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Source: Hindustan Times

PTI   London, September 06, 2014

A third person has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter over the death of one of the 35 Afghan Sikh stowaways found inside an airtight shipping container on a dockyard in British port last month.

The dead man, identified as 40-year-old Meet Singh Kapoor, was one of 35 people from Afghanistan, discovered at Tilbury Docks in Essex on August 16.

Police said a 47-year-old man from Dungannon in Northern Ireland has been arrested at Liverpool Ferry Port and will be transferred into the custody of Essex Police.

Two other men also charged in connection with the death remain in custody to appear at Basildon Crown Court in November.

A 34-year-old from Rose Park, Limavady, Londonderry and another aged 33, of Elmgrove, Londonderry are both charged with conspiring to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.

The 34 survivors, including 10 men, nine women and 15 children with their ages ranging from one to 72, were found screaming and banging after arriving at Tilbury docks in Essex from Belgium.

The people who were rescued from the airtight container after an 18-hour ordeal are in care of the Home Office after being discharged from hospital and have sought asylum in the UK.

The survivors were hospitalised, many of whom suffered with severe dehydration and hypothermia.

Source: BBC

By Melanie Abbott

In August, 35 Afghan Sikhs were found in a container at Tilbury docks – one had died. But why are they so desperate to come to the UK?

The prayer hall at the Afghan Sikh temple in west London is packed with worshippers listening to the harmoniums and drums. Most of the people inside have at one time fled from Afghanistan. It is a country thought of as Muslim but there is a tiny minority of Sikhs, and their numbers are ever dwindling as they try to escape persecution.

Very little had been heard about Afghan Sikhs until 35 were found at Tilbury docks nearly three weeks ago. Those who were found alive in the shipping container are now claiming asylum so they can join relatives and friends already in Southall. The temple has been helping them with donations of food and clothing.

Officials like vice president Harbans Singh Handa were shocked at what happened. “My heart really hurt when I heard the news and I just couldn’t believe that they would risk their lives. They’ve already died a death in Afghanistan, their rights have been taken away, and yet they’re willing to risk death to come here,” he said.

Many Afghan Sikhs in Southall took long, circuitous journeys to get to the UK, relying on smuggling gangs to help them get out of Afghanistan. In one of Southall’s markets, Manmeet Singh explained how he used an agent to get him to Pakistan.

“In Pakistan somebod

y told me there is a safe place, England, very nice people are there. So I took four aeroplanes to get to Heathrow. There were very kind people at the airport as well. They told me don’t worry about everything,” he said.

Pressure to convert
That was 12 years ago and now Mr Singh has a successful business. But he left behind a thriving shop full of stock abandoned when he fled.

It is estimated that the number of Sikhs in Afghanistan has shrunk from around 100,000 three decades ago to somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 now. So what is fuelling the exodus?

The turmoil of the civil war in Afghanistan in 1992 and the subsequent rise of the Taliban left many with their civil liberties infringed. But the Sikhs say it has been worse for them.

Cremations, a fundamental part of their belief, are frowned on. The practice is forbidden under Islamic law and the main cremation ground in Kabul was moved miles out of the city. And there is pressure to convert to Islam.

Mr Singh said: “There are hassles and beatings and sometimes they want money. At fasting time, when we are cooking, they come, spill the food and there are beatings as well. They ask ‘why do you not fast? Why do you not become Muslims?'”

The Taliban forced the Sikhs to wear yellow armbands and the Sikhs say they were pushed out of top jobs and their children were discriminated against in schools.

Bhajan Singh Kapoor, who runs a charity to support Afghan Sikhs, said: “A whole generation of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs has remained illiterate in the past 30 years. Because of this war and turmoil they cannot be educated in the government-run institutions because of bullying.

“Previous to the war in Afghanistan we had doctors, engineers, lawyers coming up from the main school system of education. But from the last 30 years there is nothing at all.”

Numbers treble

Figures for how many Afghan Sikhs now live in the UK are not readily available, so the BBC commissioned the Office of National statistics to analyse the census.

Data shows over 10 years, between 2001 and 2011, the number of Afghan Sikhs almost trebled to just under 7,000. But this does not show how many live in the UK illegally. The temple vice-president in Southall believes the true figure is much higher.

So what is in store for those found at Tilbury now making asylum claims? The Home Office would not comment, but the BBC has discovered that the country guidance issued by the UK government has changed. This is the advice that immigration officials use to assess asylum claims.

