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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle