A TEENAGE student at one ofour academies was deported on
Wednesday of last week. I am angry about it.
I am angry because she has been sent into a dangerous situation.
I am angry because she has been torn from her mother and prevented
from finishing her education, and, most of all, because, with a
dose of common sense, this could have been avoided.
No one pretends that these situations are simple. Nor has any
part of our "Fight For Yashika" campaign, which is being led by
students, sought to pretend that we do not need robust laws that
govern asylum and immigration. But we have certainly been fighting
against the status quo - against a system that has become so
bureaucratic and blind to the circumstances of those it deals with
that it has grown unable to show any compassion or common
YASHIKA BAGEERATHI and her family arrived in this country because
they were fleeing a dangerous and violent situation in Mauritius.
Eventually, they claimed asylum in the UK. Sadly, this request was
turned down. I may not like the decision, but I recognise that we
have to live within the law.
On behalf of Oasis, however, I made an open offer to the Home
Secretary: Let Yashika remain in the UK for just a few more months,
to sit her A levels. Then, in the summer, after her exams are
complete, along with the GCSEs of her younger sister (also a
student with us), we will work with Yashika and her family to
ensure that they leave the UK safely together, as a unit.
In fact, Mrs Bageerathi had publicly stated that, if her
family's asylum case failed, she would leave the UK after the exams
that her two daughters are sitting this summer.
The Home Office, however, responded by taking this vulnerable
girl away from her family, and placing her, alone, in Yarl's Wood
Detention Centre, for six weeks during December and January
(including Christmas and New Year), and, again, for two weeks in
Moreover, three times she was put through the ordeal of suddenly
being informed that she would be deported imminently. On the first
occasion, she was driven to Gatwick in a van, only to be turned
around at the last minute and returned to the detention centre.
On the second, she was informed at the eleventh hour that the
decision had been reversed - both confusing and distressing events
in themselves. On the third instance, escorted by five guards, she
was placed on a flight from Heathrow, seated in an isolated
position in the plane, and flown to a country where, as far as our
authorities were concerned, there was no one to meet her.
THE Bible is clear: it is our God-given responsibility to take
care of the widow, the fatherless, and the refugee. These words,
originally given to an ancient people, still challenge our
culture's moral consciousness. Perhaps it is true that, in the end,
you can judge any society by its sense of compassion for those who
are most vulnerable. So I have some questions.
Separating young people from their families and removing them
when they reach the age of 18 may well help meet government removal
targets, but it is surely not humane or compassionate. Although
young people reaching 18 are classified as adults, in reality, this
does not necessarily denote that they are suddenly able to look
after themselves and operate autonomously. It is time to review the
I understand that there are occasions when detention is needed
to ensure the removal of unsuccessful asylum-seekers, but I cannot
see the necessity for Yashika. Leaving her in her local community
would not have represented any risk of her absconding. She could be
easily found, on any day, at our academy or at home with her
Home Office guidance itself states that a young person under the
age of 18 may not be removed from the UK within three months of his
or her examinations. But the 18-year age limit is a nonsense, as
the vast majority (83 per cent) of A-level students have turned 18
by the time they take their exams. The criteria should surely be
linked to the completion of the course rather than age.
Why would a compassionate response, which would have allowed
Yashika to remain in the UK until the end of June, by which time
she would have completed her A levels, have been so difficult to
The rule of law exists to protect us, but, of course, a blind
and unthinking commitment to the rule book achieves the opposite.
Then, those facing removal are treated as targets to hit rather
than human beings with cases to consider.
I call on the Home Office to review its guidance in relation to
the asylum claims of 18-year-olds in relation to these issues. If
this happens, I believe that our country will be nearer to treating
young asylum-seekers with the compassion and dignity that they
The Revd Steve Chalke is founder of the Oasis Trust, a
social-care charity that runs a number of academies.
For more information on the campaign for Yashika, visit www.oasisuk.org/article.aspx?menuId=34680.