Former Moderator laments lack of compassion for asylum seeker family

A former Moderator has criticised the UK Government for refusing to grant asylum to a Pakistani Christian family.

Very Rev Susan Brown, who stood down from the 12 month-post today, said she has been “angered and exasperated” by the way people genuinely seeking safety were treated.

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

“God’s heart is big enough to hold everyone and ours needs to be too,” she told the General Assembly in Edinburgh.

Brothers Somer and Areeb Umeed Bakhsh, who are 16 and 14 respectively, and their parents, Maqsood and Parveen, fled to Glasgow in 2012 from Faisalabad in Pakistan.

Mr Umeed Bakhsh was subjected to death threats from Islamic extremists due to his Christian faith.

Much loved

Mrs Brown reflected on the fact that the Home Office had already granted 11-year-old Giorgi Kakava, an asylum seeker supported by Rev Brian Casey of Springburn Parish Church in Glasgow, leave to remain for 30 months.

“Sadly, the government has not yet made the same compassionate offer to the family,” she said.

“They are from Pakistan and Christians are under threat there.

“They have been in Scotland for seven years and the boys are well integrated into their school and are much loved students.

“The whole family are very involved in their local church and Maqsood is an elder and a commissioner to this Assembly.”

The family insist there is nowhere in Pakistan where they would be safe because they have been marked by Islamic extremists who have killed people they know.

Areeb and Somer
Areeb and Somer Umeed Bakhsh

Mrs Brown, minister of Dornoch Cathedral in the Highlands, said: “I have been to Pakistan.

“Admittedly only one small corner of it but every church we went to, there was an armed guard and any posters advertising my visit could only be put up on the day for fear of threat.

“Our government says Pakistan is a safe place for Christians.

“Our world is not ours, but God’s.

“Created for the whole of humanity.

“Together.

“God’s heart is big enough to hold everyone, ours needs to be too.”

Credit to Scotland

The family’s minister, Rev Linda Pollock of Possilpark Parish Church in Glasgow, raised an online petition, signed by nearly 90,000 people.

It was handed over to the Home Office last August and shortly afterwards Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes told the family’s MP Paul Sweeney that the case would be reviewed.

A decision has yet to be made.

Tracy Kirk, a children’s rights expert, described the treatment of the brothers as "inhumane"

The Glasgow Caledonian University law lecturer said the brothers, who are star pupils at Springburn Academy with bright futures ahead of them, are being “failed” by the state.

Ms Kirk said: "Humanity and compliance with children’s rights is completely omitted from the current Home Office system.

“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.”

Ms Kirk recently met the family at Possilpark Parish Church to hear their story.

“We are failing children and young people who live in Scotland and wish to make Scotland their home,” she said.

“The inhumane treatment and the Home Office’s inability to consider children’s rights in the manner in which they should is creating dreadful uncertainty.

“At a time when many young people are looking forward to an exciting new chapter of their lives as they enter adulthood, these two young boys are being held back by the inaction of the Home Office.”

Ms Kirk said it was hard to imagine waiting for a letter or a knock at the door, living by a deadline which makes no sense and cannot be justified.

“It is resulting in children, parents and their extended families suffering from increased mental health issues,” she added.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attended the General Assembly today and heard Mrs Brown’s remarks.

She has indicated support for the campaign to stop the brothers from being deported.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament last September, Ms Sturgeon said: “They are an absolute credit to their parents, their school, their community and indeed they are a credit to Scotland.

“The Scottish Government will continue to look at what appropriate representations we can make.”