait.
Never give up
But what I would say to people fighting for justice, immigrants or not immigrants, is this: stand for justice, never come down on yourself, keep going until you reach your target. Never give up, when they refuse you, find another way. Most of us don’t know the process about immigration. So learn the process, look far, don’t look short, if you look short everything will be finished. Keep thinking about the second step.
We need to fight because the government should have to do the right thing, and the steps should be clear. There should be no DFT, no DAC. And asylum-seekers should be allowed to work. It is such a waste of money to pay all this money to have them locked up. If they work they will be paying taxes. That will be good for everyone.
And there should be courses, for language and skills, this will be positive, not like detention centres, which are just negative. If we can get skills then we can share in society, this is good for the government, good for the person, and good for their family.
Action: change the community
When I get my BRP I want to set up a society. Find some people to stand with me, with us, so we can work together to fight for justice. For refugees in this country, in Europe, in all the world. Humans are humans, we have to think about this. We have to make our future.
So I will speak to the government, like I have always done, and ask them to please help. 100% if we speak to them about policies on immigration, we can change their immigration policies.
But first we need to change the community, then we can change the government. Who does the government do these things for, if it is not the community? The government is elected by the community, for the community. The community needs to know what is happening and that it is not right. They say that one pen, one kid, and one teacher, can change the world. And I say one person can change the community, one community can change all the public, and one public can change the government.
Image of Tarinkot via Flickr-fisherbray