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Not the fake news : real stories of refuge and asylum

We have all seen the frequently published articles of the right wing press monstering refugees and asylum seekers. Using them as a scapegoat for all of society’s ill’s and diverting attention away from the inadequate government policy that causes them.

Refugee’s are blamed for the shortage of housing, long NHS waiting times, lack of school places and taking all ‘our jobs’ while the effects of austerity driven economic policy are ignored. Terrorist attacks are laid at their feet when most terrorism in the UK is carried out by British nationals.

Positive or sympathetic stories about refugee’s are few and far between in the traditional press. Not The Fake News aims to correct that imbalance by ‘offering real stories of refuge and asylum by the people who have direct experience of these issues,’ the refugees themselves. The single edition paper was produced by the University of Manchester Migration Lab, refugee supporting organisations and journalists from The Meteor, The Salford Star, and the Manchester and Salford Branch of the NUJ. The following story is taken from Not The Fake News, and a full version of the paper is included at the end of this article:

 

I was ‘herded like a sheep’ to Yarlswood Detention Centre

 

Seeking asylum is a universal right yet many of those in the UK system are criminalised and dehumanised as they go through the process. An asylum seeker currently living in Manchester has described her traumatising journey to Yarlswood Detention Centre that still affects her 3 years later. A system that herds vulnerable people like criminals and creates a hostile environment is brought to light.

Sarah* arrived in the UK from Cameroon in April 2014, when she was 38 years old. She travelled to the UK to escape the torture and abuse she suffered in Cameroon, not expecting to experience even more dehumanising treatment in the UK immigration system.

When Sarah arrived, she received initial medical treatment from an injury to her leg from torture she experienced in Cameroon. After this, still shell shocked due to arriving in a foreign country, she was transferred to a police station cell. Here, the inadequacies of the immigration system first hit home when she was informed there were no sanitary products available to help her through her period, the only thing they provided were a pair of disposable underwear and toilet paper.

Dungavel Removal Centre in Glasgow was the next enforced destination, Sarah says it was ‘Horrible, it was just as if I was in a prison. I just wanted to get out of the room and be on my own’. She spent 3 days at Dungavel, mostly locked in her room in the evenings where the guards had the keys to open her door, she found the clanging of doors being unlocked very distressing. She also received a medical examination here, which was to prove crucial later on. At 9pm she was informed by a guard that she would be transferred to Yarlswood with no information about what Yarlswood was and why she was being sent there.

They bundled her frightened into a van at 1 a.m., without explaining why she was being moved. She was led through Yarlswood to the accompanying sounds of banging doors and keys turning in locks, and introduced to her two cell mates. Fortunately, Sarah did not have to spend the night there as a doctor’s report from the examination in Dungavel arrived saying that Sarah’s injuries were attributable to torture, and she could not be detained in a detention centre. She did not learn the reason for her release until much later. Sarah was sent by a black cab to Birmingham, where she was eventually housed in a hostel, she says:

‘I was herded like a sheep through the immigration to Yarlswood’.

The traumatising experience Sarah went through is all part of the planned ‘hostile environment’ declared by Theresa May in 2013. This has portrayed immigrants, including asylum seekers, as ‘illegals’ and has increasingly linked immigration to the criminal justice system. An important effect of this often missing from reports on asylum is the dehumanising impact on those seeking asylum who are treated like prisoners and constantly kept ‘in the dark’ and as disorientated as possible. This hostile environment continues even after asylum seekers leave detention.

Rebecca* an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe currently living in Manchester says:

‘We are already locked up. When you wake up in the morning you don’t know where you are going or be able to start your life. Even when you are outside you are already in detention… Prisoners are treated better than us. We are just asylum seekers – we are not criminals.’

Criminalising conditions of detention affect all aspects of asylum seekers’ lives: they are denied access to routine healthcare, unable to work, and forced to report periodically to the Home Office. Not only are asylum seekers subjected to psychological trauma and forced to live in limbo but they experience extensive monitoring and surveillance, further indicating how the dehumanising disciplinary effects of detention continue to operate beyond the Immigration Removal Centre.

Sarah is still affected by her experience in the UKs detention system. When someone mentioned a detention centre to her while living in her hostel accommodation she passed out in shock, mistakenly thinking that she would be returned there. And repeated communications from the Home Office are a continuing source of stress, she says she only feels happy ‘when there are no letters from the Home Office’ dropping on to her door mat.

 

Rebecca, Madeline-Sophie Abbas, Conrad Bower, and Sarah

*all asylum seekers names have been changed to protect identities.

A pdf copy of Not the Fake News can be found at the University of Manchester Migration Lab website – click here

#NotFakeNews is the hashtag for sharing on social media, and these are associated twitter accounts: @pathway_arts, @CathyWilcock @mcrmeteor.  Let the team know what you think and where the paper, both hard copies distributed around Manchester and electronic versions, travelled to.

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