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Archive for April, 2008

By Alfred de Tavares
Stockholm, April 20 2008  (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 outsideStockholm . 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, whenIANS 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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Afghanistan’s Sikhs

Check out this blog entry about Afghanistan’s Sikhs

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Staff Report

LAHORE: The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) and Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) will welcome about 4,000 Indian Sikh pilgrims arriving today (Friday) for the Besakhi Festival, ETPB officials told Daily Times on Thursday.

ETPB Deputy Administrator (Shrines) Faraz Abbas told Daily Times that the Indian Sikh pilgrims were expected to celebrate the festival in the country. He said the three-day festival would start on April 12 (tomorrow). He said the pilgrims would arrive at the Indo-Pak border at Wagha, have lunch, and then leave on the same trains for Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hassan Abdal where they would stay at the gurdwara and various schools. He said the ETPB had made all arrangements for this purpose.

PSGPC President Sardar Bishan Singh said he would give the pilgrims gifts and the Guru ka langar (guru’s charity meal). He said that about 12,000 pilgrims from across the world were expected to attend the festival. These include about 100 pilgrims from Afghanistan, 100 from the UAE, 80 from Iran, 2,000 from Europe, and 6,000 from across the country.

Singh said the Indian pilgrims would visit various sacred places during their stay in the country, including Gurdwara Nankana Sahib Gurdwara Sacha Sauda, Kartarpur Sahib, Rohri Sahib and Gurdwara Punja Sahib. He said they would stay at Hassan Abdal until the conclusion of the festival on April 14. The pilgrims will leave in special caravans organised by the ETPB and the PSGPC, Singh said, adding that they would stay for two days at Nankana Sahib after which they would visit Gurdwara Sucha Sauda. He said that the pilgrims would visit Lahore from April 17 to April 20, staying at Gurdwara Dera Sahib and visiting several gurdwaras of the city. They will return to India on April 20 through the Wagha border.

The caretaker of Gurdwara Dera Sahib said only Indian Sikh pilgrims would stay at the gurdwara and that pilgrims from other countries would stay at hotels. He said Dera Sahib can accommodate 2,500 pilgrims only. The other pilgrims would stay at the Trust Model School, Lakshmi Singh Fort, Agarwal Ashram, Ayesha Degree College and Nawaz Sharif High School.

The Besakhi festival is celebrated to renew the pledge to exercise harmony and brotherhood, as is enshrined in Sikhism through the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, the last guru of the Sikh faith. To celebrate the festival, the Sikhs visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hassan Abdal, where the 10th guru, Guru Govind Singh, settled around 300 years ago to preach Sikhism.

Guru Govind Singh was the last human guru of a series starting from Baba Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of Sikhism. Guru Govind Singh (1666-1708) instituted certain practices that became fundamental to the Sikhs. These include wearing a turban, carrying a dagger, and never cutting the hair or beard. He created the armed fraternity called the khalsa (pure). Besakhi marks the constitution of the Khalsa Panth, the armed fraternity, in 1699.

The Khalsa Panth was meant to protect the sanctity of Sikhism and to fight social evils. In their trust, the guru undertook days-long meditation and prepared an amrat (elixir). Those who were going to be part of the revered Khalsa Panth were given the amrat to drink. The drink represented an oath to struggle against atrocities and social evils. Guru Govind Singh was succeeded by the eleventh and the last guru, Guru Granth Sahib, a guru in the form of a scripture that carries the crux of the teachings of his religion.

Guru Govind Singh was born in Patna, India, and later migrated to Hassan Abdal where he continued advocating Sikhism. Sikhs believe that during his stay at Hassan Abdal, Guru Govind saved his followers from a large stone that was hurled from atop a hill. Legend has it that the guru stopped the stone with one hand and as soon as it touched his hand, it miraculously turned into a loaf of wax. It still bears the imprint of the guru’s hand. The wax loaf is kept at Gurdwara Panja Sahib. Sikhs from all over the world visit the gurdwara to put a hand on the guru’s hand imprint in the belief that its touch would mitigate their miseries, sufferings and hardships. Water oozing out continuously from under the stone is also seen as a miracle of Guru Govind Singh.

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