Suella Braverman’s sacking should of course be welcomed. She was an awful Home Secretary, who combined extreme cruelty with an obsessive determination to generate headlines rather than actual solutions to the UK’s beleaguered and creaking immigration and asylum system.
Whilst other recent occupants of this senior government post have pursued vicious anti-migrant agendas, none appeared to genuinely enjoy inflicting such misery and fear on vulnerable communities as Braverman. This was no better exemplified than her cackling with glee whilst visiting Rwanda in March, giddy at the thought of exiling vulnerable and scared people to a country many of them will have never even heard of.
The removal of Braverman though will not even get close to fixing the damage caused during her tenure, and in the years preceding it. The government’s unhealthy fixation on immigration being the cause of all of the UK’s problems ensures that whilst the face may change and, hopefully, some of Braverman’s vicious language will cease, a shift in existing cruel and counter-productive policies is unlikely.
Braverman was not hired by accident and her elevation to Home Secretary follows a pattern of more extreme figures receiving the position. She effectively succeeded Priti Patel, herself so viciously anti-migrant that she boasted that had she been in post at the time, her own parents would not have been allowed into the UK. Braverman was described as “Patel on steroids”, so her conduct whilst in post really was not a surprise.
James Cleverly has now been confirmed as Braverman’s successor. Though we certainly hope he does not stoke hatred and division in the same way, judging by his video on X this afternoon – predictably stating that refugees arriving by boat, not an NHS on its knees or a cost-of-living crisis, are the biggest crisis facing the country – we should not expect any meaningful divergence.
This is no clearer than with the government’s cash for humans Rwanda deal. The Supreme Court will be ruling on the lawfulness of this policy imminently, and if the government is serious about leaving the worst excesses of the Braverman era behind, they should start by scrapping the Rwanda deal.
Whatever the Supreme Court decides, and even if they do find that in theory the scheme is legally permissible, it does not change the fact that it is morally reprehensible. From its announcement 19 months ago, the deal has struck fear into asylum seekers and shown the UK at its worst, far from the compassionate and kind country we profess to be.
The creation of safe routes for refugees to reach the UK should swiftly follow. Braverman is not the only senior member of government who has repeatedly mischaracterised those taking dangerous journeys as “jumping the queue” when nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that there is no queue to jump, with basically no options for people fleeing conflict to get to the UK. This April, Braverman shamelessly lied on Sky News that refugees should apply through the UNHCR, which as anyone working in the refugee sector will tell you is not how the process works. The UNHCR selects people for resettlement and then makes recommendations to the UK government. In the year ending March 2023, the UK resettled just 4,414 people, 16,000 fewer than the previous year.
The government’s response to overseas conflicts, with the exception of Ukraine, has also been pitiful with no resettlement schemes introduced for those stranded in places such as Sudan. When the Sudanese conflict broke out in April, we were working on behalf of 14 people there hoping to reunite with close family in the UK. These were mainly unaccompanied children who were already refugees from neighbouring Eritrea.
All 14 people were living in extremely dangerous conditions, yet all persisted with the labyrinth application process to come to the UK. To date, over 7 months later, only 2 have had their applications processed and managed to safely travel to the UK. In one of these cases, the government even claimed in court that the outbreak of conflict in Sudan was not a change of circumstance that meant the claim needed reconsidering.
This lack of safe routes, and peoples’ desire to reunite with loved ones, is what drives dangerous journeys. Time and again we have heard from UK based family members how their relatives in Sudan cannot just sit tight and wait years for the government to consider their application. Faced with extreme danger, people are left with no option but to seek alternative and dangerous routes to safety. Rather than pursuing ever crueller and more punitive measures, the government should introduce schemes that allow those living in conflict zones to safely and swiftly travel to the UK when clear family ties exist here.
Public support for the Ukrainian schemes suggests a far more welcoming approach than is often assumed, and, despite the government’s rhetoric, people actually want a welcoming, flexible, and fair migration system. The immigration system as it stands is none of these things, with no options for refugees to travel safely to the UK, people housed in disused army bases and abandoned barges whilst waiting years for a decision on their asylum claim and a government hell-bent on exiling people to Rwanda. Braverman’s removal alone does nothing to change this.
