The Blog

Investigation: Deportations to Africa Tearing Apart Families

Without a thorough review of immigration system, many families will continue to live with the shadow of uncertainty.

Mohamed Hashi, a Somalian-born Brit, is wearing a black suit and a white shirt; he's smiling and laughing as he sits down to discuss his son, Mahdi, in an east London office. Mohamed, however, has no reason to be so happy. He hasn't heard from his son in over six months and has recently found out that Mahdi has been charged in a New York federal court, potentially facing life in prison.

The Home Office accuses Mahdi, 23, of being an Islamic extremist and, in June 2012, had his British citizenship revoked. At the time, Mahdi was living in Somalia - but was then incarcerated in Djibouti before being taken to the US to face charges. The FBI accuses him of providing "material support" to the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab.

"The family is devastated. You should see his mum. But what can we do? You have to carry on with life," Mohamed says, who draws great strength from his religious faith.

"The MI5 started harassing my son when he was about 16, with a group of Muslim friends of his. They wanted him to become an informer. They use to call him but he'd hang up [out of frustration]. They even called me to try and talk to him," he says.

"After years of pressure by the MI5, Mahdi decided to leave the country in 2009 to go to Somalia. I don't know why they picked on Mahdi. He was a normal, quiet guy, a community guy. I think it's because he is a practicing Muslim, they felt he would be a good spy on other Muslims," Mohamed says.

During his time in Somalia, Mahdi looked after his grandmother, got married and had a son. But last year, Mahdi's parents received a letter from the Home Office saying their son was no longer a British citizen and was considered a "threat to the national security". The family says Mahdi then disappeared. They later got a phone call from a man, who had just been released from a Djibouti prison, explaining that he had been held alongside Mahdi and that their son was still there. Up until the FBI released a statement about Mahdi, the family knew nothing about his situation and feared he might be dead.

"All we want is a fair trial. They haven't produced any evidence against him. Things like this create hatred. We are working on a case to present to the courts," Mohamed adds.

"Anybody who's a dissident is being pressurised," adds Saghir Hussain, the family solicitor.

In recent years, the government has come under fire for the detention of children in immigration centre's. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg boasted last year that the coalition government has now put an end to child detention for immigration purposes. However, when young children aren't able to see their parents who've been detained, it often has a detrimental affect on them, according to Bail for Immigration Detainees [BID], an independent charity.

Sarah Campbell, Research and Policy Manager of BID says: "There is currently no time limit on how long an individual can be detained and that needs to be changed.

"The UKBA must end the inhumane practice of splitting families by detaining parents. The Home Office has forcibly removed parents from the UK without making any proper checks as to the whereabouts and care arrangements of children who are left behind," Campbell says.

She adds: "We have worked with parents who have been separated by immigration detention from children who are as young as one-years-old. Older children are able to explain to us the extreme distress they experience. They tell us that they often break down in tears, lose weight, have difficulties sleeping, and have nightmares about their parents never coming home."

Jackie Young is a 21-year-old girl from Sussex and is facing deportation to South Africa. In 2006, Diane, Jackie's mother, came to the UK on an ancestral VISA and brought her two children with her. In 2007 Diane got married to a British man called Robert Young.

"In 2010, by chance, I was looking through Diane's passport and realised a mistake: instead of it being five years, which it's supposed to be according to UKBA, it was a four-year VISA," Robert says. "I was like 'oh my god - we only have a few weeks to renew it.'"

Diane and her youngest daughter were able to stay in the country, as their VISA renewals were successful. However, Jackie, who was 19 and now an adult, was refused by the UKBA as she failed to make her own independent application. The UKBA told the family that Jackie would be deported within weeks.

Two years later, Jackie and her family are still waiting to hear from the UKBA about her removal. "I'm petrified," Jackie says. "If I'm deported, it will completely tear up our family. I would lose my family and boyfriend of three years. I want them to put me out of my misery. With all the stress, I have more asthma attacks," she says.

"I'm not prepared to lose my [step] daughter for something like this, it's just not fair. I feel like our family is being tortured," Robert says. Diane adds: "All this has made Robert and my health worse. Our family has been crippled."

Earlier this year, the UKBA awarded a contract to a private firm, Capita, to track down and deport illegal immigrants, paying them for each immigrant they remove. "Jackie is an object of money," Robert says. "There are rapists in this country who should have been deported, my poor girl has done nothing." The UKBA strongly deny that Capita will use its remit to illegitimately make profit.

The Lib Dems 2010 Manifesto said the immigration system is in "chaos". Indeed, the immigration process in this country often manifests signs unbefitting to a state that prides itself as a beacon of democracy. The UKBA is still to wash its hands of a scandal that emerged in 2006, when half-a-million asylum applications were discovered gathering dust in boxes at the Home Office.

What's more, Theresa May, Home Secretary, falsely claimed at the 2010 Conservative Party Conference that an illegal immigrant avoided deportation because he had a pet cat.

Samantha (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) lives in Somerset and, earlier this year, was detained in Yarl's Wood for two months - she faces forcible removal to Nigeria. She recalls her memories at the detention centre and what it was like being separated from her nine-year-old son. "I was treated really badly in Yarl's Wood. I saw so many things that make me cry everyday. Since I was given bail and was reunited with my child, he's been acting very strange. It was very upsetting for him," she says.

Samantha says she came to the UK escaping domestic violence and had nobody in Nigeria who could help her, leaving her with no option but to flee. "Her detention was unnecessary," says Campbell.

The High Court has found on different occasions that Yarl's Wood has detained mothers wrongfully - showing that the centre was acting against the interests of the parents' children, which should be paramount.

HM Prisons Inspectorate, in its latest report on Yarl's Wood found that though there have been improvements, "too many pregnant women were detained". It expressed concern about how the needs of "vulnerable women were met", said detainees found it difficult to get advice about their cases and had insufficient contact with immigration staff based at the centre.

Without a thorough review of immigration system, many families will continue to live with the shadow of uncertainty. What's more, the government is currently trying to pass the Justice and Security Bill, which will allow judges the ability to listen to more civil cases in secret without claimants being able to hear the evidence against them, also known as "secret courts".

While a spokesman from Serco refused to comment on whether there would be an open, independent public inquiry into many of the abuse allegations at Yarl's Wood, a thorough review of the immigration system is needed.