Sunderland campaigners fight for release of innocent brothers detained in ‘inhumane’ conditions

Ali Mahammadi and Chris Howson.
Ali Mahammadi and Chris Howson.

A traumatised teenager fleeing religious persecution in Iran faces being deported from his adopted home of Sunderland along with his brother after they were placed in an ‘inhumane’ detention centre.

Ali Mahammadi, 18, had travelled to Middlesbrough with his older brother 
Benjamin, in his 20s, to sign on at a Home Office facility, as they are required to do weekly.

Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in  South Lanarkshire, Scotland.

Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire, Scotland.

But when they got there, they were taken away by police and put into a cell, before being transported 150 miles away to Scotland.

The pair are Christian converts from Islam, which places them in a dangerous position in their home country, where fellow converts have been imprisoned and even killed.

The Rev Chris Howson, Sunderland University chaplain and associate priest at Sunderland Minster, said authorities did not waste any time to send the pair to the adult-only facility at the first opportunity, just 
days after Ali turned 18.

He said: “People are getting more and more frightened of going there, people just 
disappear and you don’t know what is going to happen to them.

I’m disgusted that in the twenty-first century, somebody who is not much older than a child has been locked up, put on drugs and treated so horrifically

Rev. Chris Howson

“There is a process to go through, that should be done in this country.

“Ali hasn’t even had the chance to have his case heard.

“These people have committed no crime and locking them up in horrendous conditions in a prison is wrong and inhumane.”

Chris is now part of a growing campaign, involving Sunderland City of Sanctuary and many members of the community, in support of the brothers.

Benjamin Mahammadi.

Benjamin Mahammadi.

Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott has written to the Home Office, asking for their release, as has an immigration lawyer. However, neither have received a response.

Ali, who is described by Chris as ‘vulnerable’ and Ben have now been held in Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre, in South Lanarkshire, for over a week.

A deportation date has been 
set for tomorrow, and the brothers would initially be sent to Germany, where they were first fingerprinted upon arrival in Europe.

This week, Chris made the four-hour journey to see the them and describes Ali as being ‘highly distressed and traumatised’.

Ali Mahammadi.

Ali Mahammadi.

“He can’t eat, he can’t drink,” he said. “Clumps of his hair are falling out – it was like watching someone highly traumatised.

“It’s such a horrible shock. Nobody who is 18 should be locked in a prison for doing nothing.

“They have put Ali on medication. He doesn’t know what it is, and it’s giving him hallucinations and nightmares.”

Chris added: “He wanted to come to England because he has good English

“He’s always thought it to be a very safe place to be a Christian, that’s why he ended up here.

“They have a lot of family in England, there are real reasons they wanted to be here.

“They were placed in Sunderland and they fell in love with it, the city and the people.

“Despite the stuff that you hear, they have had a great experience. Everyone is just in shock that they have been taken away.”

Ali, who comes from a family of medics, wants to train as a doctor.

In the three months he and Benjamin have been in Sunderland, they have been involved in a sports project at the university, and helped out at Spark FM, as well as taking part in a community clean-up event for Refugee Week.

“We celebrated Ali’s birthday by taking them to the Friary at Alnmouth just last week, and they had a wonderful time,” Chris added.

“They are part of a growing Iranian church community at the Minster.

“Effectively they are now locked up until they are going to be forced on a plane and taken away. They don’t deserve that

“I’m disgusted that in the twenty-first century, somebody who is not much older than a child has been locked up, put on drugs and treated so horrifically.

“We are determined to get them released and we will keep fighting until they do.”

Julie Elliott said: “Sunderland City Sanctuary and others contacted me regarding the circumstances of two constituents who have recently been detained.

“I have subsequently made representations to the Home Office on their behalf.

“I am contacted by hundreds of constituents each week on a wide range of issues and always do whatever I can to assist them.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a proud history of offering protection to those who genuinely need it but asylum seekers should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in.

“Where there is evidence that an asylum seeker is the responsibility of another European country we will seek to return them there under the Dublin Regulation.”

He added: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.

“We take our responsibilities towards detainees’ health and welfare extremely seriously.

“All detainees are assessed upon arrival at a centre and are able to access round-the-clock healthcare.”