Sunday, 13 November 2005

“I’m Ashamed To Be British” – Gay Man Fights Deportation of his Algerian Partner

Source: UK Gay News

DURSLEY, November 13, 2005  –  In this sleepy market town in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, a gay Englishman is desperately fighting to save his partner from being deported by British Home Office officials to Algeria where he could face death, if tried by a religious court.   

As Howard Jeans-Seymour, a direct descendent of Jane Seymour who was Queen of England as the third wife of King Henry VIII in the 16th century, sat in his Dursley home explaining what had happened he admitted, holding back tears: “I’m ashamed to be British”.

His ‘common law’ partner Izmer – not his real name – is being held at Harmondsworth Immigration Service Removal Centre, near London’s Heathrow Airport, for deportation back to Algeria as an openly gay man.

“How can they do this,” Mr. Jeans-Seymour asked?  “He has a three-year visa which doesn’t expire until Christmas Eve.”

The couple, who met almost two years ago, have been planning to register a civil partnership when it become law early next month.

Izmer was in England on a student visa and was studying to be a pilot.  Earlier this year he “came out” to the Algerian authorities in this country and was forcibly removed from the country by the Algerians in April, after being tricked by embassy officials to drive back to London with them to complete some paperwork.

At the Algerian Embassy, he was told that if he did not return home his family would be hurt.  So he was driven to Heathrow Airport and was put on an Air Algerie flight to Algiers.

He was subsequently imprisoned as the government was demanding “compensation” of £1m for his pilot training.

The intervention of Stroud Member of Parliament David Drew with the Algerian Embassy in London saw the “compensation” demands dropped and  arrangements were made for his quick return to England.

With a valid student visa, Izmer was let into the country after telling an immigration officer at Heathrow that he had been dismissed from the military because he was gay and was returning to “clear up his affairs” after leaving in a hurry.  He also told the immigration officer he was taken out of this country by Algerian embassy officials.

In June, Izmer decided that he wanted to remain in the United Kingdom – he told UK Gay News at the time that he might well face death if he returned as the authorities knew he was gay.  He contacted the regional office of the Home Office in Bristol and, explaining his situation – including the fact that he was gay and living with a partner – he sought advice and was told that he should seek Asylum.  This advice was accompanied by “details regarding ‘Making a claim for Asylum’”.

[click here for the actual letter received from the Home Office]

Izmer, Mr. Jeans-Seymour said, was a bit concerned and following advice he applied to nearby Stroud College to go on a Business Management course.  He was accepted, but could not start the course as there was a charge of £5,000 as he was a foreigner.

So he decided to get a job and again contacted the Home Office to find out if he was permitted to get a job.  He was told that he could, provided the job did not exceed working more than 20 hours a week.

“Izmer started work as a sales assistant at the local One Stop Shop,” Mr. Jeans-Seymour said.  “He quickly settled and was highly praised for his work by both his bosses and the customers.

“He was a popular member of the community.”

The company were so pleased with his work that they promised him a full time supervisor’s position as soon as he was permitted to take full time employment.

Realising that his pay for a 20-hour week would not be enough to raise the £5,000 tuition fees at Stroud College – and the payment had to be made “up front”, Izmer finally decided to go ahead with his asylum application.

On Friday October 28, and as directed, he went to the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon, South London – about 120 mile from Dursley.

“I went with him,” Mr. Jeans-Seymour said.  “We arrived at about 12.30pm and by the time we got through security screening it was about 1pm when we arrived in the department.

Despite being registered disabled due to a spinal problem, Mr. Jeans-Seymour was made to climb stairs to the third floor.  “There was no public lift available, I was told.  This is very strange for a government department as there is a Disability Act now in force.

“I struggled up the stairs and was not even allowed to catch my breath before going though another security screening.  One through, there were no seats so I had to stand while waiting for an official to see us.

“When one arrived, we Izmer started telling the official why he was requesting asylum in Britain.  But we were told that the office closed at 1pm and we would have to come back on Monday.

“This officer was aggressive, and became even more aggressive when he was told we were both gay and were partners.  It was frankly unbelievable the way we were treated,” he said.

“And this was not what could be called a private interview – we all just stood there, there were no chairs.”

Because of back pain as a result of the stairs at Croydon and the standing around, Mr. Jeans-Seymour was unable to accompany Izmer for the second visit.  But a friend from Gloucester accompanied the Algerian.

The pair were kept waiting for three hours, Izmer was asked to fill-in an application form.  But when he handed it in, he was told that nothing further could be done as “the finger print machine was broken”.  He would have to come back in four days and was given an “appointment” for between 8.30am and 10 am.  There was no allowance for the fact that a four-hour journey had to be made from Gloucestershire.

Well before dawn on November 10 they set off on the trip for Croydon after a quick breakfast.  On arrival, they had to wait four hours before Izmer was interviewed.

“I was not even allowed in the building,” Mr. Jeans-Seymour fumed.  “So, Izmer was interviewed on his own by two officers, and without any representation.  We were told that although we were same-sex partners, I had no rights as a spouse.

