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A Hate Crime Named Destitution

22 Nov

 

“Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”[1]

 

“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…”[2]

 

Hate crime occurs when an antagonist is able to hurt a victim, physically, mentally, financially, sexually or in any manner where the motivation for committing that crime against you, or the expectation of being able to get away with that crime against you is discrimination, inequality or intended hatred.

 

During a recent survey of refugees and asylum seekers of all categories of status from destitute through to permanent resident’s status, almost 85% had experienced hate crime.  Among those 15% of people not having experienced hate crime 2/3 were destitute asylum seekers, so must be either lucky, scary, or fibbing.

 

The police do not have a sanctuary policy, convention or attitude towards the victims of hate crime.  If you are the victim of a hate crime and you are “a destitute” you will not be able to call the police.  You cannot call the police, although you are vulnerable.  You cannot call the police because you are vulnerable. You cannot call the police because the police do not have a sanctuary policy/convention/attitude towards the victims of hate crime.

 

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Destitution in the United Kingdom is one of the few things experiencing growth of any kind.  It is not just asylum seekers or “failed asylum seekers”, “illegal immigrants”, “migrants”, whatever else we are supposed to call them.  It is also children, native British children.  It is the mothers of those children.  Men.  It is lots of men of every shape and walk of life, excluded from the work force through unemployment, excluded from the benefits system for one sanction or another and left to the “kindness of strangers” for their subsistence.  Mostly though, destitution is asylum seekers, failed asylum seekers, whatever we are supposed to call them…

 

Destitution – having no way of providing for your own essential needs; food, shelter, warmth; having no recourse to public funds, no way or means or permission by law to provide for your needs by way of earning money or trading – anything to generate income or material gain being illegal and very much enforceable by law. – it is hard to fathom of destitution’s existence in Britain in 2012.  Not only is it here in Britain in 2012, it’s very much on the rise and it has a face and if your face looks like its face, you are going to be destitute, or “a destitute” as you may end up referring to yourself in the bitter fullness of time.

 

Destitution. If you are not from Iran, do not speak Farsi as a first Language and did not enter the country in 2008 breathe a sigh of relief, you are not the most likely candidate to be, or shortly become, destitute.  If you are an Iranian Farsi speaker who entered the UK in any other year, don’t get too comfy, if you are not already destitute you are still far more likely to become so than anyone else.  If you are a lone African from any country you are next in line, after the Farsi speaking Iranians for, well, nothing…  Kurds, you’re looking at about a 50/50 shot, but you’re much better off if you’re from Iraq than Iran…  Iraqis are not exactly streaming ahead in the status gaining polls though – they are the second largest destitute group by country of origin according to recent polls and the Kurdish population appears to be far higher compared to the proportion of Kurdish people from Iran suggesting that the non-Kurdish ethnic “majority” of Iraq is, for some reason, invisible, whether not here or here and not seen.

 

. The only legal, safe, perhaps “moral” way for these people, these destitutes to survive is to depend on charities, community groups, religious organisations and other good minded folks to provide for their needs – they must depend, in short, on the kindness of strangers, whoever you are.

 

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Knowing someone who isn’t there is not as easy as it might sound.  It’s hard when people you know, maybe love, are not there, especially when they are, technically, there.  While Shakespeare pondered on whether Hamlet should “be or not to be” and the Beatles proposed to “Let It Be” the UKBA has brought us “don’t be”, a rather more problematic paradigm by which to attempt to live.

 

Let’s take to the statistics once again.  This is a Farsi speaking Iranian destitute.  The year of entry to the UK is 2006.  The method of entry is “in the back of trucks – it took about seven months…”  Initial claim and appeals rejected, all support withdrawn – made destitute in 2008 abject poverty and degradation prevails – nevertheless, there is no option of return voluntarily or by forceful removal to Iran.   She is 65 years old.

