Speaking for Ourselves

‘Who will speak for asylum seekers if we’re all just watching?’

‘Who will speak for asylum seekers if we’re all just watching?’


 Migrant Voice - ‘Who will speak for asylum seekers if we’re all just watching?’

Loraine Masiya Mponela was not born a sad poet. “All children are born happy,” she says.

I am a sad poet because of the circumstances

that life’s deal which put me on the edge

“Going through the stuff that I did,” she tells Migrant Voice, “the ‘sad poet’ is a set of my own experiences.”

Those experiences have been tough. Loraine came from Malawi in 2008 to study at the University of Leeds and worked in care after her graduation, but from 2015 until this summer she had to fight to have her refugee status recognised.

Her newly-published first book of poems, I Was Not Born A Sad Poet, consists of 21 poems. Each one documents a piece of her story: her struggle for refugee status; facing homelessness, destitution, the hostile environment, a pandemic; and fighting for others.

She won her status only in August this year. At that point she had been writing poetry for about two years – she started during the first Covid lockdown – and had been talking about publishing a book with Counterpoint Arts, an organisation that supports migrant and refugee artists. But she felt that the right moment came only after she finally won her case.

At first, she recalls, “I could not process it”. After a decade spent fighting, Loraine was free. But at the same time, “what had been keeping me alive for ten years – now I was being told to drop it. How do I even know what to drop or not drop?”

It had been a “long, bumpy road”. After completing a master’s degree and working in the UK for several years, her circumstances changed again and she was forced to claim asylum.  She lost the right to work and when her savings ran out she was placed in asylum accommodation, and had to move from Leeds to Coventry, where she now lives.

“When you are an asylum seeker, all you want is to hide because of the stigma,” Loraine says. But she found the Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group (CARAG, which unites refugees and asylum seekers to campaign for their rights). It proved to be a turning point: “When I joined the group it was a relief to know that there are all these people who are like me, who are also in the same system that we all are going through.”

Many members of the group were experiencing extreme hardships, including homelessness, illness, severe mental health issues and disability. She remembers thinking, “Who will speak for them if we’re all just watching?”

Friends and contacts warned her that speaking out would jeopardise her asylum application, but Loraine didn’t listen. Was she not scared? She smiles as she answers candidly: “Yes, but does it matter?” She saw no point in keeping quiet when injustice was right in front of her.

She says she has always questioned what is presented to her. She learnt this as a child when she saw her mother stand up to a teacher who wanted to unjustly punish Loraine’s sister. “I was maybe seven or eight years old,” she reflects, “but it stuck with me, questioning what people ask us to do, what we are told to do.”

Loraine’s activism takes many forms. Aside from her poetry, speeches, and articles, she has recently taken up stand-up comedy: “Poetry, comedy, they are all other ways to capture a new audience.”

Since she started campaigning, she has attended a number of training sessions and workshops to help her ensure her voice is heard. They include Migrant Voice’s Media Labs and its Migrant Ambassador Programme, where the charity’s experience is shared with participants who learn how to take their stories to the media. “Now I know how to do a TV interview, how to produce a magazine, and I got a lot of support, too.”

She always seems to have a strong impact on her audience. She received hundreds of letters in response to one of her articles on Covid-19 and asylum seekers. She has been invited to read her poems on several occasions. “My target is not just politicians, it’s the general public – and I’ve received a lot of comments, asking me to continue writing, saying that my poems were moving, heart-churning,” she says.

When it’s clear she has got through to her readers, she feels she has done her job.

“This book, I Was Not Born A Sad Poet, has been documenting my own experiences as an asylum seeker. But a lot of these are collective experiences too,” she points out.

Some poems are personal, like Four-generation warriors, in which the subject is the women in her family, sometimes addressed directly. Others, like The Limbo Land, are unashamedly political, depicting what life is like for asylum seekers stuck waiting for years on end.

I have a life but it’s not mine,

It’s controlled by an amorphous office

that decides what I do or do not do

I am not shackled but my mind is

locked in the eternal battle

of when will this nightmare end

During her long battle with the Home Office, Loraine was made homeless, and found accommodation at a shelter. Barred from working, she got by with the help of friends and charities.

“I was thinking, Why should I have people paying for me when I can do stuff for myself? Why do I have to wait for people, and ask them to pay for my food, my house, my water?”

Now she is on the other end of her journey she is certain she will not stop advocating for a better system in any way she can — “until the last person is free.”

“I know this is going to be for a lifetime. But you don’t want people to go through the same stuff that you have. We have to keep fighting for a better world.”




I Was Not Born A Sad Poet is out now on Amazon.

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Migrant Voice
VAI, 200a Pentonville Road,
N1 9JP

Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: [email protected]

Registered Charity
Number: 1142963 (England and Wales); SC050970 (Scotland)

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