Friday, 24th February 2012
Subject: Britain ‘denying help to women fleeing rape and persecution’
The Times, by Anushka Asthana
“Women fleeing to Britain after suffering persecution and rape face a “culture of disbelief”, leading lawyers have told the Home Secretary.
A letter signed by Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, QC, the human rights lawyer, and Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, among others, calls on Theresa May to take urgent action.
“We are concerned that too many women are effectively being denied the protection that the UK has a legal and moral obligation to provide for those fleeing persecution,” it says.
It claims that women fleeing “gender-related persecution” are being refused asylum by officials for “irrational and flawed reasons.”
The concerns were triggered by the case of Lydia Besong, a Cameroonian playwright who sought asylum on the grounds that she had been imprisoned and raped in her home country and would be tortured if she returned. She has struggled to gain access to legal aid and was twice detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.
Ms Besong, who has received support from Michael Morpurgo, the author of War Horse, Monica Ali, who wrote Brick Lane, and the playwright Alan Ayckbourn, still does not have leave to remain.
Her lawyer, Gary McIndoe, said that the evidence of detention and rape was rejected on “weak grounds”. Border officials decided that she was not being honest about her level of political activism, and on that ground alone must not be telling the truth about her attack.
Lady Kennedy said the way Ms Besong and her husband were suddenly detained without being informed that their claim was being refused was insensitive and unjust. They have since been released and are preparing to appeal.
The QC added: “The Home Office and the UKBA [UK Border Agency] are failing women. There are serious concerns about the culture of disbelief in the immigration system, and how the lack of training and lack of willingness to listen means that women who have experienced sexual violence are not taken seriously. There is an ongoing lack of understanding of why it is women seek asylum and a lack of dignity and respect in the process.”
John Cooper, QC, another signatory, argued that women were being “betrayed” by the system meant to protect them. He accused the Government of having dual standards: “If a woman alleging sexual abuse in this country was treated so callously there would be widespread condemnation, with ministers and the legal system as a whole being held to account.”
Natasha Walter, of Women for Refugee Women, said: “It is striking that so many leading voices for justice are now calling for a fairer hearing for women in the asylum process. Women who come to this country fleeing persecution are too often denied access to justice. We urge the Home Secretary to answer these concerns.”
A UKBA official said: “We carefully consider all applications on their individual merits, and will offer protection to those who genuinely need it. When an asylum application is refused, the individual has a right to appeal against the decision to the Immigration and Asylum Chamber.
“If an individual chooses not to appeal and they fail to leave voluntarily, we will seek to enforce their removal.”
Lydia, an English teacher in Cameroon and Bernard (who ran his own building supplies business) sought asylum in the UK on 18/12/06.
Their asylum claim is based on their being persecuted by the Cameroon Government for their political activities with the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC); a peaceful political organisation which campaigns for equal rights for the English-speaking minority of Southern Cameroon within the predominately French speaking country of Cameroon. http://www.scncforsoutherncameroons.net/
Before their arrival in the UK, Lydia was wanted by the Gendarme because of her connections with and work for the SCNC. Bernard were arrested at home when Gendarme officers went to arrest Lydia and did not find her there. They detained Bernard for a week, imprisoned him and beat him so badly that he had to be taken to hospital for treatment. Whilst in the hospital he managed to escape from his guards. With the financial help of associates they both fled Cameroon and arrived in the UK on 18 Dec 2006, where they legitimately made a claim with the UKBA for asylum.
Lydia had been arrested and imprisoned on several occasions prior to the last attempt to detain her. She has suffered beatings, tortured and rape by uniformed guards. She has physical scars that testify to the torture she was subjected to. There was and is no recourse of appeal or justice for them in Cameroon in 2006 and there will be none if they are ever returned there.
In December 2009 their claim for asylum was turned down by UKBA and Lydia was detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre with the intention of deporting her. She came within 72 hours of deportation. Bernard was also to be deported but the UKBA officers failed to pick him up. A campaign to gain Lydia’s release saw an overwhelming response from individuals and communities across Greater Manchester and beyond. A High Court judge granted an injunction to prevent the couple’s deportation from the UK until new evidence had been presented and considered.
