Life & Times – Asylum hell

I was recently invited to a wedding. The couple getting married were a young man from Africa and a local girl from my own area – Francis and Sarah I’ll call them. It was a modest affair – Registry Office with 20-30 people and then a buffet reception in a local community centre with a slightly larger attendance. The couple already had two children and were obviously devoted to each other. They’d met when Francis, who’d fled his country, was waiting for his umpteenth asylum application to be heard and processed. His parents had been killed in internecine fighting between religious groups in his country and, fearing for his life, he’d managed to find someone to help him escape, get to France and from there cross to the UK. All this when he was only 15 years of age. Now, on the day of his wedding, he was 31 and had only recently been granted leave to remain in this country – and that on a temporary basis. Before this he’d lived for a dozen years in limbo.

Threat of deportation
How did I come to know him? One day, out of the blue, a friend who regularly supports asylum seekers asked me if I’d attend court with one of them the following week since she’d arranged to go on holiday. I agreed and from there I sort of got drawn in. Francis had been ‘picked up’ by Home Office officials when he’d gone for one of his monthly sign-ons at the local police station. From there he’d been taken to a ‘safe place’ with a view to deportation. In the event the judge at the court hearing found that the necessary formalities for deportation hadn’t been satisfied and he was released pending further scrutiny. But he would still have to report to the local immigration office once a month. I said I would go with him.

So once a month I would accompany him to the processing place. Every time he went he was petrified he wouldn’t get out but would be bundled into one of the Home Office vans waiting menacingly outside. So I made a point of dressing up (ie suit, collar and tie) reasoning that, whatever their intentions, they might have more compunction about snatching him if an older well-dressed man (who might even be his solicitor) was with him. In the event they never tried it again, but he did continue to be put through hell, with all the long drawn out, complex applications and appeals he made being rejected. This was largely on the grounds that they didn’t believe his story. And it’s true that he didn’t have evidence to prove it, and of course I couldn’t be absolutely sure myself. But it didn’t matter to me. As a socialist who wants a world without frontiers or discrimination of any sort, whatever anyone’s story, I was an open borders person.

Mind games
Every time Francis applied or appealed against a decision, he was made to travel half the length of the country – usually to the immigration office in Liverpool – to deliver his application by hand, even though that process itself took around 10 minutes. How did he survive during this time? Well, the friend of mine who had been kind enough to give him a room in her house to live in and some financial support, also got one of the local universities to accept him to follow a degree course in Business Studies free of charge. And this despite the fact that, in the beginning at least, he knew very little English. But he turned out to be a bit of a prodigy, mastering English very quickly and becoming a fluent speaker and writer. So much so that, on completing his course, he was awarded a first-class degree. And this was a key part of his next Home Office application. He hoped that they would recognise him as someone who could usefully contribute to the society he was desperate to live in. Instead he got knocked back again. Their response to his academic achievement was that he’d be able to contribute usefully to his home country when he went back there.

The rejection was nothing new. ‘Mind games’ was the way he described it. Yet even if he couldn’t work, had no entitlement to any means of living and still faced deportation, he somehow managed to stay positive. This was rewarded when he met Sarah. She took him to live with her, they had a child and, when he applied again, he went down ‘the family route’. To the surprise of us all, this time they relented and gave him short-term permission to stay. These decisions are often thought to be hit and miss, depending even on the mood of the Home Office caseworker at the time, so maybe this time that person got up on the right side of bed? But, anyway, this was a start and meant that at least Francis had the legal right to work. And he quickly found a job – in a delivery depot on the night shift. And then he moved to working in a care home, something he liked better and found a good deal of satisfaction in. He still works there, his leave to remain having been extended – hopefully indefinitely. So given the treatment asylum seekers get and the social and political demonisation they’re subject to, I think we can say he’s one of the lucky ones. When I attended court with him at the beginning, I witnessed one poor individual being dragged away to be put on a plane – the anonymous fate of so many, and of some of Francis’s own friends.

Abolish borders?
So the wedding was a happy event for him – and for me – especially considering that so many desperate people leave their homes through poverty or oppression only to find that the better life they were hoping for elsewhere doesn’t materialise and they may even be pushed back forcibly to the place they were escaping from. So Francis, though it may be thought that, as a care worker, he’s not fulfilling his potential, has been luckier than many in a system that divides groups of people up by borders and denies them the right to movement across the planet for all that a sane socialist society would offer. But this can only come with the abolition not just of borders and states but of money, wages and the whole of the profit system.


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