If the government seriously wants to improve the UK’s immigration system, it could do so. Braverman’s departure may help tone down the rhetoric, but until sensible, serious and most importantly humane steps are taken to create safe routes and fix the delays inherent in the asylum decision-making process, nothing substantive will change. With public attitudes clearly shifting though, a fairer and kinder asylum system would be good politics and unquestionably save lives.
Melanie, a caseworker in RAMFEL’s refugee and asylum team, has written about her experience reuniting refugee families. The UK government makes the process extremely difficult, leaving young children alone in extremely vulnerable circumstances for many months, creating a risk of exploitation, trafficking, and taking perilous journeys to Europe.
“He always expresses that he wants to be with family who loves him and wants him. We feel helpless that we cannot do anything about that when it comes to reuniting with us […] he is in danger because of his mental state. There is civil unrest in Ethiopia, and it is very hard to live there without a family to support you, especially if you are young.”
This is the situation of many young people with relatives they are seeking to join in the UK. Contrary to frequent, sensationalised media reports and demonising government statements, the vast majority of those crossing the Channel to come to the UK are later found to meet the stringent criteria for refugee status. 70% of asylum claims in 2023 have been successful, and over 40% of refused claims are later overturned when appealed with the Tribunal. Many of those who travel irregularly to the UK also have family members in the UK they seek to be reunited with. Due to the inaccessibility of safe routes to enter the UK, many individuals, including many young people, face this dilemma: pay smugglers to travel irregularly to the UK via dangerous means, or engage in the prohibitively bureaucratic, delay-ridden UK visa application process—for which many will be ineligible.
The types of situations which cause people to seek asylum – persecution, often in circumstances of civil conflict or targeting from violent groups or individuals – often lead refugees to be separated from their closest family members. It is widely acknowledged by the UNHCR and many countries that being able to reunite with close family members is an “essential right” for refugees. Studies have also shown the profound impact this has on refugees, both for their mental health and their ability to integrate, settle into, and begin re-establishing their lives in a new country.
While UK family reunion provisions allow refugees to apply for their spouses and children to join them in the UK, the situation is much more difficult for other family members. The nature of conflict and persecution often fractures and separates families, leading many to develop very close bonds with family members other than their children or spouses. These vitally important family relationships, including those between young adults and their parents, or even children and their parents, are not accounted for in UK immigration law.
Many of my clients have endured traumatic experiences which affected their family setups. Ahmed, a young refugee from Eritrea, fled indefinite military conscription in his country at a young age to avoid recruitment. His father, who was deployed in the military, was never heard from again. After several years in the UK, he discovered that two of his younger sisters had also fled Eritrea and were in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Several months later, he discovered that one of his sisters had been captured by Eritrean military and forcibly returned to Eritrea, where she was imprisoned at the age of 15 for fleeing the country. His younger sister, Sagal, managed to escape to Addis Ababa, where she lived with other young people in a similar situation.
We assisted Ahmed with applying for Sagal, who was then aged 15, to join him in the UK. During the application process, their mother passed away, making Ahmed the only living family member his younger sister was in touch with. Sagal had no future prospects in Ethiopia, where she had no immigration status, no adults to care for her, and no support of any kind to pay for food or accommodation, aside from the money her brother sent her. For her application to succeed, Sagal had to show ‘exceptional circumstances’ – an extremely high threshold which, even when met, the Home Office systematically refuses to acknowledge. In this instance, an independent social worker noted with shock that Sagal was “at imminent risk of significant harm“ and concluded that “I have never assessed a child to be at as at great risk of harm as [Sagal]”; despite this, after 11 months of waiting for a decision, the Home Office refused to give Sagal a visa.
At the appeal hearing challenging this decision, the judge noted that there had been ‘a total failure by [the Home Office] to carry out fair or timely decision making for refugee family reunion or to consider the evidence’. Appeal processes are lengthy and protracted and whilst waiting for her day in court, the young people Sagal was living with fled, leaving her completely alone as a child in a foreign country. Ahmed was so worried about his sister that he went to Ethiopia to care for her, despite his limited financial means, and sacrificing his own studies in the process. At the hearing, the immigration Judge expressed alarm at GD’s situation, remarking that she was in ‘the most dangerous of circumstances and found to be at risk of imminent harm’, having been described by social workers as a ‘terrified child’. In her decision, the judge raised ‘the urgency of allowing this particular child entry to the UK without further delay’, and allowed the appeal on the same day. This may sound like a happy ending, but we started working on Sagal’s visa application at the beginning of 2021 and she did not arrive in the UK until May 2023. It should not take this long to reunite a vulnerable child, living in grave danger, with their family in the UK.
