Hidden voices

Hidden voices


Written by: Harmit Athwal

An important new booklet from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland records the struggles of asylum seekers in their own words.

In Asylum Voices, we hear of experiences usually hidden in British society. Behind the tabloid headlines screaming ‘bogus’, ‘scrounger’, ‘economic migrant’ are the ‘hidden voices’ of people who come to the UK seeking refuge. Asylum Voices charts their experience of the British asylum system from their arrival, through to their first interview, and then dispersal or detention while they await decisions on their claims for asylum.

Asylum Voices should be read by everyone – in schools, workplaces, youth clubs and community groups – to make all aware of the reality of the asylum system from the perspective of those who experience it first hand. Testimony from asylum seekers is interwoven here with statistics and hard facts on the issues surrounding asylum. The truths contained in Asylum Voices provide the reader with the necessary facts and figures to rebut the racist rhetoric which has become an integral part of the asylum debate in the UK. Below are some excerpts from Asylum Voices.

Why the UK?
  • ‘People pay up to five grand, ten grand for a family to get here. Why would they come for £28 a week?’ (Kosovan Albanian)
  • ‘The agent took me to Britain, somewhere to be safe. Britain is a safe country. First of all my life is safe.’ (Young Afghan male)
  • ‘I am a Palestinian and I live in Lebanon. I have no right to work, no medical care. I have no nationality. I lived a whole life in Lebanon, still I didn’t get nationality.’ (Palestinian man)
  • ‘Some people used to come here to work for four or five years and go back. [But] since 1990, people come here for survival. You don’t get safe in Algeria.’ (Algerian man)
  • ‘I met about three immigration officers – it was a bad experience. A lady came to ask me questions, “You are to tell us why you are here.” “Because I want to seek asylum.” They said you should not dream to see anything else, the detention centre was Britain for me. [They were] laughing at me, mocking me. I expected harsh speaking. I didn’t expect mocking.’ (21-year-old Nigerian man)
  • ‘I was really frightened that the information I was giving them would be passed on to the Bolivian authorities. It was like another interrogation. It was another psychological trauma… it was as if I wasn’t in London. It seems like I was back in Bolivia. The only difference was that they weren’t beating me up… [The Home Office] asked me “How were you tortured?” This was very difficult to remember because I didn’t want to remember.’ (Bolivian man)
  • ‘I came with my sister and two of my cousins, They separated us, my cousins are in Sheffield…. We lost everything, only my cousins that were left, family died. It’s only because of my age that I’m here [in London]. My sister is just 16. My cousins are away. Especially [it is bad for] her, she’s been through a lot, she’s especially upset about my cousins, only me and them she’s got.’ (21-year-old woman from Sierra Leone)
  • ‘On the cell door it was written, “Deportee”. I questioned it. “It doesn’t matter,” they said. “I’m not a deportee,” I said. “Detainee, deportee – it’s the same,” they said.’ (Detainee in Cardiff prison)
  • ‘They check [you] naked, checking for drugs. [You] just come to ask asylum, they treat you like criminal. When they say this is good place is not, is bad. The way they treat asylum seekers is not good, like animal, like people have no dignity. They put them in the corner, they’re not a priority. Immigration, Home Office, you know all the cases won’t be accepted, but you’ve got to tell people before – if you don’t want me, tell me. Not wait, six, seven months [in prison], then tell me.’ (Detainee)
The reality of life as an asylum seeker
  • ‘I had to live eight years on benefits, signing on every two weeks. It was very humiliating. I worked all my life in Colombia – how can they think I’m happy facing poverty all the time?’ (Colombian woman)
  • ‘I’m not waiting for anything except to see that mother and my sister are OK. Red Cross and Salvation Army are trying to look for them… I go to the drop-in centre… There is nothing to live for, nothing to dream about, nothing good to think about.’ (21-year-old Nigerian man)

Related links

Order Asylum Voices from the Church House Bookshop

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Asylum Voices: experiences of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, edited by Dr Andrew Bradstock and Revd Arlington Trotman, is published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and costs £6.95. Asylum Voices is available from CTBI Publications, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN. Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 1300, email: orders@ctbi.org.uk.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.