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RAF MILDENHALL, England — The British government has denied a formal request for information on the whereabouts and status of a group of Afghan youths who were detained at RAF Lakenheath earlier this year.

Stars and Stripes filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the British Home Office on Nov. 1 following several failed attempts to obtain information about the eight Afghan youths.

The Home Office, which handles duties roughly equivalent to those of the departments of State and Homeland Security, said releasing information on the Afghans would violate the country’s data protection statutes.

“It is the general policy of the Border and Immigration Agency not to disclose, to a third party, personal information about another person. This is because the Border and Immigration Agency has obligations under the Data Protection Act and in law generally to protect this information,” states a letter from Border and Immigration FOI officer Patricia Glasby.

“We have concluded that the information which you have requested would breach the first Data Protection principle and therefore we cannot supply the information you have requested,” the letter continues.

The Afghans were detained March 8 after they were discovered stowed away in the back of a soft-shelled bread delivery truck en route from a Defense Commissary Agency facility in Germersheim, Germany, to RAF Lakenheath.

The Defense Commissary Agency stopped using the Slovakian transport company, Robin Freight, immediately after the incident and later canceled its contract with the German logistics firm, Losch Spedition, which had subcontracted Robin Freight.

American and British military officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the Afghans, citing Home Office jurisdiction. The Home Office would only say that “all the Afghan nationals encountered at RAF Lakenheath on 8 March have been interviewed and their identities established. Any personal possessions would have been retained by the individuals.”

It’s unclear if the Afghans were able to claim asylum in Britain.

Queries to a host of Britain-based human rights and refugee organizations provided very little additional information on the Afghans.

“If they were under 18, they would be taken into social services,” said Hannah Ward, spokeswoman for the London-based Refugee Council. “We don’t follow the cases of all refugees in the country. Without names, we have no idea who these people are.”

A British attorney specializing in immigration law said in an interview earlier this year with Stars and Stripes that many potential asylum seekers claim to be minors to take advantage of British law that allows children to stay in the country until they turn 18.

In a previous incident on Sept. 27, 2001, six men claiming to be Iraqis reached the gate of the base in a small compartment under a refrigerated truck before security forces heard their voices from inside and halted the truck.

In that instance, the truck did not gain access to the base, and the men, thought to be asylum seekers, were taken into custody by Suffolk police.


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