Asylum seeker’s play is London bound

By Peter Stanners

A play written by a tortured Cameroonian asylum seeker who lives in Greater Manchester will now be shown in London.

Lydia Besong’s play ‘How I Became an Asylum Seeker’ will be performed at the Break the Silence event on Sunday 28 November, at 3pm, at the Riverside Studios.

The event, organised by Women For Refugee Women (WRW), aims to shine a light on the hidden experiences of women who seek asylum in the UK.

To read the rest of this story visit ManchesterMouth.co.uk

Rochdale’s Besong released from detention

FEAR: Lydia Besong is scared about what might happen if she returns to Cameroon

By Will Astbury

A ROCHDALE-based writer has been released from a detention centre so the UK Border Agency can consider a fresh claim for asylum.

Lydia Besong, who wrote the play ‘How I Became An Asylum Seeker’, has now been released from the Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire after it was announced that a fresh asylum claim is being considered along with new evidence.

Speaking to Manchester Mouth, Besong, 38, said: “I’m feeling ok that I’ve been released but I’m running up and down. I don’t have any support and I don’t have any accommodation.”

She was detained at Dallas Court reporting centre in Salford on 10 December 2009 before being moved to Yarl’s Wood where she was told she and her husband Bernard Batey would be deported on 21 December 2009.

Describing her time in Yarl’s Wood, Besong said: “It wasn’t easy for me. No one is happy there. Everybody is scared that they are going to be put on the next flight out of Britain. We all have similar stories. It was very bleak.”

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. Besong and 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 UK Border Agency. 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”.

Besong, who was an English teacher in Cameroon, said: ”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 UK Border Agency accepted that the couple had grounds for a fresh asylum claim after original documents from Cameroon were presented as new evidence.

However, asylum claims are a lengthy process and it means that Besong and Batey, who had hoped for a judicial review of their earlier case, will now have to go over everything again, including finding accommodation and receiving vouchers for food.

“I’m trying to drum up accommodation and support. I have to apply again under section 95,” said Besong, “I’m expecting a call in the next few days about getting some temporary accommodation.”

Until a final decision is made about their status the couple remain in limbo, constantly in fear that they may be told to leave the country again.

Dr Rhetta Moran, of Manchester-based human rights charity RAPAR, said:  “We are delighted that Lydia has now been released. But new restrictions mean that she and Bernard have to report weekly at Dallas Court.

“When their previous asylum claim was refused, all support – including housing – was withdrawn from them so they now have to go through the process of re-applying for that support.”

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.

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

Playwright’s deportation prevented

FEAR: Ms Besong is terrified about what will happen if she returns to Cameroon

AN INJUNCTION  has been granted to prevent the deportation of Rochdale-based playwright and human rights activist Lydia Besong.

Ms Besong is currently detained in Yarl’s Wood, Bedfordshire, and was due to be deported to Cameroon on Monday 21 December 2009. Her husband Bernard Batey is not in detention but the UK Border Agency wanted to deport him at the same time.

The injunction prevents the removal of Lydia and Bernard until fresh evidence in their case has been considered.

Ms Besong and Mr Batey are backed by their MP Paul Rowen who wrote to Borders and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas, asking for the removal instructions to be cancelled while the fresh representations are considered.

Supporters have launched an urgent appeal to fund a judicial review of the case and the response so far has been extremely good.

Ms Besong, 38, taught English and English Literature in Cameroon but she and her husband, also 38, left three years ago to seek an asylum in the UK.

On 3 December 2009, Lydia’s play ‘How I Became An Asylum Seeker’ was performed in front of a packed house at the Zion Theatre in Hulme, Manchester.

The couple’s asylum claim is based on their activities with the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), a peaceful political organisation which campaigns for the rights of the English-speaking minority of Cameroon.

In Cameroon, the couple suffered beatings, torture and imprisonment as a result of their involvement with the SCNC and Ms Besong was raped by a uniformed prison guard.

The couple have lived in Rochdale for the past three years and fear that if they return to Cameroon they will be killed.

To find out more about Ms Besong and Mr Batey’s story click here.

If you would like to help fund the judicial review contact Kath Grant at RAPAR on 07812 471047, 0161 225 2260, 0161 834 8221 or via email on kath.northernstories@googlemail.com.

Rochdale playwright detained for deportation

DETAINED: Lydia Besong is due to be deported on Monday 21 December 2009

SUPPORTERS of Rochdale playwright Lydia Besong are demanding her release after she was detained for deportation on Thursday 10 December 2009.

Ms Besong, who fled Cameroon in 2006 after being subjected to discrimination, persecution, torture and rape, was detained  at the Home Office Reporting Centre at Dallas Court in South Langworthy Road in Salford Quays.

She was detained when she went to sign in at the centre  and the Home Office now plan to deport her on Monday 21 December 2009.

Ms Besong, whose play
‘How I Became an Asylum Seeker’ was staged at the Zion Theatre in Hulme, Manchester, last week, has now been moved to the Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in Bedfordshire to await deportation.

Manchester human rights charity RAPAR is hosting a vigil on the steps of the Friends’ Meeting House in Mount Street, Manchester, on Saturday 12 December 2009 at 3pm so people can show their support for Ms Besong.

