THE Home Office asked a Scottish Sikh group to back moves to send people back to India two months ago, The National can reveal.
The information comes as the groups says Indians in Scotland feel “targeted” by the department in the wake of two dawn raids carried out in Glasgow last week. One of these was stopped after hundreds of people in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, blockaded the removal van holding Sumit Sehdev and Lakhvir Singh, who have been in the UK for around a decade. The other, which took place in Possilpark earlier that day and was revealed by the Sunday National, saw another Indian Sikh man taken for deportation after 16 years in Scotland.
The Home Office has refused to confirm or deny whether these dawn raids are related to a new deal struck with India, which will see the UK “speeding up the returns of overstayers” in return for accepting 3000 students per year on 24-month visas. The deal was unveiled just two days before elections in Scotland, Wales and parts of England and Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has called it “ground-breaking”, saying it will help her team carry out a “crackdown on those abusing our system”.
The National can reveal how officials sought to get a community advocacy group on board with its deportation agenda around two months ago. Sikhs in Scotland says it was contacted about meeting with Home Office representatives over the UK’s voluntary returns programme, which sees people accept leaving the UK. It is targeted towards modern slavery victims, people who have overstayed their visa, whose asylum claims have been rejected or withdrawn or are in the UK “illegally” and assists them in leaving the UK – and bars them from coming back for up to 10 years, depending on the circumstances.
Charandeep Singh, director of Sikhs in Scotland, said: “We’ve been asked to meet with the Home Office team to learn more about this scheme and perhaps participate.
“We are certainly not going to be an accessory or a partner in this plan. We are certainly not going to be supporting them when we believe there’s a heavy-handed and targeted approach. We are taking a clear stance.”
According to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, there were around 11,600 voluntary returns in 2019, each of which costs an average of £1000. Enforced returns cost around £15,000.
Most of those sent back voluntarily or deported – 21% of more than 19,000 – were from South Asian countries. Breaking that down further, Indian nationals were the biggest group at 11% – more than 2000 people. Only a quarter of people removed from the UK that year had been either convicted in the UK of any criminal offence or of a serious crime abroad.
Until 2012, foreign nationals who had lived in the UK continuously for 14 years could apply for a settlement visa, but that’s now changed to 20 years. The previous rule would have covered the 48-year-old man who was taken from his bed at a homeless centre on Thursday morning.
He has been in Scotland since 2005 and was in the process of submitting a fresh asylum claim on the grounds of political persecution when he was detained. His solicitor Denize Okan of law firm McGlashan MacKay is fighting his case. Meanwhile, the Kenmure Street men have also secured legal representation.
Sikhs in Scotland is also “fast-tracking” plans to recruit legal experts to provide immigration advice and caseworkers to give welfare support. Its first clients will include three families whose asylum claims have been successful. However, it says undue consideration is given to what it calls growing concerns over human rights abuse in India.
Singh said: “If you are a Sikh from Afghanistan you have a more simple route to claim asylum in the UK.
“Those who are from India don’t as it is deemed to be a country with a good human rights record.”
He went on: “We do feel that the Indian community is being targeted. That sense was always there but last week’s actions have confirmed that for us all. That has particularly grave consequences for individuals.
“We have not been consulted on the new agreement, we have not been consulted about the process or implementation. It affects our community, it affects our neighbours. The community is not happy with the situation.
“The Sikh community has gone above and beyond in terms of contributing to the country through the pandemic in particular. Many of us feel let down. We have got to fight back.”
The Home Office said: “The National Community Engagement Team works with groups across the UK to signpost communities to accurate advice and guidance so they can support individuals with irregular immigration status to make informed decisions to resolve their status. This includes informing them of the opportunities to regularise stay, to voluntary return and reintegration support where appropriate.
“The UK Government continues to tackle illegal migration and the harm it causes, often to the most vulnerable people. We are bringing forward a New Plan for Immigration that is fair but firm, will stop abuse of the system and expedite the removal of those who have no right to be here.”