These cases are illustrative of the dire circumstances faced by many young people separated from their family members in the UK. Many remain trapped in their country of origin, or in third countries, unable to obtain a visa to reach a place of safety, and unable to stay where they are due to precarious and often dangerous circumstances. Left with these options, many take matters into their own hands and undertake extremely dangerous journeys across the Sahara, risking kidnapping or imprisonment by smugglers; crossing the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels; to reach European countries where they face street homelessness, racial abuse, or imprisonment in inhumane conditions. Many of my clients’ family members describe having nothing to lose. As one client put it, he has no life where he is, so why would he not risk his life in trying to be with his family somewhere safer?
The government frequently cites UNHCR resettlement schemes as an alternative option for individuals in Sagal and Ahmed’s circumstances. This is disingenuous, as individuals must be selected for resettlement by the UNHCR; there is no application process. These schemes also apply only to individuals who are already displaced outside of their home country, and who are able to register with the UNHCR. The criteria for resettlement are opaque, and the Home Office ultimately decides the types and the number of individuals who will be permitted to resettle in the UK. Very few people qualify; in 2022, only 1,185 people were resettled in the UK; and less than 1% of the refugee population in the world is resettled. Most importantly, when choosing who to resettle in the UK, the UNHCR prioritizes the most vulnerable individuals, not their family ties to the UK, leaving many refugees in third countries stranded despite having clear family connections here.
Abdi, who was separated from his mother at a young age after she fled Somalia, was so desperate to be reunited with his only surviving family members (his brothers in the UK, Abshir and Mohammed) that he considered taking a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. The dangers of this journey are evident: in 2023, the UNHCR estimated 2,539 individuals had gone missing or died attempting to come to Europe. After Abshir’s mother died in 2015 leaving him alone in a foreign country with no one to care for him, his eldest brother Mohammed applied for him to come to the UK. When his visa application was refused twice, Abshir travelled to Europe irregularly. Abdi now found himself in the same situation as his older Abshir brother had; as his eldest brother said, ‘If someone’s family is abroad, they will do as much as they can to join them, they will try to cross regardless of the consequences, as he feels that he has ‘no future there at all’.
Abshir repeatedly urged his younger brother against travelling irregularly, warning him about his own traumatic journey in which he witnessed friends dying, and experienced a traumatic period of imprisonment with adults in desperate, dire circumstances. Abshir and Mohammed wanted nothing more than to protect Abdi from having to experience the horrors which continue to haunt Abshir, a bright young man who has since managed to settle into his life in the UK and aims to work in the medical profession. In Abshir’s words, “The only hope he has is to come and be reunited with us. If not, the only route he has to go down is the one that I did, the smuggler’s route.”
Abshir’s patience and willingness to engage in the lengthy and invasive visa application process eventually paid off for his brother, but only after nearly 3 years of work and suffering for the family. After months of preparing copious evidence, Abdi’s application was submitted in January 2022, only to be refused over a year later. The UNHCR, who assessed Abdi and his brothers, warned that he was at risk of embarking on a dangerous journey to reach Europe; this was reiterated by Abdi’s two brothers in the UK, and by Abdi himself. The Home Office, however, refused his application partly on the basis that it was merely ‘speculation’ that Abdi might take this dangerous journey. When the case went to a hearing at the Immigration Tribunal, however, the judge noted that:
I find that if this appeal was refused, the Appellant would undertake the dangerous and illegal journey to the UK. The result of all of this would lead to unjustifiably harsh consequences for the Appellant if he was refused entry clearance.
The immensity of the risk, and the difficulty of the choices facing individuals in this situation cannot be overstated. In this case, the UNCHR noted that remaining in Ethiopia would put Abdi ‘at risk of exploitation and abuse’. The UNHCR acknowledges the appalling situation of refugee camps in Ethiopia, citing risks of starvation or malnutrition, and explaining that ‘the situation of children without any support is dire’, with many forced into labour in order to feed themselves. These grim realities were blithely ignored by the Home Office in their assessment that it was reasonable to refuse JD’s visa application to join his brother, demonstrating a deference to UNHCR only when it suits the UK government.
