Yashika Bageerathi (right) is a matter of months from completing her A levels. Photo: change.org
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Save Yashika Bageerathi: why is the Home Office trying to deport a straight-A student?

There is something unseemly about the haste with which the Home Office is trying to deport 19-year-old Yashika Bageerathi, who fled Mauritius with her family in 2012.

Yesterday I listened in horror, as down the phone, a woman I was speaking to started to cry. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I heard her repeat one word over and over again. My interpreter translated for me. She was asking “why?” I didn’t have an answer for her. I could offer her no comfort.

A few years ago, Noorzia Atmar had reason to hope. She had returned to Afghanistan after years in exile during the Taliban’s rule – and she had won a seat in parliament. During her term in office Afghanistan signed up to the Convention for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and banned twenty-two forms of violence against women. Progress was slow, achingly so, but it was being made.

Noorzia’s situation now could not be more different. Forced to flee her country by a husband who tried to kill her and a family who deserted her when she tried to divorce him as a result, Noorzia has been reduced to penury, to hiding, and to depending on the small mercies of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Her outlook is bleak. When she applied to the British Embassy in Afghanistan for help, before she was forced out of the country altogether, she was curtly rebuffed. Their reason? If they offered her sanctuary it would open the floodgates. Too many abused, victimised, terrified women would turn to us for help. This is how we make moral decisions in these penny-pinching times.

As I listened to Noorzia’s anguished cries, I felt helpless. I wanted to help her. But I felt little hope that the country I was sitting so comfortably in would be a sanctuary for her. And if I’d had any delusions on that score, the plight of another woman, Yashika Bageerathi, currently being played out all over the media in real-time, would have been sure to disabuse me of them.

Yashika fled Mauritius with her family in 2012 after a drug dealer broke into her house. “I refused to open the house door, it was just me and my younger siblings at home”, she told the Independent. “He broke it down and came in, started hitting my sister and me, and tore my clothes. My mum came home from work before he could do anything.” This man has warned that his gang will be waiting to greet Yashika off the plane. “He lost a lot of money because of us to do with his drug-dealing.”

Her home is currently a cell in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre – but weeks ago she was a top student at her school in Enfield. She is predicted A*s, she has offers from all five of her university choices – and scholarships from two of them. Her school has spoken about how she spends her spare time volunteering to coach younger students. Hardly cell-block material.

There is something unseemly about the haste with which the Home Office is trying to deport Yashika. She is a matter of months from completing her A levels – there can be no logical explanation why her education should be so cruelly and irrevocably disrupted in this way. Her supporters argued that she had no family in Mauritius, that all she had to welcome her “home” was the man who tried to rape her. They invoked Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention – the right to a family life. The Home Office’s response? To deport the rest of her family too.

Yesterday afternoon it seemed as if there was a break-through. The only flight from Gatwick to Mauritius was delayed by 23 minutes – but Yashika was not on it. It later emerged that British Airways had refused to accept her onto the flight. It comes to something when we have to rely on private companies for a show of moral rectitude; all the Home Office seems capable of doing is repeatedly trotting out their tired old claim that “the UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it”. As if they were not in the process of wilfully sullying that history.

Report after report has demonstrated that we repeatedly get it wrong on women’s asylum claims. Home Office staff are simply not properly trained in the type of discrimination women face. Up to 96 per cent of women are refused asylum on their first application, with 50 per cent of those rejections overturned on appeal - almost double the average rate of 28 per cent. There’s something going very wrong with the decisions made over women’s claims – not surprising given Home Office staff have been known to base their life-changing decisions on Gawker articles.

The Home Office tells us we should feel proud of our tradition of offering asylum. Well, I do. I do feel proud to belong to a country that believes in offering sanctuary, a place of refuge to those in need. I don’t believe that because I was lucky enough to be born in the position I am in, that I am somehow more deserving of it. But when I speak to Noorzia, when I watch helplessly, as yet another vulnerable woman is hastened out of this country by a faceless bureaucracy that doesn’t have the courage of its convictions to face the 125,000 people who have signed a petition, a bureaucracy that will not face us and defend its decision, I don’t feel proud. I feel ashamed. And I feel angry. This does not happen in my name.

#FightForYashika

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner. She is also the co-founder of The Women's Room and tweets as @CCriadoPerez.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue