Revealed: the harsh realities of life for refugees and asylum seekers. Part 2

Photo (cropped) by Alisdare Hickson Wikimedia Commons

This is part two of transcripts of interviews conducted by one of our local readers with a local volunteer doing what they can to mitigate the challenges faced by those demonised by Suella Braverman and this government. We are not naming either the interviewer or the interviewee lest this lead to repercussions. It’s appalling that we have to even consider that to be a possibility. Another volunteer we spoke to recently said that volunteers and charity workers will not speak out for fear of being denied access to the people who need their help and punishment for those refugees who do anything other than meekly submit to their fate. Many of these people have fled war, persecution and the effects of the climate crisis. What was that about a society being judged on how it treats the weakest members? Shame on us.

[Transcribed painstakingly by one of our proof readers, Anna Andrews, the interviews are largely verbatim, with only the inevitable hesitations, repetitions and incomplete sentences edited out to assist clarity and flow. ]

Ok, I’d just like to talk about doctors and health care – how easy is it for people to access healthcare?

Well, that took quite a while; they were entitled to apply to a GP, but it was finding GPs that would accept them, numbers-wise. There were GPs [who would] that were very far away, you know – a good few miles.

So they would have to travel, and pay bus fare?

Well, if they had the money; but most people would walk it.

From everything you’ve said, it sounds as if they’re just dumped in the hotels with a few security staff, provided with meals and just left there?

In my opinion, based on what I’ve seen in the past year, yes.

That’s appalling.

Ok, so, the Home Office: we’ve talked about the Home Office letters and the fear they instil –

Oh, people are terrified. The letters that have been sent out – I don’t know how they can get away with the wording – basically they say ‘we are continuing to look at your claim; however, this may be delayed because we know you have travelled through other safe countries – France, Italy – before arriving in the UK. Therefore, this will affect your claim’ – which is nonsense, because that’s not part of the Convention. So they’re lying to them.

Why do you think they want to frighten them like this?

Well, it’s the [government] ideology. They want to put people off, don’t they – they don’t want them to be here, even though the evidence speaks for itself that many people who migrate to this country when they’re young do extremely well.

Yes, they do. But this is so overtly racist.

Well, yes. And also in the letter, they mention Rwanda as well –

And what does the word ‘Rwanda’ do to these people?

They are absolutely terrified. They don’t understand why they’re being treated so badly, from the government down to people in the street; the word ‘Rwanda’ is particularly frightening for people who fled other African countries – Sudan, Eritrea – and they cannot go back to those countries. And with the Rwanda scheme: they’re not going to process their claims for UK and Rwanda, but just for Rwanda.

No, [the government] are not going to let them back once they’ve gone, and they’ve not made that clear, because it sounds as if ‘we’ll take you to Rwanda, we’ll process you there and then you can come back’.

No, no; once you’re not physically in the UK, you cannot claim asylum in the UK. So they’ll be talking about claiming asylum in Rwanda. Which is terrifying.

Absolutely terrifying…

Another thing is, you know, looking at their teeth and their bones to check what age they are – which is a nonsense. You’ve had one experience, I believe, with a younger person?

Well, again, these age assessments should be done timely, you know, but in this case, a young person – 17, I know him – it was done a year later. He’s 17, he’s got his official ID from Afghanistan, and he’s just been left in the hotel, with adults, for much longer than he should have been. But again: no social services… And I do understand that we don’t have massive [resources] but no-one was on it. This is, you know, our responsibility.

And 18-year-olds were basically put in a house, with a security guard, and just left. No education has been accessed; no activities, no social enrichment – so you can imagine the mental health issues. I’ve seen their pictures and videos of what they’ve been through and I have a lot of respect for them. We really should be looking after these people.

We should, yes. But Suella Braverman is talking about these poor people as criminals. You know, ‘they haven’t got our values; they’re criminals’… And you’ve said many of them are professionals. Can you elaborate on that?

Yes, off the top of my head, there are teachers, academics, mechanics, chefs, a phlebotomist! … And when we’ve had contact with the police we’ve found that there have been no recorded criminal activities in relation to any of them.

These young people are desperate to learn; if you ask them, all they want is lessons, college, study, work. They want to work, to contribute – although I’m not naïve, I know there’ll always be a few who will, you know, take advantage, but that applies everywhere.

One of the things you’ve told me about is the extremely short notice that people are given that they’re going to be moved; and that no reasons are given. So – does it come as a letter?

I think it varies. I’ve known individuals who’ve been given a day’s notice, usually by staff at the hotel; it can be just ‘you’re getting picked up tomorrow’ and a vague idea of where you’re going.

We talked particularly about two families in Kent – two families that they took; one was the guy whose son had a real mental health problem and the other was the family with the mother with three children, a professional woman. Can you tell me what happened to them?

Oh yes; the [family with three children]; I think they were given about a week’s notice, told ‘you’re going’ and there would be a house for them, but I don’t know if they were told where. So they packed everything up, took the children out of schools, said their goodbyes, were picked up in, I presume, a big taxi, because there were five of them plus their stuff – and they were driven for about four-and-a-half hours; and when they were a half an hour away from the house [intended for them] a phone call came through to the driver basically saying, ‘the house isn’t ready, turn around, take them back to the hotel’. 

Ok… So they’ve gone back to the hotel, the children are now out of school, having been de-registered; what happened to the family then?

Well, a few weeks later, everyone was told they were being moved; ‘the hotel’s closing down, everyone’s being moved’ – but no-one knew exactly when, why, or where they were going.

So this particular family …?

They were moved to – Portsmouth, I think – to another hotel.

So not a house.

They were told they were going to a house, then that they weren’t, and they were brought back; started the process again of schools, then were moved again to another hotel in another city.

And that’s when you forwarded me texts that this lady sent you, basically saying there’s no support, there’s nothing here. And one of her phrases was ‘we’re scared’.

Yes. Yeah – everyone was so upset. Because they’d built, you know, friendships and bonds and their own communities in that environment, all different nationalities looking after each other’s children; children make friends – but the majority were all separated and sent off to different areas.

So there’s absolutely no recognition of their feelings, their feelings of security, their mental health, their welfare…

No. They are just numbers on paper. And I’m in touch with some of them and they’re not having a great time and they’re …

And still in these hotels. Are you still in touch with this particular lady with her children? How are they getting on?

I think they’re just trying again; but getting worn down, just worn down, because they’ve got to start again, start trying to get [the children] into schools again and if the local schools don’t understand their duties – around working with asylum seekers – it can be such a battle.

And didn’t she actually say in one of the texts that there is no-one here to care or to support…

Yes. It’s not a given that there’ll be a charity – or anyone – coming in and offering support.

It depends on the goodwill of the local population?

Yes, and there’s no guarantee that the council will do anything. There’s no onus on anyone.

And the local population down here appeared not to be very welcoming?

I’d have to say, overall, no. And I can imagine a lot of people have gone to cities where they’ve just sort-of got lost, you know; whereas at least there was a bit of a community [where they were before]. So it’s been really upsetting.

Just tell me about this guy with his two sons.

Oh yes. So one of his sons is 20, there’s a younger son too, 17. The father had been working for the British Army in Afghanistan … so when they moved from the hotel –

But I  thought people who’d been working for the British Army had a priority? This is where Dominic Raab messed it all up, wasn’t it.

A lot of people think that about people from Afghanistan, but that’s not what’s happening. There’s another guy who was a teacher – he’s in a barracks. The claims are just not getting processed.

And this man with the two sons?

The 20-year old was treated as a ‘single adult’, so he was going to be sent to one place, and the father and the 17-year-old to a different hotel: they were going to separate them.

Do you think that happens a lot – that people are being separated from their relatives?

I presume so; all they’re looking at is his age, nothing else; you know, he’s over 18 so is a ‘single adult’ and was going to be sent to the single adult males’ hotel; but he has very, very [acute] PTSD, quite significant mental health [problems]. But [the volunteers] managed to keep them together even though there was no-one – not the local authority or the MP – to help; but they are together. This lad, his mental health was so bad that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d, you know…

Killed himself?

Yes. And I think there’s a lot of hidden stuff like that.

Trying to get help was … they don’t know how long they [would be in one place] because it’s classed as ‘temporary’, so the mental health services wouldn’t provide anything because the family might be moved. So there was nothing.

That’s appalling…

Ok. The Bibby boat … and now marquees – have you heard this one? The government have paid out a lot of money for marquees where they’re going to put maybe up to 1,000 asylum-seekers. Big marquees. They might not be horrible, but a marquee in the winter: you know… Why do you think the government is now really ghettoising them like this?

Again, in my opinion it’s political; it’s the only thing they’ve really got now that probably people are still angry about and will vote for them on… It’s distraction from everything else, it’s not even incompetence; they’ve purposely created this problem so they can say ‘look everyone, isn’t this disgraceful, but we’re going to sort it out’. It’s obvious: process the claims!

But you said Patel put a stop to the claims. Nobody knows that.

I’ve looked at the figures and up to the end of last year – and there are even more now, maybe another 45,000 – there were 160 asylum-seekers’ applications – but that does include people who’ve come here by other means. What surprised me was that the Ukrainians, particularly, got theirs processed within – I think – 24 weeks; I’m not saying it’s been successful for all the Ukrainians… because our infrastructure is so poor, thanks to 13 years of funding deprivation, that many Ukrainian people are now finding themselves homeless, unable to support themselves and their families. But this group of people really worries me because there’s no difference between fleeing war in Ukraine and fleeing war in Eritrea or Somalia…

… Do you think this Rwanda thing is going to come off?

I think they always knew it wouldn’t but it’s a distraction. And how many tens of millions [of pounds] have gone in the consultation? I don’t know how they thought that it was actually going to happen because I don’t think it can; they’ve been challenged legally so many times on it. How much does that cost the taxpayer? Probably hundreds of millions. So again, I just think it’s more ideology, more distraction and siphoning public funds.

I have got one last question. What I find a huge irony is that Suella Braverman, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak are all the children of immigrants – migrants – ‘immigrant’/’migrant’, the words are very interchangeable – why is it that they have chosen to demonise this particular group, [as opposed to, say, Ukrainians] … why is that happening?

I can’t even – I don’t know. Perhaps they’re ashamed of their backgrounds? … Maybe they think it doesn’t seem so starkly racist if it comes from someone who’s not white …

… It’s vile – ‘cockroaches’, ‘invasion’, ‘swarms’ … It’s a mandate for murder.

And yet we’re talking about people – teachers, academics, professional people – that this country needs so badly! Now we’ve Brexited …

Yes, we’ve got a massive [labour] shortage again. It’s not about what is economically the right, or the sound thing, to do; and these people have been used, and are being used.

It’s absolutely tragic.