The government repeatedly urges individuals to take so-called ‘safe and legal routes’ to the UK rather than embarking on dangerous journeys. Yet the reality for those who require visas to enter the UK is that the process is so complex, restrictive, and lengthy that either they cannot navigate the application process; they are not eligible for any visas; or they cannot wait years for the outcome of an application while they remain in immediate danger.
Our clients who were able to benefit from free legal representation to make these applications are the exceptions which prove the rule: that it is incredibly difficult, if not virtually impossible, for many to enter the UK on a visa, even to join family members here who are ready to support them. This is due to very strict, narrow definitions of family members in the Immigration Rules; bureaucratic and legal complexities; as well as long delays and poor quality decision-making by the Home Office, as evidenced by the large number of negative decisions which are overturned by judges. There has never been a greater need for effective safe routes to the UK which are genuinely accessible and which would enable families to be reunited without a long, traumatic wait.
The government, in passing their latest cruel anti-refugee legislation, promised further routes would be introduced. Months later though, nothing has changed and more and more people, including teenagers such as our clients, are left with no option but to embark on dangerous journeys as they seek safety and reunification with their loved ones.
Suella Braverman’s speech this week was the latest of a series of cruel and inhumane attacks on people who are forced to move in order to seek safety. In a bizarre and hateful speech, the Home Secretary made a number of wild denouncements of the Refugee Convention, in a transparent and cynical attempt to use the crisis faced by refugees to grab headlines.
Braverman spoke about the need to rewrite the Refugee Convention, evidenced by a number of lies about how the international and domestic refugee systems actually work. Braverman told her audience that the threshold for receiving protection has shifted from ‘persecution’ to ‘discrimination’ and that a ‘well-founded fear’ has shifted ‘toward a ‘credible’ or ‘plausible” fear’. Anybody who works in the asylum system, including Home Office Presenting Officers, government lawyers, judges, asylum seekers and legal representatives, will unanimously tell you this is not true. Asylum applications and appeals are complex matters requiring individuals to demonstrate that they meet a high threshold, often presenting expert evidence of the particular risks that pertain to their individual circumstances. Braverman’s fictitious claims recall Theresa May’s false stories about a man who fought deportation on the basis of his relationship with his cat.
She reserved a particular attack for those who claim asylum on the basis of sexuality or gender. She decried ‘we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.’ Put another way: if our asylum system were entirely different from how it is in reality, it would not be sustainable. Anyone who works in this area will tell you that the imaginary asylum system the Home Secretary is describing bears no similarity to our own, and LGBTQI+ people must not only convince sceptical government decision-makers of their sexuality but also evidence that they face a well-founded fear of persecution to qualify for refugee protection in the UK. In 2022, only 1.5% of asylum claims relied upon sexual orientation as part of the basis for the claim, with the top three represented countries being places where homosexuality is punishable by life imprisonment or death. The Home Secretary did not care to recall that many of the states that criminalise homosexuality began doing so under British colonial rule. These laws are a relic of empire and the UK has a responsibility to protect those they punish.
There are plenty of relevant facts that the Home Secretary could have drawn attention to – such as the fact that under her tenure as Home Secretary, the asylum backlog has reached record levels, with more people than ever being made to wait in agonising limbo for years. Or that the UK, Europe and USA take responsibility for a small proportion of refugees, with 70% of those displaced across borders remaining in a neighbouring and inevitably far poorer country. If the Home Secretary wanted to fix the problems in the asylum system and reduce financial pressures, her focus would be on processing claims, granting people leave to remain and allowing them to work whilst waiting for decisions on their claims.
For somebody claiming to be broaching ‘taboo’ issues and bringing fresh political ideas, it was surprising to see the Home Secretary repeat a succession of far-right dog whistles and conspiracy theories that we have heard many times. There was the fear-mongering about communities who live ‘parallel lives’, the ugly reference about the birth-rate of ‘foreign-born mothers’ in the UK, and a sinister warning that cultural change is ‘diluting’ what was there before (in ‘Western’ countries), until ‘eventually it will disappear’ – with more than a shade of the ethno-nationalist ‘great replacement theory’. Throw in a ‘notional’ massive number (Braverman appears to have decided that precisely 10% of the world are refugees) and this was a speech straight from the fascist playbook. It is no surprise that its only supporters appeared to come from a fringe far-right extremist party that campaigns against multiculturalism.