Robert Sharp, of English PEN, the charity which campaigns for writers and playwrights internationally, has called for Ms Besong’s immediate release saying: “This is a blow for freedom of speech. With this detention, Lydia’s fledgling literary career will be cut short. It is astonishing that the UK plans to deport someone who has been seeking refuge from a government that attacked her just for exercising her right to freedom of expression.”

MP Paul Rowen, who in an earlier article told Manchester Mouth that he believed Ms Besong and her husband Bernard Batey had “a genuine case for political asylum”, is now working with lawyers to secure her release.

Both Ms Besong and her husband Bernard Batey were tortured in Cameroon, a country known for consistently contravening its national and international human rights obligations.

As well as being tortured in jail, Ms Besong was raped by one of the guards. This happened because the couple were members of the SCNC [Southern Cameroon National Council], an organisation which is fighting for the freedom and liberation of southern Cameroon [English Speaking Cameroon].

Campaigners are also asking people to contact the Home Office urging for Ms Besong’s immediate release and Quoting HO Ref: B1236372. You should fax the Home Office on 0208-760-3132 or email CITTO@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk, UKBApublicenquiries@UKBA.gsi.gov.uk, external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk and cc admin@rapar.org.uk

If you would like to read more about Ms Besong’s story see Manchester Mouth’s previous article about her by clicking here.

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

Congo mother and son’s asylum plight screened

DISPLACED: Tony Lola had to leave Congo after he was interrogated about the whereabouts of his family by police

By Mike Dalglish

A FILM that documents the struggle of a nine-year-old Congolese boy and his mother to win asylum status in the UK has been screened in Manchester.

‘Displaced’, which was shown at the Imperial War Museum North on Monday 23 November 2009, shows the plight of Tony Lola and mother Mireille who fled persecution in their native Democratic Republic of Congo.

Produced by Ella Cummins and Charli Allen, the film was one of five made by University of Manchester students as part of their MA in War, Culture and History.

Mireille, who now lives in Manchester, fled her home seven years ago after her life was threatened.

Tony was later sent to join her after he was locked up by police who tried to force him to reveal the location of his family members.

Neither of them know the location of Tony’s father Papy, who openly opposed the incumbent president Joseph Kabila. They believe he has been imprisoned.

The Home Office initially rejected their asylum application despite believing their story.

However thanks to a high profile campaign organised by staff and pupils at Didsbury C of E Primary School the authorities reversed their decision on 20 April 2009.

Football mad Tony, who was delighted with the decision, said: “I like Manchester because it’s not too big and not too small.

“It’s safer here. I don’t want to get arrested like my dad did.”

RELIEVED: Mireille Lola is glad she and her son have been granted asylum in the UK but is scared of what lies ahead

Mireille was relieved but problems still lie ahead.

She said: “I miss my country, my family, my friends, my work…everything. I miss everything.”

Ella said she wanted the film to dispel some common myths about asylum seekers, one of the most contentious topics in Britain today.

Charli added: “Tony and Mireille have been through hell – but they had lots of support.

“Many asylum seekers don’t have that luxury and are totally alone.

“We feel it’s important not to forget that.”

The screening also featured several other films.

‘War in the Time of Elections’ by Jonny Mundey, filmed in Nakuru, Kenya, followed a Kenyan family as they recalled the horrific post-election violence that poor the country apart in early 2008.

‘The Long Shadow’ by Anton Bielecki, is a story of the memories of Wanda Bielecka, who escaped from the Nazis during the Second World War.

‘In the Garden’ by Dejan Levi, introduced the audience to a group of refugees in Liverpool banned from paid employment by the government who work in a garden to pass the time.

‘The Shape of War’ by Ed Poole explored to what extent a museum can give people an impression of what war is really like.

Course director Dr Ana Carden Coyne said: “The MA in History, War and Culture reflects the intellectual challenge of truly grasping the serious impact of war on peoples and cultures.”

Gorzy deportation imminent

By Will Astbury

MEMBERS of Manchester-based human rights organisation are appealing for support to help it stop the deportation of a 16-year-old girl and her mother tomorrow, Sunday 4 October.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers Participatory Action Research, aka RAPAR, want you to help stop Arezoo Gorzy and her mother Marjan from being deported.

The mother and daughter, who used to live in Salford, fled Iran two years ago after Arezoo’s father disappeared without explanation. To this day Marjan and her daughter still don’t know what has happened to him.

Upon arriving in the UK the pair tried to claim asylum but the Home Office has rejected their attempts as it does not accept that their lives would be in great danger if they returned to Iran.

The pair were then detained in the Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, just outside Bedford.

Arezoo and Marjan were due to be deported on 10 September 2009. Five hours before they were due to be put on a flight to Iran, Marjan, terrified beyond words, did the only thing she felt she could to protect her daughter – taking so many tablets that she lost consciousness.

RAPAR caseworkers spoke with Arezoo and reached her lawyer in time  to stop the deportation on medical grounds.

The mother and daughter are still at the Yarl’s Wood Centre and are due for deportation again, despite Marjan being mentally ill and her daughter in some distress.

If you think you can help RAPAR stop this deportation contact them on 0161 834 8221 or on 07776264646 for more information on its work.