A County Durham teenager, who was trafficked to the UK by a Vietnamese gang, faces being returned ‘home’ to street violence after our government rejected his request for asylum. The young man was orphaned before being trafficked to the UK and faces retrafficking as well as persecution for his new Christian faith if he returns to his birth country.
Now aged nineteen Stephen lives with a foster carer in Sheldon. He was rescued by Tyneside authorities after being trafficked to the UK by a Vietnamese gang that he fell in with as a ten-year-old street orphan. He has faced bereavement, a harsh life on the streets, sale into slavery in Russia, and confinement in the UK. Now he has a loving foster family in our county, but he could lose his new home and find himself back on the streets in Vietnam if his appeal is also rejected.
What is worse, he remains at risk from the traffickers who sold him into slave labour, who claim that he still owes them $10,000. This puts him at risk of being trafficked again. Despite being returned to Vietnam he may well end up back here, in slavery once again.
Our immigration services claim that he ‘demonstrated considerable personal fortitude in relocating to the UK and attempting to establish a life here’. This is a clear misinterpretation of the case. The fact of the matter is that every stage of his life until now has been determined for him by others, first by traffickers and then by social services. He is being punished for a decision to ‘relocate’ that he did not make, and our immigration services are callously reversing the work that social services and his foster carers have put into giving him a stable family and a new chance at life in the UK.
It is not unusual for immigration officials to fail to take in the full facts of a case. In 2014, the home office released information to BritCits suggesting that 80% of appeals against the rejection of visas by the home office were successful, while 50% of cases were appealed. This means that in at least 40% of cases, information was incorrectly reviewed by the original immigration officers on the case. That is an incredibly high figure and suggests that our immigration system is at best inefficient and at worst causing serious miscarriages of justice.
Whilst in the UK and living with his foster carers Stephen became a Christian. Now he is in even more danger if he returns to Vietnam, number 18 on Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries showing very high or extreme persecution of Christians. Nevertheless, the home office believe that Stephen will be safe if he returns there.
It is not just Christians who face their risk of persecution being ignored by the home office. This month a case hit the headlines in which someone who claimed he was a humanist was rejected on the grounds that he did not know anything about Plato, the founder of his philosophy. However, the home office does not seem to understand that while this man clearly was not fully educated humanism, those persecuting him would not have much idea of Plato either. People attacking someone because they do not share the same faith do not normally know the ins and outs of the philosophy or faith they are attacking.
Stephen is likely to be well informed about his Christian faith since his foster carer is a vicar of the Church of England. So it is even more inexplicable that the home office should reject his case. What we see is that faith is granted little importance in assessments of asylum, even though it may be of the greatest importance in an asylum seeker’s life.
While we discuss changes to immigration laws after Brexit we should also be considering a complete reform of our immigration system to make it more efficient, more just and a service that more truly serves the needs of the most vulnerable in the world. The UK is a privileged country and we should be sharing that privilege with those less fortunate, standing against injustice, and acting as a haven for the oppressed.
If you were struck by this article, please consider signing a petition supporting Stephen’s appeal at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/allow-shildon-s-stephen-to-stay-in-uk?bucket&source=facebook-share-button&time=1516179123