This type of hatred will not win. She has been attacked from all angles, including by her own party. Braverman should take note of the fact that attitudes towards immigration have become considerably more positive in recent years, and there is no appetite for this type of politics. We will continue to defend the fundamental right to claim asylum.
In May, we joined 175 organisations warning the government that their so-called ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ amounted to an effective ban on asylum. As we argued then, we all deserve to live safe from harm, and to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect. We urge politicians to reject the Home Secretary’s divisive approach and defend the Refugee Convention, a vital pillar of our universal human rights and as relevant today as it was when created in the aftermath of the second World War.
This statement was prepared by RAMFEL’s Experts by Experience group, established in September 2022 to influence our campaign work and serve as a solidarity group. The group is currently made up of 35 members, people who themselves are on the 10-year route to settlement. The group meet regularly to discuss and identify key areas of focus, develop RAMFEL’s the strategic direction of the group, and undertake training.
Those who would like to support the group’s campaigning work can do so via this link.
We are a group of people who are on the 10-year route to settlement in the UK. We are worried about the impact that the government’s planned rise in visa fees and the immigration health surcharge will have on us, our families and our children.
The increase in visa fees is unfair and should be condemned. It will really affect a lot of migrants and it is not fair on all of us that have already been in this country for more than 10 years. It is also insensitive and too much to bear with the increases in the cost of living and other economic problems in the country. It is an act of cruelty towards us migrants.
We cannot afford even the current visa fees, which for a single person, is already £2,608 every 2.5 years. This is simply too high. Many among us have families – one member of our group has a family of 6 for and it already costs £15,648 to renew their visas, but this would go up to £23,070 with the increase. This is ridiculous. On top of this, there are legal fees. We are all worried that we are not going to be able to renew our visas, because we do not earn enough and we do not have enough savings. The government should consider people like us who do not have much money but are working every day to support our families.
There are so many other problems with the 10-year route to settlement and it is really difficult. The entire process is tough, and current waiting times for renewals are long because of government delays. This creates a huge headache, and your employer might suspend you without pay while waiting for the decision from the Home Office. This is something you go through every 30 months, so you can never have job security. And on top of that, they want the fees again, each time.
Some of us are still paying back loans of thousands of pounds that we needed to pay for immigration applications and registering our children as British citizens. It means we can’t pay our bills, we can never take our children on holiday, we can’t buy our children the clothing they need.
The government is using migrants as political excuses. One minute they do not want us here in the country, next we are useful when they want to use us to pay for the public sector pay increase.
The impact of the new visa fees will be families driven to impoverishment, increased stress levels and mental health problems, finding the money becomes an obsession. And on top of this, the cost of living crisis. There is also the constant worry of becoming an overstayer because you cannot afford the fees.
Many of us are health workers, and it is particularly unjust that we are made to pay the government’s health surcharge when we are already contributing to the NHS. The government is just robbing Peter to pay Paul, without recognising the positive impact that migrants bring. Most people on the 10-year-route, for instance, work very hard and pay tax, and often still have to work a second job to pay their bills. Migrants with no recourse to public funds worked really hard during Covid, and even though we were scared to leave our homes we did not have a choice. We were on the front lines in large numbers, and those of us that are carers did not get the bonus that NHS staff received. Now visa fees are being increased again, and the same people are being exploited yet again.
The government should reverse this outrageous proposal. At the same time it should reduce the number of times that people have to renew their visas, so that people have more time to save up the thousands of pounds that are needed. Finally, we urge the government to reduce the 10 year route to 5 years, to reduce the burden on us and our families.
You may have seen in the daily mirror, refer to our client's letter to Robert Jenrick. This and his letter are copied below.
Dear Mr Jenrick,
We wanted to share with you our experiences of the UK’s immigration system, having been married to British citizens who have sadly passed away. We know your government has a concession for people in our position that will allow us to stay in the UK, but that if we cannot pay nearly £2,500 we cannot access this concession.
You have said this fee exists, cannot be waived and is so high because we are ‘benefitting’ from the immigration system. We are asking for you to consider our situation and introduce a fee waiver for this concession as otherwise we will never be able to afford it.