 

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“There but for the grace of God go I”

 

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Destitution is a state in which you are bound – certain – to experience hate crime, but unfortunately, it is also the exact same “evil cradling” which will prohibit you from seeking retribution, justice or even recognition for your suffering.  Until the British police are prepared to accept and conform to a common sense of decency and morality by which the victims of crime, and most especially hate crime, do not become the suspect, there will be no “hate crime reporting” revolution, but if there is not an end to this abhorrent discrimination, the probability of other forms of revolt will no longer be dismissible.

In June 2012 Glasgow City Council moved that “The people of Glasgow, no matter how welcoming, cannot be expected to pick up the pieces where UKBA fails”.  “Here Here” say all of those who have met the man upon the stair and wish, and wish, he was not there.

 

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He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

 

 

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[1] Tennessee Williams, “A Streetcar Named Desire”, 3,xi

 

[2] Hughes Mearns, “Antigonissh”  1899

Three Little Words

2 Aug

June 2012  people gathered on Sheffield train station to welcome back Lemlem Hussein Abdu…  The train rolled in and tears rolled down the faces of many of those who had fought so hard to bring her back to Sheffield.  We clapped as Lemlem was assisted off the train with her bags and Gina Clayton (Chair ASSIST, Vice Chair City of Sanctuary) breathed three magical words “We did it”.   Lemlem’s case is an incredibly poignant one for activists in Sheffield.  For many years Lemlem has been the face of both injustice and forbearance as she has moved through the community with kindness and humour whilst also embodying the fallibility of the UK asylum system and it’s Achilles heel of enforcing destitution upon people who cannot leave.

Lemlem was denied asylum by the UKBA, despite having nowhere else in the world to go and having made Sheffield her home.  They tried to deport her to Ethiopia no less than three times, despite the fact that Ethiopia and Lemlem’s place of birth Eritrea are different countries.  No-one in possession of the facts could fail to see that the Home Office were making an unjustified decision, cynically using the Ethiopian travel document that Lemlem had been issued to dispose of her from Britain on a technicality.  The British may be fond of a bit of bureaucracy, but generally I do not think we like a cheat and using the rule book to defeat someone in this dishonest way is certainly “not cricket”.  To understand the special significance of Lemlem’s case and those three little words, you need only look to the left or the right of Lemlem and her friends.

On Jubilee Bank Holiday on a council estate in Sheffield a 61 year old lady makes her way to a friend’s home.  Denied asylum by the UK, this lady has been destitute for the last three years.  She is a good friend of Lemlem’s and knows that Lemlem is going to report to the UKBA soon and lodge her fresh claim.  The friend and the lady discuss Lemlem’s situation, along with other people that they know – needless to say there is little good news to share.

Two women who have been brought to the UK and kept as slaves have had their cases accepted and have each been granted one year to remain in the UK.  In each case that year is about to end.  In the case of Rose*, she has been trafficked here and used as a prostitute, escaping after three years and hiding for one year before applying for asylum and eventually (after being rejected), being granted the one year…  In that time she has managed to secure a place at University, but living from day to day with her fresh claim, has no idea if she will be able to take up that offer.  She regularly volunteers to go into schools and talk to pupils about what she has gone through and the impact that her past and current situation has on her life, saying that “If I can help one young person to think before they judge someone and to understand that you do not know what that person has been through, that is enough.”  To see the look of respect and appreciation on the children and teachers faces for her honesty and her generosity in sharing her story is a powerful sight.

Laya* was brought here through family and kept as an agricultural labourer without pay or human rights for seven years.  She has made a life for herself in Sheffield and has no family nor any friends or prospects to return to in her place of origin, which she left as a teen.  Applying now for further leave to remain, she is unable to make any plans or entertain hopes for her future as she believes that returning to her home country would finish her life.  She says “This is the first time I have a life.  Growing up I didn’t have a dad – he died when I was born.  My mum died when I was little and I went to my family in the village.  We made money by selling things to people on the bus like food and water.  I came here to help my cousin – I did everything for her but she gave me no money, no home, I have to work all the time, I sleep outside with the animals…  This is the first time I have a life.  I do voluntary work, I see my friends, sometimes we cook together.  What will I do if I have to go?  Where will I go?”

