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Opinion

June 11, 2015

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UK asylum policy change

Two previously unreported asylum appeal cases in the UK shed new light on changing British attitudes. In both cases Pakistani asylum seekers, one a former MQM member and the second a Karachi policeman, claimed that if they returned to Pakistan they would be at risk from the MQM. In both cases the judges (the two cases were judged by different people) upheld the appeals and granted asylum.
In the first case an anonymous former MQM member was seeking asylum on the grounds that, if he was forced to return to Karachi, his former party colleagues could harm him. He was appealing against an earlier hearing which he had lost and which resulted in the home secretary not only turning down his asylum plea but also ordering his removal from the UK.
The asylum seeker, originally from Karachi, arrived in the UK in 2005. He had been active in the MQM in Karachi and continued to attend party meetings in the UK. He became close to the senior MQM leader Imran Farooq and kept in touch even after Farooq became politically isolated and all party members were ordered to cut their ties with him.
In his determination of the case the judge accepted that the man seeking asylum had indeed been a low-level member of the MQM in both Pakistan and the UK. The judge also accepted that two days after Farooq’s murder, the MQM leader Altaf Hussain called Imran Farooq’s widow and asked for details of his appearance.
The judge accepted that an MQM official then asked that man to come to the central MQM headquarters in London – something he refused to do, feigning illness. Instead he telephoned the British police and said he was frightened and feared what would happen if he went to the MQM offices. The police took the view that he was at possible risk from the MQM and offered him an alternative place to live. He declined the offer but did accept the installation of a panic button in his home and place of work.
In the course of his appeal the man expressed the fear that he could

be murdered if he returned to Karachi. In assessing how realistic a claim that was the judge found that: “there is overwhelming objective evidence that the MQM for decades had been using violence both against its perceived enemies but also against its own members who have either left the party or who have openly criticised or challenged the party.”
It is one of the clearest British judicial statements to date about the alleged nature of the MQM. The party denies that it uses violence to impose its will in Karachi and insists that it is a secular, middle-class party with a record of bringing good governance to Pakistan’s commercial hub. The party says that its political competitors make false allegations in the hope of undermining the MQM’s support base and reducing it appeal at the ballot box.
In making the assessment about the MQM’s use of violence the judge relied in part on the 2011 findings in a different case involving another anonymous appellant.
This second asylum seeker said he was a Karachi police officer who reached the UK from Paris in the back of a truck in 2008. He had fled, he said, because the MQM had killed his brother and his wife. His problems with the party began in 2007 when he refused to release some MQM supporters he had arrested.
After his refusal to release the men he had repeatedly found messages written in chalk on the wall of his home. One read: “he who was a traitor to the leader deserves to be killed.” The man’s brother (who shared the house with him) was killed two days after trying to stop people trying to write another message on the wall of the house. Three months later the policeman’s wife was murdered too.
When the police arrested two suspects in relation to the brother’s murder MQM officials proposed a settlement. Despite threats to his safety the policeman refused to cut a deal in which the suspects would be released and the matter dropped.
In reaching its decision the British court found that, amongst other things: “The MQM has killed over 200 police officers who have stood up against them in Karachi.” And specifically in the policeman’s case it concluded: “We are satisfied that the appellant suffered past persecution as a result of the local MQM deciding to target him and his family. His brother and wife were killed merely because of their relationship with the appellant and there are no good reasons to consider that on his return the MQM locally would not seek to repeat actions of this type and target him.”
Neither of these cases has any bearing on the current money laundering investigations into MQM officials or into the investigation into the murder of Imran Farooq. But they do suggest that judicial opinion in the UK is hardening and that the party that has for so long dominated Karachi politics faces pressures not only in Pakistan but in the UK too.
The writer is a freelance British journalist, one of the hosts of BBC’s Newshour and the author of the new political thriller, Target Britain.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @OwenBennettJone

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