“He was questioned about why he wanted to be given asylum in Britain, all about his past and his family – the sort of questioning one would expect.

“From what Izmer told me, the officers were again aggressive and homophobic,” Mr. Jeans-Seymour said.  “They kept telling him that he was lying … they even said he was lying about his homosexuality … and to cap it all, they even said he was lying about the fact that he had a partner.

“I find this totally amazing – it’s insulting and worrying,” he said.

After the interview, Izmer was told to leave the room and wait.  After 90 minutes he was called back in.

“The two officers then questioned him again, asking the same questions as they did earlier,” he said.  Izmer told me that the homophobic attitude continued and that one of the officers had said “You Algerians always lie”.  I find this incredible.”

During this interview, Izmer was asked for his passport and the letter from David Drew, the MP.  He handed over both and they were taken to be photocopied.  He was given back the original letter from the MP, but the Home Office officials kept his passport, but gave him a photocopy.

Izmer was then told to wait outside again.  By 5pm, he was told that he would have to come back the following morning between 8.30am and 10.00am – again no consideration of the fact that Dursley was 120 miles distant.

As it was virtually impossible to return home and be back at the appointed time, the Home Office sent Izmer to a “Rescue Centre” where he was given bed and breakfast accommodation overnight in Brixton.

As he had not eaten since an early breakfast, Izmer asked for some food, but was told that there was none available until breakfast.

But the following morning when he came down for breakfast, he was told that none was available.

“To be honest, I can’t remember if Izmer said he was told he was too late or too early for breakfast, Mr. Jeans-Seymour said.  “But the fact is that he had not had anything to eat for 27 hours.”

On arrival at the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon, Izmer was interviewed again – and again, the same questions were asked with the same homophobic attitude, Mr. Jeans-Seymour said.

“I arrived in Croydon about 11.30am and Izmer was still being screened.  Again, I was not allowed into the building and was forced to stand outside.

“After waiting about two hours, Izmer came down and told me that he had had nothing to eat of drink that day,” Mr. Jeans-Seymour explained.

“As he was not permitted to go out of site of the building, I went to get some sandwiches and a bottle of water.

“Izmer then had yet another interview, with the same questions.  They continued to accuse him of lying.

“By this time, I was getting totally fed up so I decided that I would make a formal complaint.  Explaining to the security guard that I was the partner of Izmer, I received what is best described as verbal homophobic abuse.

“But when I said I wished to see a supervisor to make a formal complaint I was permitted in the building.

“I went through a list of complaints, including the fact that until an hour or so earlier, Izmer had not eaten since a very early breakfast the day before.

“The supervisor then told me that there were vending machines for food and drinks which could be used – I never saw any and we were certainly not told about this facility,” he said.

“I had the distinct feeling that the supervisor was ignoring my complaint.  He was so rude and obnoxious and was smirking all the time.

“I could feel that I was about to lose my temper, so, about 3.30pm I left the building and went outside to calm down,” he admitted.

That was the last time Mr. Jeans-Seymour saw his partner Izmer.  No ‘goodbyes’, nothing.

About 5pm an official came out and recognising Mr. Jeans-Seymour from a previous visit, explained that Izmer had been detained.

“After telling me this, I made the point that Izmer had not phoned me to say what was going on.  I was told that he was not allowed to make a phone call as he was being fast-tracked for deportation for illegal entry into the country.

“This officer was trying to be helpful, and he even gave me a piece of paper with the address of where Izmer had been taken.

“But he said he could not comment when I asked how Izmer could have illegally entered the country when he had a visa that didn’t expire until December 24.”

Mr. Jeans-Seymour and a friend who had accompanied him then returned to Gloucester.  On the drive back, they had a call for the Harmondsworth Detention Centre that Izmer was there.  They agreed to telephone when they returned home

“When we arrived back, I told that Izmer could receive phone calls and was given his extension which would be activated in a few hours,” Mr. Jeans-Seymour said.

“I managed to get through to him at 3am this morning (Saturday).”

Since then, Izmer has told Mr. Jeans-Seymour that he had been given a form to fill in as to why he thinks he should be given asylum.”

“He has no pen and when he asked for one, officials refused,” Mr. Jeans-Seymour went on.  “He is not even allowed a pen to complete an official form – this is totally beyond belief.”

Yesterday, attempts were made to reach the office of David Drew, MP.  He secretary was reached during the afternoon and she promised Mr. Jeans-Seymour that Mr. Drew would be contacted as soon as possible.

But efforts to reach Izmer’s solicitor has so far failed as it is the weekend.  However, Izmer has been told that he won’t be actually deported until two working days have passed.

Asked how Izmer was taking all this, Mr. Jeans-Seymour said:  “He is very depressed and agitated.  He has followed the advice of the Home Officer and this has happened to him.  He is absolutely petrified and is very tearful.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said said today that the department does “not comment on individual cases”.

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