In 2012 it said Sikhs did not face widespread discrimination and even if they did, relocating to Kabul, where there was a larger community, might solve the problem. The most recent report says they do face widespread discrimination and it is pessimistic that the community in Kabul is large enough to give them security.

The Tilbury refugees are now having regular interviews with border officials and it is unlikely they will get a quick answer. But what is likely is that other Afghan Sikhs will try to get to the UK by any means possible.

Bhajan Singh Kapoor whose charity supports people seeking asylum, said: “I think there will be more and more people trying to get into safe countries. I think Britain will be the first choice if they can make it.”

 

Source: The Times of India

I P Singh, TNN | Sep 3, 2014, 03.12AM IST

NAWANSHAHR (PUNJAB): Seven Hindu and Sikh Afghan refugees staying in India on long-term visas for nearly 20 years have been arrested by the Punjab police over the past two months for procuring Indian passports on fake credentials. They were arrested from different airports in the country just before they were to catch flights to various European destinations.

Police investigation have so far traced 135 such passports issued to Afghan Hindus and Sikhs from the regional passport office (RPO) in Jalandhar and issued lookout notices for all of them. Police officials told TOI that 12 such Afghan citizens might already have left the country.

Five accused — including a police head constable, now under suspension — who had helped the Afghans get the passports have told the police they were not aware that the applicants were from Afghanistan. Police are looking for a Delhi-based travel agent, P K Jain, and an Afghan man, Manmeet Singh, who were instrumental in getting the Afghan residents in touch with Jalandhar-based middlemen. The middlemen arranged the forged residential proofs and other documents.

The arrested Afghan citizens also disclosed during questioning that after reaching Europe, they were planning to use their Afghan citizenship to seek political asylum. They were to claim they had somehow escaped from the Taliban’s clutches.

On July 4 four members of a Hindu family were arrested from the Bangalore airport when they were about to fly to France. The head of the family, Tek Chand — whose wife, son and daughter-in-law were also arrested — said his five brothers were already settled in France and neighbouring countries, and he wanted to join them.

Three other Afghan residents, including a young woman Mandeep Kaur, were Sikhs and were held from Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai airports.

“We could not apply for visa at Indian embassies on Afghan documents, so we resorted to faking documents,” an arrested Afghan citizen told investigators.

Nawanshahr DSP Sarabjit Singh, who is investigating the case, said all the applicants used forged documents to show themselves as citizens of Nawanshahr. None of them used his or her original name. “Three of the accused completed their education in Delhi and none could suspect they were not Indian citizens,” he said.

The cops are looking for those Afghans whose police verification reports were prepared by head constable Tirath Ram, who is charged with being part of a gang of six other accused. The gang is believed to have been active since 2012, until RPO officials smelt a rat in February when 10 passports sent through registered post were returned by the postal department since they could not be delivered.

Police investigations revealed Tirath Ram was taking Rs 20,000 for each police verification report for a passport. Three postmen, who are also believed to have been involved in the fraud, have been arrested. A Delhi-based agent apparently used to charge Rs 1 lakh from each applicant.

 

Source: Sikh 24 .com

BY YUDHVIR RANA / IN ASIA, WORLD / AUGUST 26, 2014

AMRITSAR SAHIB, Punjab (August 26, 2014)—Sikh groups here have volunteered to perform “sewa” at various Gurdwaras in Afghanistan after the recent spate of migration of the community following their persecution by the Taliban.
“Sikhs are leaving Afghanistan. We have several historical Gurdwaras there. Who will take care of them? So we have decided to send Sikh jathas to Afghanistan to perform sewa in these Gurdwaras,” said Nankana Sahib Sikh Yatree Jatha president Swaran Singh Gill on Thursday.

Thirty-five Afghan Sikhs, including 13 children, were recently found in a shipping container in the UK’s Tilbury docks. The Sikhs from Afghanistan were forced to leave their country following harassment by the Taliban.

Gill said he had written to both the home ministry and the Afghanistan embassy urging to grant them permission to send an 11-member Sikh jatha to Afghanistan before they leave for Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in November.

Acting president of Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Bishan Singh told TOI over phone from Lahore on Thursday that there were historical Gurdwaras in Kabul, Jalalabad and Ghzani in Afghanistan.

