In March, spurred by the case of Mehdi Kazemi, a Durham Methodist minister, Walter Attwood, decided to start a petition to Gordon Brown to 'stop deporting gays and lesbians to countries where they may be imprisoned, tortured or executed because of their sexuality'. At present it has 3,394 signatures.
By Rev. Walter Attwood
I have for a good number of years been interested in a wide social justice issues including asylum seekers in this country and those who are persecuted for their faith, political beliefs, race or tribal group in countries around the world. In the process I have signed many petitions and written many letters. In the last few years emails and e-petitions have increased in number as a means of communicating with various governments, international agencies about these issues.
In the middle of last year there were a number of high profile cases of people being threatened with deportation. These included the Nigerian student Damilola Ajagbonna and the young gay Iranian Mehdi Kazemi. Both of these young people had active campaigners behind them organising petitions and encouraging people to write into the Home Office, Members of Parliament and the like. This was on an individual basis.
It occurred to me that campaigns for individuals were all very good and necessary but there needed to be a change in policy. I was at that time looking into possibilities of using the 10, Downing Street petition website as a means of campaigning and asking myself whether an individual, not backed by any group, could effectively start a petition which would be successful. Success being measured by the number of signatures attracted to a petition. 200 signatures are needed to prompt a reply. Less than 15% of the petitions started obtain the 200 signatures and very many only ever get a handful of signatures. 50% of the petitions get less than 20 signatures.
I decided to try and promote two petitions on the website. The first was about the policy of deporting young people and their families to places where they would not have the necessary family, social, medical and/or emotional support to keep them safe. The second was about the changing of the policy of deporting gays and lesbians to countries where they would be in danger.
Having set up the petitions I realised I would have to strongly promote them if they were to get sufficient signatures to promote a government response. I started off by contacting friends and colleagues and then approaching groups who might wish to get behind one or other of them.
The gay and lesbian campaigning groups I approached to support the petition, calling for a policy change on deporting gays and lesbians, ( http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/stopdeportinggay), quickly got behind it and promoted it on their websites. Other groups took it up. The 3,300 plus signatures attracted so far puts this petition within the top 2% of petitions launched on the Downing Street website. Thank you all very much.
However in these times of financial crisis when most people, rightly, have great concerns for their personal futures it would be all too easy for the needs of minority groups, and especially the less popular minority groups, asylum seekers and the like, to disappear below the political horizon and be forgotten, or worse still become scapegoats. Either course leaves them far more vulnerable to exploitation. More signatures on this petition will go someway to protecting this vulnerable group in these turbulent times.