In July 2011, Lydia was part of a delegation of women asylum seekers WomenAsylum Seekers Together (WAST) which went to Liverpool to hand in a list of ‘recommendations’ to the UKBA offices there. The booklet details the failings of the current asylum system in its dealing with women and children asylum seekers. The booklet makes positive and easily implementable suggestions for change in the current system.
To date, there has been no response to this booklet by either the UKBA, the Secretary for Immigration or the Home Office.
A copy of the booklet is posted on the WAST website.http://www.wast.org.uk/
On 5th September 2011 the UKBA again attempted to deport the couple. Bernard was detained by UKBA officers and sent to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, near Heathrow with the intent of putting him on a flight on Saturday 10th September. Again, his laywers sought legal intervention and a Court injunction was issued on Friday 9th September to prevent his removal from the UK. He was eventually released from detention on 29th September and has since made a fresh claim for asylum; the outcome of which is still pending.
Since Bernard’s release from detention on 29th September he has had to sign twice a week at Dallas Court; each Tuesday and Friday. This is a very unusual situation and Bernard and his legal team have asked why he has to sign twice a week but the UKBA refuse to give an answer. It takes two hours to get to Dallas Court via bus from Bury and two hours to get back again, a round trip of 4 hours travelling, twice a week.
Bernard had his new claim interview at Liverpool UKBA offices in October 2011. Since then his solicitor has been hard working on preparing his full case with expert witness reports and affidavits from affiliates in Cameroon. Bernard’s claim has now been filed with the UKBA.
The chairman of the SCNC in Cameroon has affirmed that Lydia and Bernard were active human rights practitioners in Cameroon. Their continued human rights work whilst they have been in the UK stands as a testimony to the fact that they are genuine human rights campaigners, both in Cameroon and now in the UK. Bernard and Lydia have worked tirelessly at RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seekers Participatory Action Research) and WAST (Women Asylum-Seekers Together) with refugees in similar situations to their own.
Lydia’s play How I Became An Asylum Seeker has been performed in Manchester, Salford, Liverpool and London, and is available on DVD. An article about the play has appeared in The Guardian and Lydia’s campaign has been supported by the Bishop of Manchester and actor Juliet Stevensen.
Her next play ‘ Down with the Dictator’ is currently in production in Manchester and will be performed at the end of March in Bristol and at venues around Greater Manchester.
Their continuing human rights work in the UK stands as a testimony to their being experienced and committed human rights campaigners. Bernard and Lydia have worked tirelessly at RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seekers Participatory Action Research) and WAST (Women Asylum-Seekers Together) with refugees in similar situations to their own.
Bernard is a much loved and valued member of Bury Acapeelers Community Choir (www.acapeelers.co.uk). He has the deepest bass voice many have ever heard! He loves singing, he loves the choir and he is sorely missed by his fellow bass singers and other choir members. Choir members have written to their various MPs, the Home Secretary and Immigration Secretary demanding that the decision to remove him from the UK be overturned once and for all.
In 2010 Lydia was diagnosed with glaucoma. She is 40years old and her medical condition is unstable and very advanced. She requires on-going treatment and further operations in order to prevent her losing her sight. She is being treated at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital and needs to maintain her regular medical check-ups and her daily medication regime. If she is deported she will not have any access to medical treatment and she will lose her eyesight.
PRESS RELEASE: 17th January 2012
LYDIA BESONG FACES FORCED REMOVAL FROM UK AS REHEARSALS START ON HER LATEST PLAY
- Lydia and her husband Bernard facing forced removal from UK to Cameroon on Saturday, January 21st, 2012
- Lawyers working to stop flight as leading writers and campaign supporters lobby Home Secretary
Leading writers in the UK have put their names to an Open Letter in support of Cameroon playwright Lydia Besong and her husband Bernard Batey – as rehearsals start on her latest work, Down with the Dictator.
