As It Happens

U.K. Afghan asylum-seeker spared deportation for 2nd time by last-minute court injunction

Samim Bigzad has been spared deportation to Afghanistan at the last minute yet again.
Samim Bigzad, left, was sent Istanbul aboard Turkish Airlines and was due to take a connecting flight to Kabul before a court injunction halted his deportation. (Jacky Naegelen/Reuters|Kavel Rafferty)

Story transcript

Samim Bigzad has been spared deportation to Afghanistan at the last minute, yet again.

A U.K. judge issued an injunction Tuesday to prevent the 22-year-old asylum-seeker's flight to Kabul from Instanbul, where he'd been sent Tuesday morning by British immigration officials. He will return to the U.K. on the next available flight.

Two weeks ago, a pilot refused to fly Bigzad back to Afghanistan to face "almost certain death," but today the British government quietly shipped him off on another flight. 

"It's great news for us and its great news for Samim, who's been through a hell of a lot in his life, but today particularly," Kavel Rafferty, Bigzad's British housemate, told As It Happens host Carol Off shortly after the injunction was granted.

Before the injunction, Rafferty tearfully told As It Happens that her friend was taken from the Brook House immigration removal centre in London early Tuesday morning and forced onto a Turkish Airlines flight against his will.

"Apparently somebody put their hand over his mouth to stop him from speaking, to stop him making a scene and stop him getting attention from any other passengers on the flight," she said. 

"I think he was trying to do what he did last time, which is tell them if he goes back to Afghanistan, then the Taliban are going to kill him."

Bigzad has claimed the Taliban had threatened to kill him should he ever return to his home country, where his construction work for U.S. and British companies made him a target.

His father, now a U.K. citizen who lives in Margate, England, was kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban in the '90s, and still suffers from PTSD. Bigzad was his primary caregiver.

Samim Bigzad says the Taliban will kill him if he returns to Afghanistan. (Kavel Rafferty)

He narrowly avoided deportation on Aug. 26 when a Turkish Airlines pilot refused to fly the plane with him on it.  

Friends and supporters had gathered at the London airport to warn his fellow passengers about Bigzad's situation.

But this time, immigration officials were able to send him off without a public scene. 

"I found out through Samim's cousin, who called me at about half past eight in the morning to say that Samim was being taken to the airport with no warning," Rafferty said. 

"We weren't given any notice and we weren't told which airport or which flight he was going to be on."

Samim Bigzad's friends describe him as a kind man who loves cats and took care of his ailing father in England. (you.38degrees.org.uk)

Rafferty spoke with him briefly on the phone in Istanbul before he got the news about the injunction.

"Understandably, he's upset. He's trying to be strong. I know he is. I know him," she said. "But in the end he was crying and he had to hang up the phone because he was upset and I know he doesn't want to upset me any further because he's such a good man."

His supporters had been bombarding Turkish Airlines with messages, begging the airline not to take him to Kabul.

"People are using Turkish Airlines to go on holiday. This shouldn't be with refugees and asylum-seekers on the same flight who are in distress, and in Samim's case, who are going back to almost certain death," Rafferty said.

Turkish Airlines did not respond to a request for comment from As It Happens.

Bigzad's saga is not over yet.

The injunction was granted in order to give his legal team time to appeal his deportation based on what his lawyer says is "new evidence" of the threat he faces in Afghanistan. 

The British government sent 284 people back to Afghanistan last year, the Independent reports. Despite continued Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks on the ground, the country has been ruled officially safe for returns.

"The irony is that the Home Office say that it's unsafe for British people to travel to Afghanistan as a holiday destination. It's unsafe. That's in black and white on their website," Rafferty said.

"But we're prepared to send people back there. I don't understand how they can do that."

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