Campaigners plead with Home Secretary over Syrian deportation

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

More than 20 members of the Scottish Parliament and a former Big Brother winner have called on the government not to deport a gay teenager to Syria.

Jojo Yakob is due to be removed from the UK in 16 days.

A cross-party motion in the Scottish Parliament in support of Jojo and calling for an immediate moratorium on the deportation of gay and lesbian refugees has been backed by 23 MSPs.

Campaigners have written to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to plead for leniency for Jojo, 19.

“He has been let down by the immigration and asylum services, and slipped through every
crack in the system,” they said.

The Scottish National Party’s Westminster Home Affairs Spokesman Pete Wishart MP said:

“After Mr Yakob’s terrible ordeal in Syria, it is unacceptable that the Home Office would consider sending him back.

“There is a very real risk that he would suffer further ill treatment or even possibly death.

“He has sought asylum in Scotland and I will make an immediate representation to the Home Office in an effort to overturn their ruling before his final hearing in May.”

Jojo claims he will be executed if he is returned to Syria.

He escaped two years ago after suffering severe abuse at the hands of the Syrian police and prison guards, when he was arrested for distributing anti-government leaflets.

After discovering he was homosexual, prison guards beat him so severely that he fell into a coma, although a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London denied that torture of gay people took place.

“Homosexuality is illegal in Syria, but there are no special units to deal with this problem,” he said last month.

“People are not prosecuted – society looks at this as a disease for which they can be treated – it is a similar position to that taken by the Vatican.”

Jojo has been held at Polmont Young Offenders in Falkirk, Scotland for the last 12 months after being arrested for possessing a fake Belgian passport.

His lawyers say an asylum application for his stay in the UK was mistakenly withdrawn and, as a result, he has been served with a deportation order, pending a final hearing on 7th May.

John Loughton, who won the reality show Big Brother: Hijack in January, has added his voice to the campaign.

The 20-year-old is Chairman of the Scottish Youth Parliament.

“The situation this poor young man is in is incredibly distressing for anyone that hears about it,” he said.

“Jojo came to this country to seek refuge but has been utterly failed by the entire system and now faces death on his deportation back to Syria.

“He has suffered more in prison than most other young offenders in Scotland.

“No contact from his family and no visits for the 12 months he has been locked away on remand in
Polmont, everyday knowing that he was coming closer to being deported back to Syria where he will face death just because of his sexuality.

“I think that the immigration, asylum and court services should be ashamed of the way they have treated Jojo.

“They have shown a total lack of human compassion, and now it is up to the Scottish people to do everything they can to save his life.”

Jojo’s story echoes that of Iranian teenager Mehdi Kazemi, who is having his case for deportation reviewed following the intervention of more than 60 members of the House of Lords asking for the Home Office to “show compassion.”
Mr Kazemi, also 19, was studying in the UK and applied for asylum after his boyfriend was arrested and reportedly executed in Tehran.

The boyfriend named Mehdi as a homosexual, and police turned up at his father’s house with a warrant to arrest him.

His asylum application was unsuccessful in the UK, so Mehdi fled to Holland, although he was eventually returned to the UK.

Supporters of the Jojo Yakob campaign are asked to visit the Save Jojo website for more information.