Lydia is currently detained in Yarl’s Wood, Bedfordshire, and Bernard in Morton Hall, Lincoln. They are facing forced removal from the UK on Saturday, January 21st, following the refusal of Bernard’s protection claim. The UK Border Agency has also refused them the right to appeal from within the UK.
The couple are both members of the SCNC, a peaceful organisation campaigning for the independence of Southern Cameroon, and fled their home country just over five years ago after they were persecuted, imprisoned and tortured.
Speaking from Yarl’s Wood, Lydia said she was pleased to hear that rehearsals on her play were going ahead and added: “It is very important that the rehearsals continue because it means my voice is still being heard.”
Down with the Dictator explores themes of power, political corruption and censorship in all its absurdity and shows why so many people around the world are forced to flee from oppressive regimes. The play is produced by Manchester-based Community Arts North West as part of Exodus, their Refugee Arts programme. Director is Magdalen Bartlett who also directed Lydia’s acclaimed play How I Became An Asylum Seeker.
Magdalen said the actors – who themselves have had experience of oppressive regimes – are all extremely passionate about the play and are working on it voluntarily. They were shocked to hear of Lydia and Bernard’s detention but are determined that her latest work will reach audiences in the UK. The play is due to be performed at COAST International Festival of Community Theatre in Bristol at the end of March, and also at two venues in Greater Manchester which are still to be confirmed.
In July last year, leading writers and actors in the UK sent an Open Letter to The Guardian, drawing attention to Lydia’s case. Women for Refugee Women and English PEN, which campaigns for persecuted writers nationally and internationally, have put together a similar Open Letter from high profile writers which has already been sent to Home Secretary Theresa May. Writers who have signed the letter include War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, Joan Bakewell and Nick Hornby. Leading lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy and actor Juliet Stevenson have also put their names to the Open Letter.
Lydia and Bernard have a large number of supporters throughout the UK and particularly in Greater Manchester. They lived in Rochdale for three years before being moved to Bury where they are members of the AcaPeelers’ Choir.
Campaigners are urging supporters to write to Home Secretary Theresa May and Immigration Minister Damian Green immediately, demanding that the couple remain in the UK.
Lydia was detained almost a week ago when she reported at Dallas Court in Salford and Bernard was snatched from the street near his home in Bury. They were only told after they were detained that Bernard’s protection claim had been refused and that they were also being denied the chance to appeal from within the UK. It was clear from paperwork issued to the couple that the decision had been taken before Christmas.
Last week, their solicitor Gary McIndoe said: “We have been waiting for a decision on Bernard’s protection claim since 19th October last year. Further materials have been sent to the Home Office, including the report of an expert witness. I am surprised that the decision to detain has been made before their legal representatives have been informed in any way.”
More details of the campaign can be found at: http://www.rapar.org.uk/lydia-and-bernard-must-stay.html AND AT https://lydiaandbernard.wordpress.com/
Campaign to stop playwright Lydia Besong and her husband being deported to Cameroon
Campaign to stop playwright Lydia Besong and her husband being deported to Cameroon
English PEN and Women for Refugee Women have written an open letter to the Home Secretary Theresa May urging her to reconsider the case of playwright Lydia Besong and her husband Bernard Batey who face deportation on Saturday 21st January.
Lydia will be known to many in the Platforma network for her play How I Became An Asylum Seeker, and also for her inspirational participation in last month’s Platforma Festival in London. She is pictured below with actor Juliet Stevenson – photo courtesy of Women for Refugee Women.
Lydia was persecuted in Cameroon as a result of her peaceful political activities on behalf of the English-speaking minority in the country. She fled to the UK with her husband Bernard Batey and sought asylum.
Read more about her case and the action you can take to support her, including writing to the Home Secretary Theresa May: http://www.rapar.org.uk/5/post/2012/01/press-release-playwright-lydia-and-husband-bernard-snatched-for-the-4th-time.html