Meetings with Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg

Along with other local asylum organisations, we have twice met Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister –in October 2010 and in August 2011.  Mr Clegg made it clear that the coalition would not implement all Liberal Democrat asylum policies but he would ensure that child detention was eliminated, except in a very few cases just prior to the deportation of a family and in greatly improved conditions. At our latest meeting, we raised:  the need for independent initial decision making (as in Canada) on asylum cases, the handling of outstanding legacy cases, the danger of forcible returns to Zimbabwe, the need to monitor what happens to returned asylum seekers and the need to preserve the Overseas Domestic Workers Visa. Mr Clegg undertook to follow up points that we raised.

 

How useful have our meetings with Nick Clegg (and other MPs) been? For an assessment, see this article, originally published by Migrants Rights Network. What do you think?

“I’m feeling part of the community, now more than ever” – fighting for asylum in Sheffield

SC: What did you do before you came to the UK?

BM: I was doing an engineering course at university because I had an aspiration to become a civil engineer.

Why did you leave the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2001?

It became really unsafe for me. I was an activist involved with the student union and with my political party the UDPS. That was a time in the DRC when a lot of human rights abuses were happening and only students had the guts to stand against what the government were doing. My student and political activism associated with my past army experience raised my profile in the eyes of the authorities and it became unsafe for me in the DRC. That’s the reason I left and flew to the UK.

Djoly
Bavwidi Mpanzu – Djoly

Were you believed when you claimed asylum in the UK?

That’s the funny thing: they wouldn’t believe my evidence but they couldn’t provide their evidence for not believing my story. I’m just glad that today there is a wealth of evidence – the UN mapping report  and many others – that confirms some of things I was telling them 10 years ago about Congo. It’s quite difficult for a UK person to have an idea of the systematic chaos that was happening in the DRC. But I believe that the Home Office doesn’t want to see that evidence except in a way that suits them.

What was life like waiting for your asylum claim to be resolved?

It was very difficult to accept myself as an asylum seeker – that was the biggest challenge. You are put in a situation where your life is in the hands of somebody sitting in an office somewhere making decisions and you just can’t change it. If that person wants to keep you in the dark for 10 years, he’ll keep you 10 years. But when I made a step and mixed with the wider community I discovered that there is help, solidarity and a lot of support available.

You did voluntary and activist work too?

Yes. This is where I decided to accept myself. In Sheffield I led an NHS project on HIV that raised awareness on sexual health issues for the African community. I also set up the Africatime organisation, based on the experience of the war of many Congolese in the UK. We decided to do something about the human rights abuses in the whole of Africa. We worked with the University of Sheffield to raise awareness about the war in Congo.

I found a community with the church and I volunteered for family counselling there. Later I began a community development course at the university.

How did you manage to live with no cash support?

My experience was of destitution – no place to live, no food – and I had to rely on friends and people of goodwill. But friends can only help so much and you have to find another way. In my case it was to take the illegal way to survive, that’s how far deprivation can go.

What happened after you were arrested for ‘illegal working’?

I was expecting rejection but I was surprised to see a lot of people at the court fighting for me. I thought ‘people have accepted me so I have to accept myself’. That’s where I picked myself up and really started to fight for it.

And what was prison like for you?

I felt gutted that a lot of young people were wasting their time in prison. I volunteered with the prison chapel and also helped some of these young people to read and write.

The first question you get in prison is “what are you here for?” and when I told them they were really shocked. Some of the ‘proper criminals’ were sympathetic and told me “you did nothing wrong, you shouldn’t be here”!

How did you cope with the threat of deportation at the end of your prison sentence?

I wasn’t expecting any favours from the Home Office and because I was in prison I had to rely on people outside. So, yet again, another sense of lacking power. I’ve been fortunate enough to have committed people outside and I received regular visits and updates. One day I received a visit from somebody I didn’t even know, who had heard about my case. I was nearly in tears – that was proper solidarity.

What finally won your case at the High Court this year?

There were Congolese politicians and British academics at the court as witnesses. All those people came across me in my political, academic and charity activities, making my story more credible.

The judge decided not to focus only on the crime, like the Home Office did, but to go deeper. He granted me leave to remain on asylum grounds. I was delighted that for the first time in my asylum experience somebody actually believed what I said.

What’s your advice to other people who want to campaign against deportation?

First, never give up. Seek out organisations that can help and advise. The community as a whole is important – there are people in the community who have had the same experience as you. I would say that you shouldn’t be afraid to go public. Even though it’s not comfortable putting all that personal information out there, it was the right decision for us.

Your campaign always generalised your experience and helped your supporters (and opponents) understand African politics.

It’s an honour for me to be able to bring something from the worst experience of my life and to turn it into a positive thing. I’m feeling part of the community, now more than ever. Now I walk in Sheffield and people say “Ah I know you, I heard about your story”.

