Red tape and government stonewalling have left a Nepali Baptist couple stranded in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in England – and fearing for their lives if they're made to return to their homeland.
The Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in England, where a Baptist couple from Nepal are currently detained. (Photo: Oliver White)
Govinda Pokharel and Jamuna Rijal of Coverdale Baptist Church in Ardwick, Manchester, are facing an anxious wait to see if the immigration system will accept fresh evidence that could keep them in Great Britain.
The couple's asylum claim was rejected earlier this year. They were taken from their flat to Yarl's Wood, the Bedford-based immigration detention center, in a dawn raid in April.
However, the couple, who are being fully backed by Coverdale Baptist's congregation and churches in the wider area, have legitimate concerns for their safety.
Pokharel was involved in politics in Nepal with the Nepal Communist Party but began receiving threats and demands for large sums of money from the Madheshi Virus Killer Party (MVKP), an armed underground movement.
They went to the police, and soon afterward the police raided the MVKP, arrested eight people and killed one in the struggle.
The MVKP then sent Pokharel and Rijal death threats, blaming them for the death of their party member and demanding blood for blood.
Pokharel's whole family was displaced from their home and fled to the capital, Kathmandu.
The police informed them that they did not have the capacity to provide them the continual protection they needed.
The couple decided to move to England on a student visa. Rijal was accepted into a course in the United Kingdom to continue training as a nurse – the profession she held in Nepal – with Pokharel as her dependent.
But halfway through her course, they were advised by a retired immigration officer to apply for asylum, a procedure they had never heard of before.
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They took the officer's advice, thus forfeiting the student visa, but immigration judges have questioned why they lodged an asylum application quite late after arriving in the U.K.
Additionally, the judges have continually questioned Pokharel and Rijal's credibility with regard to the evidence they have provided. They told them they could safely relocate to Kathmandu, as there had been no cases of the MVKP following their enemies to the capital.
But since the asylum claim was rejected, fresh evidence has been brought to light. The MVKP tracked down Pokharel's younger brother to Kathmandu and badly beat him up, breaking his arms and legs. The hospital treating him recently faxed a medical report detailing his injuries.
Rijal's parents have been able to acquire a receipt from the MVKP itself for funds they demanded. Police in Nepal have also been in touch.
The couple and their supporters are hoping this evidence will be enough to get the case looked at again.
Rev. Harry Pritchard, minister at Coverdale Baptist Church, baptized the couple in January and said they are a "vital" part of the community.
He and other church members have been making the six-hour round trip to Bedford on a weekly basis. Pokharel and Rijal were "devastated" to be taken to Yarl's Wood, he said.
"They have been low, but this new evidence has given them hope," he told The Baptist Times. "Things are a bit more positive now.
"We just feel these judges have got it wrong. They couldn't believe someone in politics did not know about the asylum system, but that was the case.
"If they are sent back to Nepal, they are likely to face serious physical harm or even death.
"We simply cannot sit back and let this injustice happen. We will fight to bring them home."
Pritchard said the case had "gripped and united" the church, with everybody playing their part.
The church is also being supported by the SPEAK Network, which campaigns on justice issues, and other local churches.
Supporters have created an online petition to lobby Home Secretary Theresa May for their release and established a Facebook page with more details of the campaign.
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.