Indian, Afghan asylum seekers languish in Swedish prison

April 20th, 2008 - 11:59 am ICT by admin  

By Alfred de Tavares
Stockholm, April 20 (IANS) Two asylum seekers from South Asia - one a Kashmiri Hindu and the other an Afghan Sikh - are languishing in a Swedish migrant detention centre outside Stockholm. Dhillow Singh, the 37-year-old Kashmiri who came to Sweden illegally five years ago, has been at the Marsta detention centre for eight months now and, according to a psychiatrist, is under severe depression and even suicidal.

Harmid Singh, a 26-year-old Afghan Sikh, came even earlier.

The two men don’t know what the next day or even the next few hours of any given day may hold for them. As it happens to scores of their fellow inmates routinely every day, either can be picked up any moment in a hermetically sealed police armoured vehicle.

They would be then taken to an undisclosed airport and put on to a transport, most often a chartered plane, and dispatched to Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan or, as in the cases of these two, Afghanistan and India.

This IANS correspondent visited them in their lockup.

Dhillow, in a pitiful condition physically as well as mentally, told IANS: “I am very ill. I am under psychiatric treatment. I have lost 15 kg of weight.”

A possible reason for the weight loss is the diet he is given.

“I am strictly vegetarian,” says Dhillow. “Hence my meals here consist alternately of boiled rice and macaroni and some vegetables, mostly raw. That is my jailers’ concept of being vegetarian.

“I suggested that I be allowed to prepare my own meals, some lentils. But they have refused citing the danger inherent in such a course. What danger I can neither say nor imagine,” he said.

Dhillow’s psychiatrist, Samuel Rajeus, of Stockholm’s St. Goran hospital’s psychiatric department, in his diagnosis, states: “This asylum-seeking patient is under severe depression. (He) has persistent and convincing thoughts of committing suicide.”

Since last year, the police have twice taken Dhillow to the Indian embassy in Stockholm. R. Mishra, the first secretary, consular, says: “There is not much we can do about these tragic cases when the persons involved have no documentation whatsoever, no means of identification.

“We submit the cases to Delhi but it is, indeed, a very laborious, thankless process, most often fruitless.”

Dhillow fled Jammu and Kashmir in early 2003, a year after his father Satbhir and elder brother Narendar were gunned down in Mendhar, 100 km from the Line of Control - a de-facto border between India and Pakistan.

He was transported overseas illegally in a very long, circuitous journey - its itinerary unknown to him - in a variety of transport that included trucks, under-decks of boats and boots of cars.

The nightmare that lasted many weeks cost Dhillow nearly $20,000 that his family and close friends had collected for him. A $15,000 down payment was made to his travel agent, possibly an Uzbeki, and the rest went for various spot payments for exigencies that cropped up as the travel progressed - for appeasing border guards, hiring boats and so on.

Before being launched en route, Dhillow was completely stripped of all documents, any material that could reveal his identity. Dhillow was deposited somewhere in Sweden in March 2003.

As per instructions given him by his sponsors, he made it to the nearest police station and requested asylum March 7, 2003.

“After I arrived in Sweden and applied for asylum five years ago, I was given refugee status and the minimum means to subsist.

“I had no complaint with that and was very thankful to the Swedish government for what I considered their most humane consideration.”

“However all that changed when without any apparent circumstantial charge, cause or explanation I was locked up here eight months ago,” said Dhillow.

Harmid Singh reached Sweden from Afghanistan in November 2002 after a similar ordeal.

“We Sikhs, originally from Punjab, are a tiny minority in Afghanistan and face relentless persecution. We are considered foreigners and enemy by the Taliban,” said Harmid, when IANS was allowed to visit the two in their lock up.

“I come from Kandahar but have no known family left there. I have received information that my younger brother was killed last January and my younger sister was abducted seven years ago and has not been heard of ever since.

“God alone knows where she is or how she is or even if she lives. My mother, hopefully, still lives somewhere but we have had no contact whatsoever with each other and none can tell me where she might have moved,” said Harmid.

Outside the jail, the surroundings are almost idyllic, especially in spring time.

But “all this beauty is totally lost on the 40 or so inmates that the jail holds under the perpetual Damocles’ sword of deportation to harrowing hells declared paradises by grim Swedish bureaucrats”, says Lena Nilsson, an activist trying to help ease the condition of such detainees.

“Usually no one is allowed outside the locked gates of the corridors that contain their cells,” said Nilsson.

Asked why, one of the wardens told IANS: “The reason is simple. We have no resources to pamper these people any more than we already do.”

(Alfred de Tavares can be contacted at frederick.n@ians.in)

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