A young family has been issued with removal orders for the 6th June.  The friend has been to visit them the day before the jubilee and UKBA officers have arrived demanding that the three family members, mum dad and 1 year old son come to the door shouting “Are you all here?  ARE YOU ALL HERE!”  Seeing the friend’s children they say “Who’s this?  Who is here?” and when they realise that the family have company they confer upon whether they should come back later.  Agreeing between themselves that they will come back in half an hour they leave and shortly afterwards, they all leave, dragging a few possessions in one suitcase and a bag, mother and son departing with the friend in the car, dad walking away down the road on his own.  The little one did not know what was happening and was happy to be going in a car with some friends.  His dad’s “I love you” did not sting his eyes with tears.  His little brother or sister is bulging in his mummy’s tummy, seven months gone.  What could be more fun than a trip out for the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee?

Now the jubilee has arrived.  The 61 year old lady and her friend sit on a lawn and share a meal – baked beans and rice.  The friend has “out-of-date” chicken kiev’s, but the lady refrains owing to them not being halal.  They discuss their friends.  They discuss Lemlem.

“Surely they could not lock her up again?” they say.

“She has more support and a better chance than anyone…”

More chance than another friend who has been detained since before Christmas, been on hunger strike for weeks on end and has recently called from a distant Capital to say “delete the petitions and every reference to me on the internet…”  More chance than a friend who after many years waiting and three detailed interviews by the Home Office has finally received a 43 page refusal letter, with so many clauses that he cannot expect legal representation and will now have to represent himself in court.  More chance than the lady herself who has little significance to a system that simply does not accept that she is here.

So yes, we were happy for Lemlem.  We were pleased that she has been granted “Three Years to Remain”.  They are so generous.  The only sad thing is that those three little words “We did it” are so seldom heard.

Lemlem Letters and Petition

8 Oct

There will be another gathering of support soon

An urgent campaign is underway to help Lemlem.

There will be a gathering of support next week – date and time to be confirmed – banners will be needed.

There is a new petition and model letter to send to the Home Secretary.  Please click the links below to access the documents. 

LemLemModel letter October 2010

LemLem new petition

Lemlem Hussein Abdu

5 Oct

Lemlem looking after friends kids at RASAG party

Once again the Home Office has failed to make the right decision about the case of Lemlem Hussein Abdu.  The UK border Agency has ordered her to leave the UK and booked her a flight to Ethiopia yesterday – Lemlem is not from Ethiopia she is from Eritrea. 

There will be a demonstration outside Sheffield Town Hall on Friday 15th October at 4.30 – there will probably be a banner making session before (further info to follow) but any banners saying things like “Lemlem must stay” and “Keep Lemlem in Sheffield” will add colour and visibility.

Please join the facebook group for further info on the campaign http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=102878976433976&ref=mf

Many thanks to Shine on Sharrow!

31 Aug

Thanks to the Shine on Sharrow committee RASAG will be holding an Eid celebration on 11th September at the Old Junior School building, 1-5 pm.  As well as proving some delicious food for everyone, RASAG will be laying on entertainment including Kurdish singing and dancing.  We are on the look out for performers to make this a truly multicultural experience and there will be children’s activities too. 

Everyone is welcome to come and celebrate on the 11th september – the more the merrier.

Happy Eid Party 

 This will be a great opportunity to eat and drink together, have fun and meet new friends in the community.  The whole community likes to celebrate Christmas together, whether we are Christians or not…  Let’s do something special together as a community for Eid this year.

Victory for RASAG – Fear for Mother and Kids…

21 Aug

RASAG had another piece of great news this week – following a letter to a solicitor and the UK Border Agency, the member who had been fitted with a tag for the last three years has been released. This is a great victory as the RASAG member had become severely depressed about his seemingly endless arbitrary incarceration and the tag was also causing physical damage to his leg as well as restricting his movements and forcing him to submit to an unreasonable curfew. The “sentence” imposed upon him was clearly a breach of his human rights, but the often haphazard ways of the UKBA paired with the might of a product pushing multi-national like SERCO meant that hope for a sensible and humane result looked dim – but we did it! The RASAG member is very happy and can’t wait to get stuck in to the full range of RASAG activities, many of which, including the upcoming City Of Sanctuary talent contest, take place in the early evening, so the curfew would have prevented him from attending.