We have all made the UK our home, have worked, paid taxes and paid visa application fees. We have paid into the system and it is not our fault that our husbands have passed away and we now face an uncertain future. Widows and widowers are not just numbers or statistics but individuals who have experienced profound loss and are seeking a lifeline to help us move forward. Applying for a fee waiver when we cannot afford thousands of pounds is not about evading responsibility or seeking preferential treatment; it is a plea for compassion and recognition of the extraordinary circumstance that we find ourselves in. We do not feel we are benefitting from anything and it is unfair of you to say this.
Grieving the loss of a loved one is an emotionally challenging experience that requires time and support. The financial burden of immigration fees and the fear of not knowing if we can stay in the UK exacerbates the emotional distress we are already experiencing. We all have children and they have been through enough already but the added pressure we feel is making things even harder for them. They should not be made to feel like they are foreigners in their own country.
It is not realistic to think that we can raise such large sums of money to pay for the application when we are dealing with our loss and raising children single handed. There is no way that we will be able to generate enough money in order to pay you £2,500.
Applying for a fee waiver after the death of our husbands is not just a formality, it represents a lifeline that can alleviate the burden we carry. We want you to please just think about our situation. We feel totally stuck and worried about having to put aside money each month when we are struggling to even feed our children.
We feel that it is important that you understand the reality of our situation and hope you will consider introducing a fee waiver so that we can secure our future in the UK. By doing so, you would be offering a helping hand to bereaved widows who are striving to rebuild their lives.
We would love the chance to meet with you so that you can better understand this issue is having on us.
Three bereaved partners unable to afford the Home Office’s application fees
Court of Appeal finds government’s cash for humans Rwanda deal unlawful
Today, the Court of Appeal has declared the government’s plan to send refugees to Rwanda unlawful. This comes a day after the House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment to the government’s flagship Refugee Ban Bill that will require them to abide by a series of international human rights obligations. These 2 separate defeats leaves the government’s cruel anti-refugee agenda in tatters.
The Court itself held that the Rwandan asylum system did not adequately protect refugees from return to countries where they faced persecution. This means that Rwanda is not, despite UK government claims to the contrary, a “safe country” for refugees and in turn means that attempts by the government to remove refugees to Rwanda would be a breach of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Article 3 imposes an absolute prohibition on torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and states cannot under any circumstances derogate from this legal obligation. As the consequence of exiling refugees to Rwanda could see them returned to countries where they faced such abuse, the UK government is therefore prohibited from carrying out such removals.
Rather than accept the Court’s judgment, the UK government has already confirmed it will appeal to the Supreme Court. This will see yet more public money wasted on what has already been a hugely expensive and thus far unsuccessful policy, with even the government’s own assessment concluding that removing a single person would cost £169,000.00.
Whilst thankfully no one has yet been removed to Rwanda under the scheme, its impact has still been felt by refugees. RAMFEL clients have since the scheme’s announcement in May 2022 repeatedly told our staff how the scheme caused them fear and anxiety, and the message from the government to those seeking sanctuary could not have been less welcoming. This damage will be hard to undo, especially as the government shows no sign of abandoning this policy.
For now though, all in the sector should celebrate this victory, which is crucial for the rule of law and human rights in the UK, but also for basic kindness and decency towards those who’ve left their home seeking safety.
If the government is serious about actually improving the UK’s asylum system, there are a number of steps they could take immediately:
Tony waited years for his asylum claim to be decided. We spoke to him about his experience, his future, and how he can use his experience to educate and help others who have similar experiences going through the asylum system. He also spoke about his views of asylum policy and the direction it is heading. We urge the government to listen to him, and others who have experienced it first-hand.
How does it feel to have refugee status after all these years?
When my solicitor called me, I was screaming I was so happy. I have been through a lot. I am so happy that I have my status. I now know that I have a very bright future ahead of me. I can go back to college or uni, start everything again. I have everything ahead of me again. If you are still in the system waiting for the process, you are still happy but worried about the outcome. But once you have status, the joy and future plans start working for you straight away.
My friend told me I can travel to any countries and I said why would I go back to Ghana, it was not good for me. I want to fight for others like me. I wouldn’t go back there unless it completely changed.
I am very happy for the outcome. The law that they are bringing is not going to help in any way. It’s not fair. The only thing I can think of. I remember at one time they were telling Ghanaians and other countries to legalise LGBT, and they said that if they didn’t, they wouldn’t help those countries with money. But they don’t realise that it’s not the government, it’s the individuals, it’s the people who don’t allow LGBT people to exist.
