Top marks for teenage asylum seeker

A teenage asylum seeker has excelled in his exams despite fearing deportation to Pakistan.

Somer Umeed Bakhsh overcame the stress and trauma of living with uncertainty to get four As and a B in his Highers.

The 16-year-old, who aspires to be an astrophysicist, is a pupil at Springburn Academy in Glasgow.

Somer Umeed
Somer Umeed Bakhsh with Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney at the Scottish Parliament.

Now in sixth year, Somer got As in Maths, Chemistry, Physics and English and a B in Design and Manufacture.

He said: "I'm extremely pleased with my exam results.

"I want to thank my primary school teachers who provided me with a strong foundation and my secondary school teachers who put in the hard work and taught me.

"I am also very thankful for my parents who, despite the stressful situation, always encouraged and supported me.

"Above all, I want to thank God who helped me to stay focused on my studies in the midst of these tough times."

Death penalty

Nearly 94,000 people have signed two petitions calling on the Home Office not to deport Somer and his brother, Areeb, 14, from Scotland.

They fear they will be killed by Islamic extremists if they are forced to return to Pakistan.

Somer and Areeb have lived in Glasgow with their parents, Maqsood and Parveen since their family fled the Muslim country in 2012 after their father was subjected to death threats due to his Christian faith.

But the UK Government has repeatedly rejected the family’s plea for asylum, largely because officials say they do not believe they would be at risk in Pakistan where blasphemy carries the death penalty.

Mr Umeed Bakhsh insists there is nowhere in the country where they would be safe because they have been marked by Islamic extremists who have killed people he knows well.

The family, who have been living in limbo for more than seven years, attend Possilpark Parish Church where they are described as “leading lights” of the congregation.

Areeb Umeed
Brothers in arms - Areeb and Somer Umeed Bakhsh

Minister, Rev Linda Pollock, said: “Somer is living under considerable strain and he is an example to us all.

“How many adults would be able to achieve 4 A's and 1 B at Higher level whilst coping with the threat of imminent departure to a place where they are a target for Islamic extremists?

“His hard work and focus is commendable and you must also know that he has not been a recluse.

“He has a very active social life and he works with kids living with difficult circumstances.”

So much to give

Ms Pollock said Somer, who along with his brother consider themselves Scottish, is a good cricket player and is a member of his local club’s under-19 team.

“He is a gift to our community and our congregation and we are thankful for him and his family,” she added.

“How irresponsible would it be for the Home Office to deport this youngster when he has hardly begun to live.

“If he is offering so much at 16 years of age what will he offer at 30.

“I hope that the Home Office will re-examine the family’s case, stop treating them as numbers and acknowledge them as human beings because they have so much to give to Scotland.”

The family’s case is still under review and the Home Office has yet to make a decision.

Very Rev Susan Brown
Very Rev Susan Brown was Moderator of the General Assembly in 2018-19.

Very Rev Dr Susan Brown, who has expressed anger and exasperation over the way they are being treated, said she was blown away by the news.

“Somer's results reflect his commitment to making the most of this opportunity he has been given which in turn is a reflection of his parents' gratitude for this violence and threat free life they have in Scotland,” added the former Moderator of the General Assembly.

Extraordinary

Tracy Kirk, a children’s rights expert who is also a supporter of the family, said: “Somer’s results are a testament to how hard he worked.

“The fact he achieved these results amidst the uncertainty imposed upon him and his family by the Home Office is nothing short of extraordinary.

“I reiterate First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s comment that Somer and his brother are a credit to Scotland.”

Tracy Kirk
Tracy Kirk

Ms Kirk, a Glasgow Caledonian University law lecturer, has described the treatment of the brothers as "inhumane" and claimed they were being failed by the British state.

"Humanity and compliance with children’s rights is completely omitted from the current Home Office system,” she added.

“It is high time that they were given the prominence they deserve and the compliance the UK has agreed to by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“At present, the UK is actively breaching the internationally recognised rights of children in our treatment of asylum and immigration cases.”

Church of Scotland congregations the length and breadth of the country are actively working to support asylum seekers and refugees.

The Kirk is a leading member of the Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees group.