During his way back from Mecca,Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji had traveled through Afghanistan and had held discourses with Muslim holy saints in Kabul. He said the migration of Sikhs was due to their discrimination and persecution. He said around two decade ago, there were more than 225,000 Sikh populated in Afghanistan which has now come down to only a few thousand. There was a sizable number of Sikhs in Ghazni but many of them had migrated to Pakistan or India.

Gill also said he would also meet officials of home ministry and Afghanistan embassy in Delhi to expedite the matter.

Source: The Conversation

Jasjit Singh – 20 August 2014, 3.59pm BST

The recent discovery of 35 men, women and children in a shipping container at Tilbury docks in Essex is shocking for many reasons. Few had known that people were being brought into the UK in shipping containers and even fewer knew the kind of dangers these people face in the process. But it has also brought a little-known community to public attention – the Afghan Sikhs.

Questions are now being asked about who this group is and why they would risk death to flee their country. The truth is, Afghan Sikhs have been persecuted for decades. In the past they were pushed to convert to Islam and, these days they face threats of kidnapping for money.

The Afghan Sikhs are indeed a small community, but they are well established. One of the few pieces of research about them explains how this group has maintained a presence in Afghanistan for more than 500 years.

The majority are the descendants of members of the indigenous Afghan population who aligned themselves with the teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs, during his visits to Kabul in the 15th century. The Afghan Sikh population grew in 1947 as Sikhs from the Potohar region of the newly formed Pakistan arrived fleeing persecution following the partition of India.

There was a Sikh and Hindu population of as much as a quarter of a million people in Afghanistan in the early 1940s. Both religions were well represented in trade and government administration. The Sikhs particularly prospered during the 1933-1973 reign of Zakir Shah and during the strongly secular period of Soviet rule.

But the withdrawal of the Russian forces and arrival of the Mujahedeen placed the Sikhs of Afghanistan in severe difficulty. Their situation became worse still when the Taliban swept to power in 1994.

Hindus and Sikhs were forced to wear yellow stars on their clothing and, research suggests, “ever more vigorous efforts” were made to convert them to Islam. They were required to make financial contributions to the jihad and threats to their families if they didn’t.

In a 2010 interview with the BBC World Service, Afghan Sikh Anarkali Kaur described how her community had significantly dwindled in numbers since 1991, with only 3,000 people remaining. A mass exodus of Sikhs from Afghanistan had begun in 1992 and continued throughout the 1990s and early 2000s as a result of the persecution of non-Muslims by the Taliban.

One of the biggest problems faced by Afghan Sikhs when trying to assert their rights is that Afghans regularly view them as immigrants from India. They have struggled to articulate their status and not been able protect their rights.

The personal security of Hindus and Sikhs in general remains a problem in Afghanistan, especially in the form of kidnap threats from unknown gunmen who believe that all Sikhs and Hindus are rich (even if most of their businesses have now closed down).

The problems faced by Afghan Sikhs in their country has caused them to leave for some years and fresh instability has left them vulnerable again. There is a growing presence of Afghan Sikhs in a number of European countries as a result, including Sweden and the UK. The Afghan Sikh community in Britain is largely concentrated in Southall, West London, where its members have established the gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar (Afghan Ekta Society). Viewing Afghanistan as their homeland and speaking Pasto and Dari, the Afghan Sikh community differs in a number of ways from the mainly Punjabi speaking Sikh community which settled in the UK throughout the 20th century.

We do not know if this is where the people found in the shipping container in Essex were heading. One of these people died and will never make it to his destination and it is unclear what will happen to those that survived. These are a people indigenous to Afghanistan but with the decades of repression they have faced and a struggle to assert their heritage, it’s little wonder they don’t want to go back.

Source: Hindustan Times

Manpreet Singh   August 22, 2014

The recent incident of Afghan Sikhs rescued from a shipping container from a UK port has again brought to the limelight the plight of the Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan.

Both the minority communities have been facing discrimination at the hands of the majority Muslim community. Sikh children are not allowed to go to the schools and if they dare to, they are bullied and beaten up. Also there have been some incidents where Muslim kids have cut their hair. The Sikh women do not go out of their homes because they are insulted and laughed at. And the Sikh men, who once used to be rich traders, have been forced to work as labourers as they are not allowed to do business and buy lands. By all accounts there are absolutely no more Hindus left in Afghanistan.