What do you think about the government’s policy to refuse applications from any country that they consider to be safe?
That is very bad. I can use myself as an example. With all that I have been going through for these years. I cannot go back to my country. The US and UK have tried to make LGBT legal in my country, but the people are saying no. The government can implement it, but if the chief and kings there don’t say yes, it won’t help. And I know a few people who are in the same situation as me from Ghana, and it’s hard for them to even come out here. Only a few people here know about my situation, otherwise I can’t talk about it. People are still begin killed in Ghana for coming out as LBGT. So telling people that they can’t be refugees is not going to help at all. The government has to know that nobody decides the sexuality that you are, you are born with it, and you start to know it as you are growing up and becoming an adult. Many people can’t talk about these kinds of things in the Ghanaian and Nigerian communities for example. I don’t understand their point that Ghanaians can’t claim asylum from those backgrounds. It’s a wrong law which they are trying to bring in. many people will be very disappointed and let down.
One of the things I want to do now is to educate lots of Ghanaians to show them that they can do this, that they can come out, and use myself as an example. I go to charities and hardly see people coming forward because they are scared to come out. It’s something that I really want to do, to educate especially Ghanaians and Nigerians as I know what they are going through, I have been around these communities. I don’t think this is right in any sense.
Now that I know this the next step I want to do is to try to help other Ghanaians and others from west African countries to show them there is an opportunity to be who they are, to stop hiding their sexuality and everything. I am tired of hiding, I went through this but it was not easy. It was years that I was going through this process.
I want people to know, I want them to make it clear that this is where I come from and I was one of the lucky ones.
If somebody is able to fight and to come here, then what is the point? Someone comes to live their life here and then you say no, because of their country? That is totally unfair.
It wasn’t easy coming out and telling my family and friends, but I had to do it because it’s who I am.
Is there anything that you’d like to say to the government about the asylum system:
The asylum system in Britain to be honest is very poor and very very bad. Because unlike in other countries, you are not allowed to work. When I was waiting for a decision I couldn’t work. It’s only recently that I heard that if you are in the system for a year you can apply for a work permit but even then, the hours that you can do and the jobs that you can do are limited.
Most people that apply for asylum are educated in the country that they came from. And most people have anything to do in the day time or in the night time. They just hang around. But if they were allowed to work, then the government wouldn’t be saying that there aren’t enough people in the country to do the jobs. There are a lot of people in the country, especially asylum seekers – because I’ve been in the system a long time – there are a lot of people that are skilled. And because the government says that they can’t work, they are just hanging around. They could be helping the country a lot.
Because the money they give you in the hotel accommodation, they give you £9 a week. Excuse me, you can’t even buy a week bus pass. So how do they expect people to go round, and do their personal things, to buy their hygiene, to buy the food that they want to eat. You can’t do anything. But if they are allowed to work, they can help, and the government can keep the £9. The government could say, ok, I’ve stopped giving you the £9, now you have to work, earn your own money. That would be very helpful. And a lot of asylum seekers are ready to work, to look after themselves, and take care of their families. That’s the main thing the government has to look at.
Ana endured months of dreadful conditions in an East London hotel while heavily pregnant. She sent us a number of videos of rats in her hotel room, moving around among her belongings. The Home Office agreed to move Ana out of hotel accommodation because she was heavily pregnant. However, upon arrival to the address, by that time with her newborn baby, she was told the property would not be suitable, and was required to move back to the hotel. She chose to speak out about her experience “so that no one in the same situation will stay quiet because of fear.”
We are an asylum seeking family who arrived in the country in December 2022. They gave us accommodation. On the day we arrived we were welcomed in a room that was dirty, with plagues of rats and bedbugs. We asked for help because I was pregnant and the conditions we were in were harmful.
We had to call migrant help and they told us that we should talk to the hotel staff, with whom we had already spoken.
We were very worried about this situation and we had to call again, but we didn’t receive an answer.
Then the hotel staff moved us from room to room but the problem with the rats continued. They moved us to a third room, and there were still rats.
We did report all of this to the hotel manager many times, and he didn’t do anything about it, he just said that we called migrant help and they didn’t help either.
