I wash up, from a journey that is irrelevant.
They tell me, in my language or someone else’s to find my way to Croydon. Hours on buses or trains, confusion in stations, staring at announcements that flash orange. If I delay, they use this against me. If I used illegal papers or methods of crossing, they use this against me. My story does not matter yet.
Croydon Home Office take photos and fingerprints. They screen me: I don’t know the answers to their questions. My injuries are irrelevant.They send me to some house where I am left alone, or with other people, alone, with their own story and tongue. My trauma is irrelevant.
I am taken for an asylum interview. If I don’t know exact details of what happened: they will use this against me. If I guess, they use this against me. If my translator gets things wrong they use this against me. If I say something contradictory to the screening interview they see me as a liar. My translator may work for the state from which I am running. I cannot choose what they translate and what they do not. I cannot correct them. If I have a lawyer they may not help. The concept of good representation or no representation is a rule I may not be told for years.
If I have not made my case, I am taken to a deportation centre. This is a prison by another name. I am sent back to my country or left there. The truth in my story does not matter. If I am not taken, they kick me out of my shelter.
I can appeal, and wait in England for the Tribunal. Once I have applied I am given housing and benefits: £35 a week. I have to go to Liverpool to appeal, where they make the decision to reassess on the same day. To appeal, I need to show why the last judge was wrong. I need a medical report, a psychological evaluation, a scarring report to substantiate my claims of abuse. I need statements from experts of my country; I need character witnesses, people to say why my last application was wrong in one crucial detail. I need a solicitor who knows this. I need evidence to say that I am in danger and need refuge. I cannot apply for an appeal until I have this evidence. Until then I receive no housing, money or support unless it’s from oversubscribed charities.
If my appeal is refused, I am detained, and I need a friend or solicitor to pay bail. Their legal aid may have run out. I may know no one in this country to help. If my bail is paid, I can appeal again, without money or housing. Deportation decisions have been overturned through MP intervention, an outcry from the community. If my family’s separation is at stake, pictures of us together must be sent to prove my legitimacy or my sexuality.
If they accept my appeal, they provide me with accommodation once again. I am not allowed to choose where. It does not matter where my solicitor is. It does not matter where my friends or family are, nor where any support I have managed to fall upon may be based. The tribunal can take three years. If they cannot make a decision after a year, I am allowed to attempt to find work. Until then it is illegal, and I must live off the state. The law forces a reputation of idleness upon me.
If my asylum is granted, this lasts for 5 years. My asylum can be reassessed at any point during this time if the situation in my country has changed. After five years there is another review for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
I am not granted the right to stay in this Great Britain if I have been threatened in my country. Not if I have been abused in my country. Not if my family has gone missing. Not if my life is in danger due to my race, political orientation or origin. I need proof. My fear, my previous abuse is not enough. My story does not matter. My journey is irrelevant. My trauma, my truth, means nothing to the law. I have asylum but only because, otherwise, the government would violate the European Convention of Human Rights. Still, I need proof, and they will abolish the convention soon enough. And so a white plaque defines these selfish shores: ‘You are not welcome’.
‘We have to remember their identity as a hero, from the start’- Edward Milner, Chair of Santé Asylum Project.
by Debbie Luxon
Photos by Clare Thompson, taken in the Calais Jungle Oct. 2016. Licensed under Creative Commons CC 2.0
Based on an interview by an Asylum and Immigration Lawyer and Asylum Seekers.