19 July 2010

Why Florence and Precious must stay

Do you remember when Jack Straw decided that the Chilean despot General Pinochet should not have to stand trial for the thousands of deaths he ordered?

Do you remember when Kenny MacAskill came to the conclusion that he had to show compassion to the terminally ill Lockerbie Bomber, and release him from HMP Greenock?

Did you spot the news story saying that gay men seeking asylum in the UK should no longer be told to go home and not make it so obvious that they were gay?

Did you notice the news story over the weekend, where Home Secretary Theresa May told a Women's Aid conference that the UK Government wanted to end violence against women and girls?

Think about that: we showed compassion to a dictator; we showed compassion to the man convicted of blowing up PanAm Flight 103 (a story that still reverberates today); judges have made it clear that we must protect vulnerable gay men who face at best persecution and at worst death if they are sent back to their home countries; and the UK Government wants to protect vulnerable women and girls from domestic violence.

So more and more, compassion is the watchword, and we're increasingly driven by a need to protect the vulnerable from harm.

Yet the UK Border Agency appear not to have got that particular memo.

Why else would they be looking to deport Florence and Precious Mhango? Florence and Precious came to the UK from Malawi with Florence's husband, Precious' father, in 2003, when he came to study. But Florence found herself a victim of domestic abuse, so in 2006, did the only thing she could. She got out: she and Precious came to Glasgow, and stayed with friends.

Now, for having done that, the two face deportation. Worse still, they have already received threats from the husband's family, and under Malawian law, children are effectively the "property" of the father and his family (and I'm trying not to be horrified by that concept). So if they are sent back, Florence has nothing to look forward to but persecution, while Precious - who has been in the UK since she was 4, will be torn away from her mother, and forced to live her life with people she doesn't know, in a country and culture she doesn't remember, speaking a language - Chichewa - she doesn't understand.

And even more perversely, the father has been granted leave to remain in the UK. Think about that: a wife-beater gets permission to stay in the country. A woman and her daughter, looking for nothing more than freedom from violence and the right to take a full part in the community they now calls home face forcible deportation, and now leave in fear of the same state they hoped would protect them.

The conclusion is inescapable: we are not meeting our own standards.

So this is what I hope Theresa May understands: her predecessor Jack Straw showed clemency to General Agosto Pinochet; her counterpart in the Scottish Government Kenny MacAskill showed clemency to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi; legal opinion is now of the view that we should not send vulnerable people back to a life of violence; and her own policy is to protect vulnerable women and children from domestic abuse. All of these signs point one way, and one way only.

She must let Florence and Precious Mhango stay in Glasgow.

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