Two Pakistani Christian brothers are celebrating after the Home Office approved their family’s application for asylum following a high profile Church of Scotland campaign.
Somer Umeed Bakhsh, 16, and his younger brother Areeb, 14, have lived for the last seven years in Glasgow after their family fled Pakistan fearing for their lives after the murder of close Christian friends.
However, the battle is not over as the family have only been granted “limited leave to remain” until February 2022 and will have to apply for an extension in just two and a half years.
Nonetheless, the brothers, who attend Possilpark Parish Church in Glasgow with their parents Maqsood and Parveen, said that for the timebeing a weight had been lifted off their shoulders.
“We have gone through a tough time and I am really happy that we now have the freedom to stay in the country we love,” said Somer, who received four As and a B in his Highers and is hoping to be accepted to the University of Glasgow next year.
“I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders because the threat of deportation was always in the back of my mind.
“Scotland is my home, I have grown up here, all my friends are here and I feel like a Scottish boy.
“I am very thankful to everyone who has supported my family and the people who signed the petitions – we could not have got to this point without you.
“But I am disappointed that we will have to apply to the Home Office for an extension in just two and a half years.”
Areeb, who is in his fourth year of high school, said he was “overwhelmed” by the news.
“It has been very stressful but Glasgow is such a lovely place, everyone is so welcoming and my friends at school have always been there for me,” he said.
“They will be really happy to hear the news and I am looking forward to a degree of normality and hopefully life will be easier because we have been opened up to many more opportunities.”
The outcome of their application is also good news for Mr Umeed Bakhsh, a Kirk elder, and his wife as they are now eligible to receive work permits.
Their church minister, the Rev Linda Pollock, led the campaign to stop the family being deported to Pakistan, where blasphemy laws carry the death sentence and are often used against Christians.
She said: “I am relieved and feel deep joy that this decision has been made because these youngsters have been living in a psychological prison and in bondage for too long.
“They are brave, inspirational, compassionate, intelligent, well rounded boys who have experienced sorrow and heartache.
“But through all of this they have maintained their dignity and integrity which has not been easy.
“They have not allowed the barriers of the prison that they have been forced to live in to make them bitter which is a credit to them and their parents.”
The Church of Scotland campaign supporting the family included a petition calling for them to be granted asylum that was signed by over 94,000 people.
Family friend, Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, who is also secretary to the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said the news was “enormously welcomed”.
“I have constantly marvelled at the family’s resilience, kindness and faith and the decision to give them limited leave to remain is the first good news that they have received from the Home Office,” he said.
“I am proud that the Church has stood beside them and others seeking refuge in this country over the last number of years and I am confident that we will continue to do so in the challenges that still lie ahead.”
Dr Susan Brown, who spoke publicly on behalf of the family during her tenure as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said the country was “blessed to have them”.
The family’s bid for asylum was backed by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn MP Bob Doris, and Glasgow North East MP Paul Sweeney, who petitioned former Prime Minister Theresa May on their behalf.
Mr Sweeney said: “I’m delighted at this news and in particular I’m pleased for Somer and Areeb, who will be able to continue their education among the school friends who stood by them through this campaign.
“I would also like to pay tribute to those at Possilpark Parish Church and beyond who have supported the Bakhsh family.
“We have taken this case to the very top, but it is disgraceful that it should take a question to the Prime Minister, tireless work from my constituency staff and the solidarity of thousands of Glaswegians who signed the petition to get a result.
“However, whilst the family now have the freedom to work and contribute their talents to our community, they remain in a temporary state of limbo over the next decade before they can apply for permanent settlement.
“Prior to this they will be required to apply every 30 months for further leave to remain with each occasion costing approximately £8,000.
“That is a disgraceful financial burden and I will be campaigning in Parliament to have these exploitative costs abolished.”
Mr Doris added: “I am delighted that the family now have a degree of stability and security.
“Somer and Areeb have been flourishing since arriving in Scotland and they can now hopefully get on with their lives.
“Of course we must exercise a degree of caution as their leave to remain has not been made permanent.
“No-one should have to flee their country in fear of their lives just for practising their faith but Scotland is now their home and they are making a valuable contribution to the country and their community.”
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