Abdul arrived in this country seven years ago, as a teenager. He had, as it turned out, a cut and dried case for asylum simply based on his ethnic origins. He also had an extremely strong claim to asylum because of his political activities. What Abdul didn’t have is knowledge that he was literally in a legal fight for his life (that is literally a one in a million literal use of the word “literally”).
He claimed asylum without any legal representation. He had no idea that he would have to provide overwhelming evidence of his trauma, and so naturally glossed over his more painful experiences. He had no idea that he could claim asylum as a member of a persecuted minority and so did not put much effort into explaining what, to a complete outsider, is a complex ethnic identity.
Things weren’t helped by having an interpreter who spoke a completely different dialect from Abdul and who, either from incompetence or shame, glossed over key features of Abdul’s story. The Home Office, whose default position is that you are lying, claimed that Abdul not only wasn’t from a persecuted minority, but wasn’t even from the country in question. It thus stood to reason that he couldn’t possibly have had trouble with the authorities.
What followed was the usual and interminable saga of finding overworked legal aid providers, appeals and fresh submissions, whilst all the while trying to keep body and soul together as he was shuttled between substandard asylum seeker accommodation. Desperate, Abdul discovered that he could apply for a right to work, was granted it and excitedly moved to Brighton. What he hadn’t been told was that entitlement was in fact in a few very specialised professions, such as brain surgery. Abdul was, unsurprisingly, woefully under qualified for any work that he was allowed to do. In addition, having voluntarily given up the pittance he was receiving from the Home Office, Abdul was absolutely destitute. He ended up homeless.
Fortunately, Voices in Exile and Doctors of the World were able to support him. They asked us to find him somewhere to stay and we were able to house him; first with an incredibly generous host family and then in a home your support makes possible. He was in a position to pursue an appeal.
It was particularly fortunate that you were supporting him as, in the very last leg, it transpired that he could claim asylum based on his ethnicity but his solicitors dropped all of their legal aid clients. Legal Aid is just too underfunded to be worthwhile for commercial firms. His wonderful barrister, Ubah Dirie, agreed to take on the case pro bono, if Abdul could gather the additional evidence he needed. We needed a solicitor to take witness statements and formally instruct Ubah. His original advocate agreed to do that work pro bono (I am still grateful). Abdul also needed an expert witness to refute the absurd claim that Abdul was lying about his identity. Following Ubah’s lead we approached the star cheese. It took the cheese about 5 minutes to establish what is obvious to anyone who meets Abdul, namely that, although, by his own estimation, he is no angel, he is extremely truthful. The expert was so outraged by the Home Office’s behaviour that he took on the case for free and even put back a hospital appointment to show up in court.
The stability and money that our supporters provided meant that Abdul could gather witnesses, pay transport costs and undertake all the other activities needed to win his case. It should never have come to this. Abdul comes from a country with regime so violent that simply by being born he faced serious risks. He should have been welcomed and supported to start life again here. Instead, because he didn’t know how to twist himself through elaborate and tiny loops, a tortuous logic was used to ‘prove’ that he was a liar. How has it come to this?
As an addendum, I was speaking to Abdul last night. He takes a different view. He says, “7 years is too much, but, let’s be honest, Jac, when I think about my case, it’s a blessing. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t invited here. I came here illegally. They didn’t have to give me it [Leave to Remain]”. Make of that what you will.