Algerian Liberal convert now faces deportation

An asylum-seeker from Algeria who converted to Judaism in the UK is facing deportation after being detained by immigration officials this week.

Jews from Birmingham and Leicester are concerned for Krim Aitziane, who was removed from the Midlands to a detention centre near Gatwick on Monday.

Mr Aitziane, thought to be 49, received a Liberal conversion in the UK, but dresses strictly Orthodox and claims he was born Jewish.

Geoffrey Kaufman, president of Leicester's Progressive Jewish congregation, said the prospect of deportation was "deplorable. Sending someone to Algeria with his background and the way he is dressed could be a death sentence."

Ruth Jacobs, the director of the Israel Information Service in Birmingham, who has helped Mr Aitziane for several years, said he had been refused refugee status in the UK but was given leave to remain here pending an application to go to Israel.

But although his aliyah application had been submitted in October 2009, she said, he was still awaiting a decision from Israel.

His situation was tragic, she said. "He is a lonely man who's got nobody to care for him. He wants to belong somewhere and contribute to society. He doesn't want to go back because he is frightened the Algerian authorities will persecute him."

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: "Where we and the courts find someone does not have a right to be here, we expect them to return home voluntarily. If they choose not to leave, we will seek to enforce their removal."

An immigration judge found there was no evidence to suggest that Jews in Algeria were unable to practise Judaism or faced persecution if they did so.

Mr Aitziane says he was born to Polish parents who moved to Algeria and had him adopted by a local family. But he only discovered that he was Jewish in his late teens.

He apparently arrived in Britain from Italy 11 years ago and had contact with the strictly Orthodox community in North London. He moved to Birmingham five years ago, but when he was not accepted as Jewish by the Orthodox community, he began to attend Progressive services. Since he was relocated by immigration officials to Leicester about two years ago, he has been a regular visitor to the Progressive community.

Birmingham Progressive rabbi Margaret Jacobi said that while Mr Aitziane was "Orthodox by inclination," she had arranged a Progressive conversion "on the basis of his commitment. He reads Hebrew, knows about Judaism and is committed to study."

Speaking from Tinsley House Detention Centre, he said: " I am sick and unable to sleep. I am not free to do what I want. I want to be a normal citizen."

    Last updated: 12:16pm, June 16 2011