Because of the situation and all the stress and worrying, I got sick. I was admitted to the hospital with back pain and then got chicken pox because all the medication I was taking affected my liver.
When they discharged me from the hospital, the food was hurting me, so I went back to the hotel manager to see whether they could change my food. He told me that was not possible, so I resorted to calling Migrant Help to see if they could solve it, because I wasn’t eating, and what’s more, the problem of rats continued every day. There were more rats and my pregnancy was classified as high risk. And still they didn’t want to help me.
Even my midwife called and she did everything she could, and she didn’t have an answer from the hotel either as migrant help and the Home Office, so she put me in touch with RAMFEL.
RAMFEL helped me ny getting me transferred to a suitable accommodation so that I could cook my own food. Thanks to RAMFEL we are already physically and mentally well. Living with pests was too much, we were desperate and exhausted every day, having to keep watch that the rats aren’t biting our things or going close to our food. It was ugly to live like this.
RAMFEL helped me by getting food vouchers for us, since I didn’t eat at the hotel. I am very grateful for the help they have given us, they were aware of my case and they understood.
I am telling my experience so that no one in the same situation will stay quiet because of fear. Thanks to everyone at RAMFEL for providing help to families in desperate circumstances.
On the second day of refugee week, Jonathan* speaks about his experience of living, and bringing up a baby, while being shunted around poor quality hotel accommodation. While he has positive things to say about the UK, the picture he paints is a bleak one. As somebody who has met and lived with many people in a similar situation, he set out changes that need to be made to the wider asylum and immigration system.
People are suffering in the hotels. My baby is really suffering, with lots of issues. She has health problems. We had to go through lots, running from hospital to hospital to hospital. I am not able to cope with seeing my kid and my wife suffering. My baby is really skinny as well, she was healthy before. It’s because of everything – the food, the environment, everything. You can’t particularly point out one issue.
I feel suffocated. Because I am from Asia… I don’t eat this type of food that they are providing us. We don’t have any option, they just give us some things and we have to eat it. I have got health issues so I can’t eat a lot of food and whenever I eat this kind of food I get into trouble. We don’t have any option though, it’s eat or go hungry.
Me and some of the caseworkers pushed to get out of the hotel and we had to go through lots of processes, it’s not easy. I know that it’s not just about me and about the thousands of people who are just waiting and suffering but… the real thing from my eyes is the small kids who are just going through their childhood stuck in hotels. Ask anyone, if you speak to any person living in London who is in the hotels they will all say the same thing.
They have to speed up the process. We are family people, and we have been dragged through and we just have to run from one place to another. Sometimes people are waiting for 2-3 years. If the process was a little bit quicker, that would be much better. I am just hoping that my case will have a green signal.
The UK is a good place, I never had any complaint about this country, it is a beautiful place and a beautiful country and with all the people here I have never faced any really bad issues. I don’t have any complaint about that. Everyone is helpful to each other, that is a blessing. The issue is the accommodation.
Asylum seekers should be allowed to work. I recently read in the newspaper that after 6 months asylum seekers may be allowed to work but then after that I didn’t see that news again. When I talk to people who are in the hotels, they say, if they allow us to work, we are going to pay taxes, so the government is going to earn more money. But if they just leave us here, what is going to happen? Nothing. Mentally we have lots of issues and everything so we are thinking about all those things and we are just wasting our time. So for people like us, if we could work, we can pay the tax to the government, we would be more than happy.
If the people who are here are allowed to work by the government they can cut down the employer shortages. We read that employers have shortages, the lorry drivers are not there, the fruit pickers are not there, people saying we don’t have the labour. So all these problems the government has will vanish, and they don’t need to hire from another country when they have people already here who are waiting. So if they give a green signal to us to work, they don’t have to go anywhere in the world, they have got good workers here, in the hotels.
The people coming in a lorry or boat, they don’t have anywhere to go. If they are going to stay where they are, they will be killed. So they have got a reason, and they should be allowed to come. And if they have lived in this country more than 10 years, there should be a law to let them stay, because they have made their life here, and if they are thrown out of the country they will have nowhere. So the Home Secretary has to come up with a plan, that if you have spent this many years in the UK, then you can stay. There should be a proper plan, they can’t just have one day this law one day another.
I am really thankful to RAMFEL, because they supported me throughout my hard times, and there was lots of things going on in my life and they stood for me.