Talking to many Afghan Sikh men, women and children, reveals a very poignant story about their life in present day Afghanistan. Children say “Pathans beat us and call us ‘kachaloo’ (a derogatory word that translates to sweet potato), men say “the Muslims always ask us to convert to Islam” and women say “We never leave our house – we are not safe in the streets”.

The head of Hindu and Sikh council in Afghanistan, Avtar Singh says there are fewer than 500 Sikh families left in Afghanistan who are living their lives in oblivion, and under the constant fear of Muslim community. But sadly, they don’t have enough money to leave the country as well.

The head also informed that he has appealed in the Afghanistan parliament and talked to various ministers but no one came forward to help. He said that he also asked gurdwara committees in India who also did not show any interest. Singh also said that he himself is a victim who lost 16 family members to this war of hatred and discrimination, but still he said, “I can’t leave my fellow Sikhs in Afghanistan”.
Listen to the special programme on Plight of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan here

Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have a long history, in the country. Some Sikhs settled in Afghanistan after the first Sikh guru Guru Nanak Dev visited the country in the 15th century.  But a majority settled down in 19th century for trading purpose. They were traditionally a thriving vibrant community, which was well respected in Afghanistan
Before 1990s, the Afghan Sikh and Hindu population was estimated around 50,000. But at present, there are less than 1000 people living there facing an uncertain future.

The main problem started during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan, when many Afghan Sikhs & Hindus fled to India; a second wave followed following the 1992 fall of the Najibullah regime. Gurdwaras throughout the country were destroyed in the Afghan Civil War of the 1990s, leaving only the Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul.

Under the Taliban, the Sikhs were a relatively tolerated religious minority, and allowed to practice their religion. However, the Sikh custom of cremation of the dead was prohibited by the Taliban, and cremation grounds vandalised. In addition, Sikhs were required to wear yellow patches or veils to identify themselves.

Source: Hindustan Times

Manpreet Singh   August 22, 2014

The recent incident of Afghan Sikhs rescued from a shipping container from a UK port has again brought to the limelight the plight of the Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan.

Both the minority communities have been facing discrimination at the hands of the majority Muslim community. Sikh children are not allowed to go to the schools and if they dare to, they are bullied and beaten up. Also there have been some incidents where Muslim kids have cut their hair. The Sikh women do not go out of their homes because they are insulted and laughed at. And the Sikh men, who once used to be rich traders, have been forced to work as labourers as they are not allowed to do business and buy lands. By all accounts there are absolutely no more Hindus left in Afghanistan.

Talking to many Afghan Sikh men, women and children, reveals a very poignant story about their life in present day Afghanistan. Children say “Pathans beat us and call us ‘kachaloo’ (a derogatory word that translates to sweet potato), men say “the Muslims always ask us to convert to Islam” and women say “We never leave our house – we are not safe in the streets”.

The head of Hindu and Sikh council in Afghanistan, Avtar Singh says there are fewer than 500 Sikh families left in Afghanistan who are living their lives in oblivion, and under the constant fear of Muslim community. But sadly, they don’t have enough money to leave the country as well.

The head also informed that he has appealed in the Afghanistan parliament and talked to various ministers but no one came forward to help. He said that he also asked gurdwara committees in India who also did not show any interest. Singh also said that he himself is a victim who lost 16 family members to this war of hatred and discrimination, but still he said, “I can’t leave my fellow Sikhs in Afghanistan”.

Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have a long history, in the country. Some Sikhs settled in Afghanistan after the first Sikh guru Guru Nanak Dev visited the country in the 15th century.  But a majority settled down in 19th century for trading purpose. They were traditionally a thriving vibrant community, which was well respected in Afghanistan
Before 1990s, the Afghan Sikh and Hindu population was estimated around 50,000. But at present, there are less than 1000 people living there facing an uncertain future.

The main problem started during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan, when many Afghan Sikhs & Hindus fled to India; a second wave followed following the 1992 fall of the Najibullah regime. Gurdwaras throughout the country were destroyed in the Afghan Civil War of the 1990s, leaving only the Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul.

Under the Taliban, the Sikhs were a relatively tolerated religious minority, and allowed to practice their religion. However, the Sikh custom of cremation of the dead was prohibited by the Taliban, and cremation grounds vandalised. In addition, Sikhs were required to wear yellow patches or veils to identify themselves.

 

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