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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.

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Lemlem’s Coming Home! | Lemlem Must Stay

26 Jun

Lemlem’s Coming Home! | Lemlem Must Stay.

Man of Many Talents

5 Mar

When he’s not cooking up delicious dishes, RASAG member Mustafa is capturing the best bits of the City of Sanctuary Party on video.

 

Here it is!

Shef Factor – Talent Contest

22 Sep

Goran singing

Sheffield City of Sanctaury and Sheffield Quakers teamed up to create a showcase of talent from around Sheffield, with refugees, asylum seekers, Quakers and other community members taking the opportunity to perform and support each other in a highly successful and unique event.  RASAG had a range of roles within the event; we provided all of the savoury food including fish, kookoo, biryani and dolma – many thanks to Nzazi, Sagheer, Azizeh and Mustafa for their work.  One of our members teamed up with Quaker Friend Rosie to MC the event – well done Spag.  RASAG member Goran performed with his band Jakam Jar Bu – great to see evryone dancing and enjoying the music – thanks Goran and Rasul.  A group of us also performed a story from the Legends storytelling project – big thanks to Firas who told the story and Lemlem, Azizeh and Shiran for bringing it to life!

As a taster of the great talent and diversity of the Shef Factor event, I would like to introduce you to a star of the future – Pallav Roy.  Pallav is a British boy who has bags of talent and kindly turned out with his family to support Sheffield’s City of Sanctuary.  Here he is with two songs at the talent show remember you saw him here first!

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.

City of Sanctuary

10 Aug

RASAG is currently working on several initiatives to expand the group and to take it to the next level.  we are working with a BBC journalist on a feature about the City of Sanctuary, where she will be using case studies to dispel the myth that asylum seekers and refugees come to England for an easy ride…  One of the RASAG members who has agreed to talk to the journalist is Lemlem Hussein Abdu, the Eritrean lady who was detained and had a flight booked to a country that she does not originate from, but was given a last minute reprieve in the form of an injunction that halted her flight.  The Manchester court granted the injunction at the last minute because a document was located and faxed from Saudi Arabia that proved that Lemlem was from Ertitrea, not Ethiopia, despite the fact that she had been issued with an Ethiopian passport (which is far from unusual as Eritrea was historically possessed by Ethiopia – the root of all of the war and troubles there in the first place).  With the help of key RASAG member and co-founder, Firas Sharefy, Lemlem will tell her story to the journalist in the hope that it will help give a greater understanding to the Sheffield community about the violence and persecution that people are subjected to before they take that enormous decision to flee their own country and seek asylum elsewhere.  Lemlem is yet to be granted leave to remain in the UK so the campaign continues.  Please go to Sheffield CDAS at http://www.sheffieldcdas.org.uk/, or contact SYMAAC at dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk for more information, or write to Home Secretary Teresa May at Rt Hon Theresa May MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA to make your views known.

Another project involving people’s own stories that RASAG is assisting with is one mentioned earlier in this blog, Chris Stone at FURD’s “Shared Sense of Belonging” project.  Firas has joined the steering team for this project to help to guide the direction of the research that will take place.  This project promises to be very exciting. as it explores the sociological implications of what creates a sense of home, ownership or belonging for someone who has been driven from their own place of origin to a distant place that often does not welcome them, persecutes them and plunges them into a world of misinformation and uncertainty.  This project will particularly focus on how playing, watching and talking about football play a part in creating a sense of belonging and home in people from disparate backgrounds, but it will also examine the role of other sports and activities by way of comparison.   Several RASAG members are also interested in forming a five a side team to play football at FURD, which would be very exciting as it would be one of the few city teams that would be made up of people from different nationalities, rather than being a “DRC team”, and “Iraqi team” etc…  This unity between refugees and asylum seekers of different nationalities is one of RASAG’s great strengths.

More exciting plans in the offing include the creation of a RASAG identity card which would aim to give members a sense of belonging and ownership and could be used to enable them to interact with other community groups on an official level.  This idea came from the group when RASAG member Spag was asked to help with interpreting for an asylum case by Sheffield CDAS and was asked to show his RASAG ID – we had not considered the fact that  members would be offered opportunities based on their RASAG membership status before this point but it is a positive development.  We would also like to buy a laptop and some software so that we can start to create a database of our members and activities.

RASAG’s next event is planned to be a post Eid community meal where we will tell stories, perform music and provide attendees with food from around the world…  This event will be used to create a space for the group to meet with the wider community and to promote our activities and ethos.  We are all also looking forward to the end of Summer of Sanctuary celebrations planned to take place later this month – Summer of sanctuary funded our Legends project and in fact RASAG was formed to take part in this unique three month event.

Finally I am very pleased to announce that I have been offered the role of Communications and Administration Worker for Sheffield City of Sanctuary.  As the only member of RASAG who is not an asylum seeker or refugee I am keenly aware that this prospect is a real privilege and  an opportunity that is sadly not available to many of the group members who have hitherto been denied the right to work.  However, following the court judgment that asylum seekers who do not receive a decision within a set time should be given the right to work, I hope that this will be the start of many RASAG members finding gainful employment within the sector.   In my role at the City of Sanctuary I will be supporting a groundbreaking grassroots organisation  key to the sector of people seeking asylum in Sheffield.  I will be helping to advance the aim to promote a positive image of refugees and asylum seekers in the city and provide spaces for encounters between the community and the wider Sheffield population, which is also embedded in RASAG’s constitution.  Of course the work with RASAG will also continue.

As always, RASAG can be contacted of katelyn_mckeown@yahoo.co.uk, or at Learn For Life Enterprise on 0114 2559080.

Katelyn 🙂

Lemlem Coming Home To Stay?

23 Jul

Great news has come through that Lemlem will be released from Yarls Wood and allowed to come back to Sheffield – she must feel so relieved and campaigners will be elated.  However, until Lemlem is granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, the battle will not be over.  It is still vital that we put pressure on Meg Munn, Lemlem’s constituency MP to lobby the Home Secretary on her bahalf.   Theresa May and the Home Office are the best chance for Lemlem. The legal team is preparing a judicial review for today so there is hope, but there’s still some way to go.  For now, Lemlem has been granted “temporary admission” and will be returning to the UK’s first City of Sanctuary, her home.

If, like me, you have read the two news articles in the Star about Lemlem online you may have been as shocked as I have been about the ignorant, racist and vitriolic comments that have been made about Lemlem and her situation.  There is clearly some way to go in making sure that the inhabitants of Sheffield are “proud to be a place of safety”.  A BBC Radio Sheffield journalist is preparing a feature on City of Sanctuary and is looking for 7 case studies of people who have come to Sheffield for Sanctuary.  Preferably the participants will have been in Sheffield for 3 years or less, people from any stage of the asylum process (including enforced destitution) are welcome.  Participants will be willing and able to tell the story of how and why they came to Sheffield and may have someone support them while they meet the journalist.  The output, ie, their story in the feature, will be totally anonymous….  Of course, RASAG are taking part.

For more info on this or any RASAG project, get in touch on katelyn_mckeown@yahoo.co.uk