Sad news in Sheffield’s asylum seeking community is that a mother and her three small children are facing deportation to Nigeria on the 2nd September. There is a facebook group called “Stop Sheffield Kids Deportation Danger” at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=144107995621408&ref=mf

To download a petition and get involved in the campaign please go to

http://www.sheffieldcdas.org.uk/campaign…

The facebook group has information about the family and will be kept up to date with documents relating to the campaign as they become available.  The very short time scale that this campaign has to make an impact coupled with the fact that it is the school summer holidays so very difficult to mobilise potential supporters through the children’s primary school make it of the utmost urgency that people get on board and support this campaign.  RASAG has not had the opportunity to work with Mildred, but she is an active member of the Sheffield community where she has lived with her family for five years. She has worked as a volunteer with the Citizens Advice Bureau, Home-Start Sheffield, Northern Refugee Centre (REACT) among other places. She is a familiar voice on Sheffield Live! Community radio station. She was also given an award by City of Sanctuary for her services to the community.  It would be great if the community could give something back to this dedicated and active mother of three small children.

Joy and Despair

18 Aug

RASAG has had two great sources of happiness recently; two of the founding members have been granted indefinite leave to remain. We are all so happy and pleased for the members and wish luck to them and thier families, one of which is here in the Uk and the other is still in the country of origin, hopefully now one step closer to being brought over here to start a new life. However, it has also come to light that one of our key members is living in a state of depression and discomfoft due to being fitted with an elecronic ankle tag to monitor his movements and to impose an unreasonable curfew upon him. This member has been unable to attend RASAG events that take place in the evening, and when he did break his curfew to attend the launch of Chris Stone’s “Shared Sense of Belonging” project, he was threatened with imprisonment.

The member in question arrived in the UK in 2005 and his original claim for asylum was turned down, but as he is from Iran, there was no question of him being returned to his country; one of the many incongruities of the asylum system. Having been forced into destitution, with all benefits and housing rights withdrawn, the RASAG member took the uneasy choice to enter into illegal work. He was caught and was sentenced to 12 month in prison; he served 16 months… This is already a breach of his human and civil rights. When he was finally released after spending an awful year and a quater in Liverpool and Doncaster prisons he was forced to submit to electronic tagging; that was three years ago and he has abided by the conditions ever since. Having reached rock bottom with his situation after suffering damage to his leg from the tag while playing football, and being unable to interact with his local community and the RASAG group because of the curfew, the RASAG member has decided to speak out about his plight and to try to challenge his sentence through the courts. The member in question has spoken to the BBC journalist who we have been working with about his situation and he has taken letters of reference to a solicitor to see if they can help him.

Another source of concern in the latest RASAG meeting was the Home Offices reaction to the Supreme Court Judgement that failed asylum seekers who make a second fresh claim for asylum should be given the right to work if they do not receive a decision within one year of their claim. Damian Green, Immigration Minister, has decided to severely restrict the jobs that this group of asylum seekers, estimated to be around 45,000 in number, will be able to do. He said “I believe it is important to maintain a distinction between economic migration and asylum – giving failed asylum seekers access to the labour market undermines this principle.” (Guardian Thursday 29 July 2010), yet his idea to limit this group to jobs on the shortage occupation list means that infact they will be treated in exactly the same way as economic migrants from outside the UK. As Jonathan Ellis, director of policy and development at the Refugee Council, said “The shortage occupation list is not designed for asylum seekers but rather economic migrants needing sponsorship to come to the UK. Asylum seekers who have waited so long for a decision should be allowed to work for local employers whenever their skills are needed.” (Guardian Thursday 29 July 2010)

The only thing that is clear here is that the right to work continues to be a minefield of uncertainties and the Home Office continues to churn out inconsistant policy and commentary. Progress is slow and even good news is tainted.