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

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Mancs to stand up for Tamil speakers

A HUMAN rights organization is holding a conference in Manchester to discuss how Tamil speaking people are treated in Sri Lanka.

Tamil Solidarity (TS), which was set up to protest about the treatment and slaughter of Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka, is hosting Northern Conference on Saturday 6 February 2010 at Methodist Central Hall, Oldham Street, to raise awareness and consider what Brits can do to help.

Senan, TS’s international coordinator who has also spoke in the European Parliament, will be chairing the event and urging the Sri Lankan Rajapakse government to withdraw troops, eradicate concentration camps, establish democratic rights for all, support independent trade unions and defend the right to self-determination.

He will also be urging other world leaders to stop arming and funding the Sri Lankan government.

Yolanda Foster, an Amnesty International researcher in Sri Lanka, said: “Recent fighting has placed more than a quarter of a million civilians at great risk.

“People displaced by the conflict are experiencing acute shortages of humanitarian aid, especially food, shelter and medical care.”

The Sri Lankan government  is known for abusing the human rights of its citizens. In 2007 Amnesty reported that three Tamil men, Sujith Gunapala, Sasikaran Thevarajah and Satyaphavan Aseervatham, were arrested for no reason and illegally held in incommunicado detention after they returned to Sri Lanka from Thailand.

The Independent has previously reported that Tamil people were tortured by being “suspended upside down by ropes, while being beaten around the testicles and made to inhale noxious fumes”.

It said that others were “held in camps by the Sri Lankan army and have been the victims of repeated male rape and having lighted cigarettes extinguished on their genitalia”.

The conference, which is being supported by Salford Trades Council and Manchester National Union of Journalists, takes place from 12 to 4pm at the hall in Manchester City Centre, M1 1JQ. Visit www.tamilsolidarity.org for more details.

If you want to show your solidarity but can’t make it to the conference you can donate by contacting Senan at 07908 050217 or info@tamilsolidarity.org.

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

Student appeals for brother’s release from Chinese prison

A MANCHESTER student is campaigning for the release of his brother, who is believed to be held in northwest China by the authorities and is at serious risk of torture. 

Dilimulati Paerhati claims his brother Dilixiati, 27, was taken from his home in Urumqi, a city situated in China’s troubled Xinjiang region, on 7 August 2009 and has not been heard from since.

The 30-year-old, who is studying international business management at Manchester Metropolitan University, has not been able to contact his family in Xinjiang as the authorities have blocked the phone lines.

“The phone lines are blocked after the unrest in Xinjiang, so I can’t even speak to my family to find out if they’ve had any news,” Dilimulati told Amnesty International, who have taken up his case.

“I just want to know that my brother is OK, and to help get him released. He was due get married this summer, but he had to postpone the wedding because of all the trouble in our city.”

Dilimulati now believes that his brother may have been abducted because he was the editor of a popular news website and Amnesty International’s supporters are now writing to the Chinese government to demand that Dilixiati is released or charged with a criminal offence and given a fair trial.

“He only edits a website, he hasn’t done anything wrong. There has been trouble in Xinjiang but my brother wasn’t part of it. He didn’t even write about it,” added Dilimulati.

The Paerhatis are from China’s Uighur ethnic minority. Dilixiati’s website Diyarim.com has been off-line since 6 July 2009.

The authorities in the region began blocking the internet, international telephone and text messaging services in Urumqi and other cities on 5 July 2009, which they claim will prevent violence from spreading.

Reports suggest that police interrogated Dilixiati about the ‘unrest’ for around eight days from 24 July 2009. He was released but rearrested days later.

Violence and widespread unrest broke out in Urumqi and in other parts of Xinjiang province in July 2009, after police cracked down on initially peaceful demonstrations in Urumqi by Uighurs.

The demonstrations were protesting the authorities’ inaction after two Uighur workers died during a violent riot at a factory.

Steve Ballinger, of Amnesty International UK, said: “Amnesty supporters around the world are writing to the Chinese authorities, urging them to respect Dilixiati Paerhati’s human rights.

“Officials should tell his family where he is being held, let them see him, and guarantee that he is not being ill-treated. And unless he’s going to be charged and put on trial, they should release Dilixiati Paerhati immediately.”