A Syrian survivor of childhood torture and detention has become the second person in Scotland to fight Home Office plans to deport him to Rwanda.
The 19-year-old Syrian, who we are calling Kassim to protect his identity, was a child when war broke out in his home country. He told The Ferret he was detained and tortured by the regime at just 13-years-old.
He escaped to Libya last year and claims he was also detained there, beaten and forced to work without pay in the construction industry with other migrants.
Finally he fled through Europe to the UK. But when he arrived in May he was not allowed to claim asylum, and was instead detained in Brook House immigration removal centre.
He was among the first group of migrants that the UK Government planned to deport to Rwanda under its new immigration plan. The first flight was due to take off on 15 June, but cancelled at the 11th hour after a European Court of Human Rights ruling.
Dalziel is also representing another Syrian man – Abdulrahman – who travelled from Calais with Kassim and had also been detained in Brook House before being bailed to family in Glasgow last month. The Ferret and the Sunday Post last month reported on his fight to claim asylum through the Scottish courts.
His lawyer described the Rwanda plan as “a policy of deliberate cruelty” and is calling for it to be scrapped.
His call comes as the plans were this week due to be scrutinised by the Home Affairs Select Committee. Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to appear in front of the committee as requested, amid government instability.
Kassim said he fled Syria for Libya last June. “I was looking for a job but was kidnapped by militia and detained there for 45 days,” he said.
“It happened twice – the second time for 43 days. Both times we ran away. One time we broke a window and the other we broke out of the room with other migrants and they shot at us as we ran. We were forced to do work in construction and we were beaten and tortured.”
He managed to leave in April with Abulraham and finally the two Syrians then attempted to cross the Channel. This time they were rescued by the UK coastguard after their boat began filling with water.
On arrival both were detained. “I was expecting I would be safer here in the UK,” Kassim said. “I didn’t know anything about Rwanda before I came to the UK. It was only in detention that I heard of the plan for the first time.”
Detention was re-traumatising. Kassim says he was unwell while there and coughing-up blood for 15 days. He was told he had Covid, he says, but was only given paracetamol three times in total.
Serco, which runs the detention centre, referred The Ferret to private healthcare firm Practice Plus Group. A spokesperson for the group said it was “committed to providing a high standard of healthcare, equivalent to that which could be expected in the wider community, and to the wellbeing of all patients”.
However they declined to comment on Kassim’s case on confidentiality grounds.
Due to a spelling mistake in his name, Kassim wasn’t brought to his own bail hearing. He was also held in detention for an additional five days due to the bureaucratic error. His lawyer described this as “evidence of a system in total chaos”.
Finally he was released and is now staying in Glasgow with a cousin.
But Kassim is also suffering from long-term trauma. “I was eight when the war started,” he said. “We moved from place to place looking for safety. When we walked we could see corpses – bodies without arms or legs. The regime burned relatives alive in front of me.
“I was detained by the regime for seven days when I was 13-years-old. They took my clothes off and chained me to the wall, a bit off the floor. They took a photo of me and sent it to my dad – they told him if you don’t pay we will kill him.
“When I was a child I saw things that people wouldn’t ever see if they lived a lifetime. I still get flashbacks at night.”
According to 2014 United Nations report, children in Syria suffered “unspeakable” horrors during the early years of the war, including sexual violence.
Now all Kassim and Abdulraham can do is wait for a decision.
Removal to Rwanda
Sonya Sceats, chief executive at charity Freedom from Torture, said: “Anyone with a conscience cannot fail to be moved by this young man’s harrowing story, from being tortured as a child, to being kidnapped and enslaved, and finally making the perilous journey across the Channel to what he hoped would be safety in the UK.
“This government’s callous decision to imprison him and threaten him with removal to Rwanda lays bare the inhumanity of its treatment of people fleeing torture and war.
“It is more important than ever that we continue to raise our voices and fight for an asylum system that treats refugees with dignity, humanity and compassion.”
Anne McLaughlin MP, SNP spokesperson for asylum and immigration, said: “In legal terms, Kassim is an adult but he’s 19 years old, barely out of childhood and has been through more than anyone should face in an entire lifetime.
“I call on the Tory leadership hopefuls to show us which one of them understands the meaning of the word humanity. But I hold out zero hope for that and I’m ashamed of the UK Government.”
A Home Office spokesperson said it “takes the welfare of people in our care extremely seriously and we have a range of safeguards in place, including round the clock access to healthcare professionals for those in detention.”
Image thanks to iStock/Jaroslaw Kilian
This story was co-published with the Sunday Post.