Rochdale playwright stages play during immigration battle

STUCK IN A NIGHTMARE: Lydia Besong and Bernard Batey are battling to stay in Britain

By Will Astbury

A ROCHDALE-based playwright who has been told to leave the UK staged a play in Manchester on Thursday 3 December 2009.

Lydia Besong, who along with her husband Bernard Batey has had a claim for asylum turned down by the home office, put on a performance of ‘How I Became An Asylum Seeker’ at the Zion Arts Centre, Hulme, to raise awareness of the difficulties that asylum seeking women go through.

The play starred Ms Besong and other members of WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together), a group which supports, empowers, educates, lobbies for and promotes a positive image of female asylum seekers.

The Zion theatre was packed with people eager to view the play, directed by Magdalen Bartlett, and to support Ms Besong and Mr Batey’s campaign to stay in the UK.

The couple have been living in the UK ever since they fled Cameroon on 17 December 2006. They left after they were tortured and raped because they were members of freedom fighting liberation organization the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), a group supporting independence for English-speaking provinces.

Reports suggest that the French-speaking majority of Cameroon often discriminates against the minority English-speaking Cameroonians. Ms Besong and Mr Batey are from South West Province, one of the two English-speaking provinces out the ten provinces that make-up Cameroon.

On Thursday 29 October 2009 the couple returned to their home after work to find the ‘go home’ letter from the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA). They have now been made homeless and are staying with separate groups of friends.

They are also terrified about what may happen to them if they return to Cameroon, where human rights violations have reportedly been ordered, condoned or perpetrated by the national authorities.

According to a report entitled ‘Cameroon Impunity Underpins Persistent Abuse’, published by Amnesty International in 29 January 2009, the Cameroonian government has consistently contravened its national and international human rights obligations by making “arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions, extrajudicial executions, threats against and ill-treatment of human rights defenders and journalists, denial of the rights to freedom of expression and association, harsh prison conditions, torture  and other forms of cruel inhuman or degrading treatment, failure to protect the  human rights of women and girls, and persecution of men and women on the grounds of their actual or imputed sexual orientation”.

According to the report, the ruling Cameroonian People’s Democratic Rally party has “presided over a climate in which members of opposition political groups (including the SCNC) have been subjected to violence”.

Ms Besong, 38, who cannot work because immigration laws in Britain, told Manchester Mouth: ”I would like to go back to my home country. My friends and family are there. I can work there, I can use my education there, and my husband’s daughter is there. But the politics is bad in Cameroon.”

The couple have not yet been given a specific date when they have to leave the country, which means that BIA officials could detain and deport them at any time.

The home office reportedly rejected their claim for asylum because one of their documents was photocopied, despite all the other documents being in their original state. Human rights campaigners have called the rejection ridiculous because it is based on a minor technicality.

Both Ms Besong and Mr Batey have had to survive on government food vouchers for the three years they have been in the UK. This means that they can only shop at certain stores and have to travel miles just to purchase a pint of milk because they can’t go to a more local shop. They can’t even buy a bus pass.

Having to live separately with limited access to supplies, legal aid and money is the government’s way of discouraging the couple, and many other asylum seekers, from living in Britain.

But the pair are putting themselves through hell because of what might happen if they return to Cameroon, especially as their case has been so widely publicised in the media.

According to the Amnesty report “the Cameroonian authorities have arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained members of the SCNC in violation of their right to peaceful assembly and association” and have repeatedly used violence, arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions to silence political activists.

When in imprisoned it has been suggested that SCNC members, who the Cameroonian’s government claim are separatists, have been denied access to legal counsel in pre-trial detention, imprisoned for years without being the given the right to appeal, faced ill treatment, and denied paid-for sleeping places.

They have also reportedly been denied access to medical care which has led to deaths, denied English-speaking interpreters when appearing in French-speaking courts or signing French documents, had to use bowls as toilets which were emptied once a day, imprisoned in cells with no proper ventilation or light, and given no protection against rats and mosquitos that infest some cells.

One institution, Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé is overcrowded, accommodating around 4,000 people when its capacity is intended to be 800.

Politicians, faith leaders and organisations from Greater Manchester are now supporting Mr Batey and Ms Besong’s attempt to stay in Britain.

Paul Rowen, Besong and Batey’s MP, said: “I believe Bernard and Lydia have a genuine case for political asylum and I don’t say that about every case I see.”

Reverend Graham Lindley, Parish Priest at St Anne’s Church, Belfield, Rochdale, is backing the couple to the hilt. He is calling on the home office to grant them leave to remain in this country.

Former Rochdale MP Sir Cyril Smith is also siding with the pair and has wrote to the Home Secretary on their behalf.

Jasmine Ali, lead artistic manager at Community Arts Northwest (CAN) the company which staged How I Became An Asylum Seeker, said: “I have been working closely with Lydia over the last few months to help her produce a short play that she has written which highlights important issues faced by women asylum seekers in the UK.

“Lydia has been an inspiration for the artistic team with her dedication and commitment to the project. Without her contribution WAST would not have had the confidence to devise and perform their play to a wider audience.”

Since his arrival in the UK, Mr Batey has helping the national award-winning human rights organisation RAPAR in a partnership with Revive, Changemakers, Boaz Trust and Citizens for Sanctuary. Together, the couple have opened Manchester’s first voucher exchange network.

If you would like to send messages to support the couple write to Lydia and Bernard c/o RAPAR 6 Mount Street Manchester M2 5NS or email admin@rapar.org.uk

Please contact the government on their behalf by sending a ‘Lydia and Bernard must stay’ message, quoting Lydia Ebok Besong & Bernard Oben Batey HO Ref: B1236372, to CITTO@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk, UKBApublicenquiries@UKBA.gsi.gov.uk, and Privateoffice.external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk, while cc-ing admin@rapar.org.uk

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One Response

  1. This is only one person or couple’s story. United Kingdom is full of asylum seekers that the HO doesn’t considere as “genuine” refugees. Thousand of them are living in the limbo. The infairness and the injustice is raising in this country which one time has believe in Human Rights. Where is your human rights you sighed for, United Kingdom!!!!
    You got to be strong my sister. One day you will get it.

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