Speaking for Ourselves

I am not a criminal - just an immigrant - Mark's story

I am not a criminal - just an immigrant - Mark's story

By Michelle Fuller

 Migrant Voice - I am not a criminal - just an immigrant - Mark's story

Mark was arrested at home in London and detained in 2015. During his two-and-a-half-month incarceration he was questioned about why he came to Britain from East Africa, and was examined by a Home Office doctor. The wound on his back was confirmed as a stab wound.

He was moved between three immigration removal centres:  Brook House and Colnbrook, in southeast England, and The Verne in the southwest (since closed and turned into a prison).

“When you are detained it’s like you have no rights,” he says. “We are mixed with people who are dangerous criminals and I am not a criminal - just an immigrant.”

He shared a cell with someone who had previously served six years in prison and was now placed in detention for rehabilitation. 

 “The experience was traumatic.  It’s overcrowded, we are intimidated by staff, and the place is dirty. I remember going to the bathroom and finding blood in the sink which can contaminate.”

Given the option of applying for asylum, he received advice from volunteer legal advisors who visit detainees.  He wrote a brief statement about why he fled to the UK and had his first asylum claim interview with the Home Office. He was released before his “substantive” [more in depth] interview. 

He explained to the Home Office interviewer that before coming to the UK in 2001 he worked for the Electoral Commission in his home country. He was forced by his superiors to manipulate the voter register by entering details of long dead people with clear intentions of rigging the election. When he began questioning the discrepancy between the hundreds of payslips issued by the Commission and the far lower numbers of staff signing in for work, he became a target for reprisals. 

He recalls, “There is always a lot of tension around election time. There was a powerful tribe in power:  working with people from this tribe, if you refuse to do what they tell you, it could cause [you to lose] your life. I was being followed and eventually stabbed by members of a militia group.

“Probably I would have survived if I stayed – I don’t know. Or maybe they would have killed me.  I was scared for my life after the stabbing. Even now, people are getting killed for questioning the government’s approach to elections.”

Mark feels using social media to share his political views about his homeland contributed to his brother’s murder in 2014, a tragedy about which he expresses guilt: “I spoke to my brother before his death and he was complaining about the bullying at work because people were saying I was criticising the government from the UK.”

Prior to his detention, his 2013 application to settle in the UK under private and family life had been refused by the Home Office, with no right of appeal. He paid £1,000 to a solicitor who helped him get the right to appeal his case, but he heard nothing. Only during his detention, in 2015, did he eventually find out that a court had dismissed the appeal with no oral hearing.

Mark’s asylum claim was complicated by the fact that he did not claim asylum until 2015, after 14 years. “Because of trauma I was not sure I would get protection in the UK and I didn’t apply on entry in 2001.” In addition, as a gay man, he was told by the Home Office that he was fabricating his sexuality, “Where I’m from you do not discuss your sexuality for fear of being prosecuted and imprisoned.”

His asylum appeal hearing was adjourned twice in 2016. Though he provided evidence and had witnesses from the LGBT community his case was dismissed the following year.

During the hearing, the judge requested additional documents. Mark asked his previous UK employer for documents under the Data Protection Act, but has not received them. Until he does so he is unable to make a fresh asylum claim.

Before his detention, Mark worked for 11 years with a supermarket chain and for several months as a plumber with a civil engineer company. Since his release from detention in 2015 he is not allowed to work and after spending his small savings on hostel accommodation has been homeless for several years. 

He says, the Home Office cancelled his application for asylum support when he refused to move to a remote area in Birmingham away from the medical treatment he has been receiving at Guy’s Hospital in London for diabetes and obstructive sleep apnoea.

“Combining my trauma with being homeless is like my brain is injured. The Home Office is aware I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which was diagnosed by their own doctor. 

“All of this is separate from all the other stresses and depression I have faced from serious homophobic attacks, being restricted and unable to work, being unable to get documents I requested under the data protection act from my previous employer.  The Home Office is worsening my mental health. They are not giving me any support.”

As a single man classified by the Home Office as an “illegal migrant,” Mark struggled to find support and accommodation and was eventually referred by the British Red Cross to the charity Housing Justice, which arranged a hostel place for him.  He receives clothes which is donated to the hostel and he is given breakfast and supper everyday – lunch he needs to find for himself.

He usually walks to the British Red Cross every week for a bus ticket and receives “good food parcels” from another charity which he donates to the hostel where he’s staying.

“I am grateful to have a roof over my head, but how can I continue to lift up myself and wake up every day and face challenges when I am in this situation?

“I tried to cope up with these things and my GP advised me how to deal with my loneliness by taking up volunteer work which I am doing, and spiritual healing, which I get at church.  These are the things that have helped me deal with this tough situation. I do all this to try and stay healthy.”

Mark is a peer advocate in his voluntary work with a charity for the homeless and accompanies people with difficult medical conditions like cancer, mental ill-health issues and severe addictions to hospital.

 Like many in his position, he feels his skills and potential are going to waste: “The Home Office made me a more damaged person, they need to consider what they are doing to people.

“Is the Home Office there to abuse people or is it there to be an enabling system of good governance?

“I don’t know how long I would be in this situation,” he says as he continues to fight to get documents from his previous employer in order to submit his fresh asylum claim, “but I am contributing to society in a positive way.”

• Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals mentioned in this article

Helpful links and information:
The British Red Cross:  https://www.redcross.org.uk/

BBC News - Asylum decision-maker: 'It's a lottery': http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-43555766


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