Edited extracts from interview between Stuart Crosthwaite and Bavwidi Mpanzu on 6/9/11

Djoly's campaign always tried to generalise his experience
Djoly’s campaign always tried to generalise his experience

SYMAAG ELECTION PLEDGE LETTER 2010

South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG)

c/o  Scotia Works
Leadmill Street
Sheffield S1 4SE

dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk

9 April 2010

 

LETTER ON ASYLUM TO GENERAL ELECTION CANDIDATES IN SOUTH YORKSHIRE

 

We are writing on behalf of the organisations in South Yorkshire listed on the attached sheet which are concerned about the situation of those seeking asylum in our region after escaping from their own countries.

 

People seeking asylum have much to offer the communities of South Yorkshire but they are among the most vulnerable people in our region. They face a difficult life here, often with prolonged uncertainty about their future. They are not allowed to work. Some receive very limited financial support (now only £5 a day for single people) in the form of inflexible vouchers or personalised ‘azure cards’, but others are destitute. Legal support is inadequate. Fresh claims from within the UK have to be made personally in Croydon. Many of those seeking asylum suffer from mental and/or physical health problems, but their access to healthcare is restricted. They and their children can be detained for indefinite periods without the right of habeas corpus.  Their efforts to become integrated into this country are often frustrated by a lack of classes in English.

 

It is sometimes suggested that we need to treat people in this way in order to deter others from seeking asylum here. Research evidence gives no support to this argument. We should rather be guided by our regional traditions of hospitality and generosity towards those who are vulnerable.

 

We are asking you to pledge yourself to a more humane system by supporting the following reforms:

  • Grant those seeking asylum the right  to work;
  • Replace vouchers and azure cards with adequate cash support;
  • End the detention of children and seek an Inquiry into the use of detention for adults;
  • Give those seeking asylum full access to healthcare and to English courses;
  • Give adequate legal aid and enough time to make legal representations;
  • Allow fresh claims and submissions to be lodged with the nearest Borders Agency office and meet related travel costs.

 

We should be grateful if you would let Stuart Crosthwaite at the above address know within the next two weeks whether you can make these pledges. We intend to report to the media in South Yorkshire on the extent to which candidates support these pledges.

 

Yours sincerely,

Jim Steinke(South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group-  SYMAAG) Robert Spooner(Asylum Seeker Support Initiative Short Term – ASSIST) Sue Taylor(Sheffield Committee to Defend Asylum seekers –  CDAS- Sheffield) Matt Sammons(Student Action for Refugees – Sheffield –STAR)

 

 

ORGANISATIONS SUPPORTING THE LETTER ON ASYLUM TO GENERAL ELECTION CANDIDATES IN SOUTH YORKSHIRE

 

 Africa Time Community Organisation – South YorkshireAsylum Seeker Support Initiative Short Term – Sheffield ASSIST 

Asylum Seeker Support Initiative Short Term – Rotherham ASSIST

 

Black and Ethnic Minority Initiative – Barnsley

 

Barnsley Trades Council

 

Church Action on Poverty in Barnsley

 

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield.

 

Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers -CDAS- Sheffield.

 

Diocese of Hallam Justice and Peace Commission

 

Diocese of Sheffield Board of Faith and Justice

 

Eastwood Methodist Church, Rotherham.

 

Greater Somali Community Network, Sheffield

 

Islamic Society of Britain – South Yorkshire Branch

 

Methodist Church – Sheffield District

 

Movement for Democratic Change (M).

 

Our Lady of St.James Church, Barnsley

 

Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Hillsborough, Sheffield.

 

Shalom Africa

 

Sheffield Amnesty International.

 

South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group  (SYMAAG)

 

See below for local candidates who said that they supported all 6 of our asylum election pledges

 

St Ann’s Church DeepcarSt Luke’s Church, Lodge Moor, Sheffield 

St Marks Church, Broomhill, Sheffield

 

St Mary’s Church Penistone

 

St Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, Cantley, Doncaster

 

St William of York Roman Catholic Church, Sheffield

 

Student Action for Refugees (STAR –

Sheffield)

 

Take Part – South Yorkshire

 

Union for Democracy and Social Progress (Democratic Republic of Congo) UK Organisation

 

UAF (Unite Against Fascism) Barnsley

 

University and College Union, Barnsley College Branch

 

Victoria Hall Methodist Church, Sheffield

 

Zimbabwe Community Network Association – Sheffield

 

 

Constituency Candidate Party
Sheffield Hallam Nick Clegg Liberal Democrat
Sheffield Hallam Steve Barnard Green
Sheffield Hallam Martin Fitzpatrick Independent
Sheffield Central Jillian Creasy Green
Sheffield Central Paul Scriven Liberal Democrat
Sheffield Brightside Maxine Bowler Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Sheffield Heeley Simon Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat
Sheffield Attercliffe Clive Betts Labour
Rotherham Rebecca Taylor Liberal Democrat
Rother Valley Kevin Barron Labour
Barnsley Central Eric Illsley Labour
Barnsley East John Brown Liberal Democrat