Sunday, 16 January 2011

Gay Syrian refugee wins battle to stay in Scotland

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Source: Scotsman

By Kurt Bayer

A gay Syrian asylum seeker who claimed he would be murdered if deported to his homeland where homosexuality is illegal has finally won his three-year battle to stay in Scotland.

Teenager Jojo Yakob, now 21, fled Syria in 2005 after being arrested, shot, beaten and tortured in jail when he was caught distributing anti-government leaflets. After escaping jail and being trafficked through Europe to Aberdeen, he was jailed in 2008 and held in detention centres while pursuing his case to stay.

Now he has been given "indefinite leave to stay" after Home Office officials accepted his life was at risk if he was returned to the Middle East.

The decision has been applauded by campaigners who fought to save the Syrian national's life. His plight was highlighted in a series of articles in Scotland on Sunday.

A spokesman for Dundee law firm Caird Vaughan, which fought Yakob's case, said he is back in Scotland and, although he wanted to "keep a low profile", wanted to thank everyone who supported his cause.

"Jojo is delighted that he has finally won the right to remain in the UK," the spokesman said. "He phoned the office to tell us he has been given the good news and he thanked us for all our help in basically saving his life. He also thanked everyone who has supported his case since he came to Scotland in 2008.

"He was especially thankful to Scotland on Sunday, who championed his cause from the outset, and without them, and all of his supporters, he wouldn't have stood a chance and his life could well have been in danger."

Yakob fled Syria after enduring beatings, electric shocks and water torture at the hands of Syria's secret police as a result of his family's involvement with an opposition Kurdish political party.

Following his transfer from police interrogation, prison guards discovered that Yakob, a member of the repressed Kurdish minority in the Arab state, was homosexual and he then suffered horrific beatings and was assaulted so badly he slipped into a coma.

He was transferred to hospital and then escaped to Lebanon, before buying a false passport and coming to Britain. He was arrested by UK immigration authorities in Aberdeen after a harrowing and lengthy trip from the continent in the back of a lorry.

Detained at Polmont Young Offenders Institution in Falkirk, he got legal help to appeal against a Home Office deportation order. But a UK government Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruled that he would be in no danger returning to his homeland, despite UK immigration officials knowing homosexuality is illegal in Syria and acknowledging that gay people are subjected to "criminal penalties and social hostility".

After losing a further appeal Jacob spent time in several asylum detention centres in Scotland and England.

The Kurdish Yekiti Party wrote to British officials to confirm his involvement with the opposition movement meant he faced persecution. Its letter stated: "We, the Kurdistan Democratic Union Party in Syria, Yekiti, confirm that JoJo Yakobi was a supporter of this party and his life (is] in danger if deported to Syria."

A letter from the Western Kurdistan Association, which supports Syrian Kurds in exile, also confirms Yakob was forced to leave Syria "because of political reasons".

It said all Kurds who apply for asylum and are sent back to Syria face being arrested by the secret police and taken to a secret prison, where they are tortured and denied legal representation and medical help.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who advised Yakob's legal team, said: "It is wonderful news that the asylum system has showed mercy and allowed Jojo to stay in the UK. If he had been returned to Syria he would have been at serious risk of arrest, imprisonment and torture."

Nick Henderson, director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Network, said: "We worked with Jojo for many months, met with him dozens of times in prison, ensured he was getting decent treatment in Polmont, co-ordinated with his legal team and finally got him liberated from Polmont after I put up his bail out of my own funds, as we are an all-volunteer organisation."
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