The Racial Justice Network and anti-racist movements will lose a local activist on the 31st of August as she sets off to live in Botswana. But before she does, we decided to hear her story again and also hear about what lies ahead.
Jackie came to the UK 11 years ago in order to complete a Master’s degree. She was a teacher and head of department and a mother so well accomplished. She sold everything to sustain her children but also to pay her international students fees and accommodation. There were no anomalies raised by immigration officers as she went through passport control at the airport.
Jackie became alarmed when she tried to contact the college at which she had applied to study and secure her accommodation. The phone number was unoperational, the college completely uncontactable. Upon further investigation, Jackie and others found out the college had been bogus and subsequently shut down by the Home Office. This information, however, had not been passed on to incoming students, leaving them all stranded, without help or refunds. Unsure of her best course of action, Jackie then moved from place to place and worked for low wages until she contacted the Home Office.
What was tried; Jackie entered the process of seeking asylum and was represented by irresponsible lawyers, a (dis)service she paid money for. For Jackie, the incompetence of her lawyers greatly impacted on her current situation because she had to start appealing and the case eventually went to tribunal. As Jackie told RJN,
‘I like many other asylum seekers was at everyone’s mercy,; my solicitor, judges, migration officers, charity workers. I became a moving corpse, not doing much, just existing. I did lots of voluntary work to keep busy. It felt like a different form of slavery because I did not have the option/choice to work for payment. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs stood up and out very clearly. That theory talks about basic needs being met followed by psychological and self-fulfillment. Most marginalised groups and in this case destitute seekers of asylum do not get food, shelter or safety so they fall below.’
Jackie strongly believes that most people who migrate to this country do not come to be a burden and do not come for handouts especially when they have skills and ability. Most want to contribute to the society they live in. They want to have a sense of worth and reason to get up in the morning. She initially worked as a carer and cleaner earning very little, but, like many facing in-work poverty, her struggle got worse. The environment is so hostile it makes one hostile, it becomes difficult to see good when you have been through hell, sometimes turning on your own, turning on good people trying to help because everything becomes one huge struggle.
Migration affects everyone and more people should participate in this conversation. In order for the treatment of migrating people to change, there needs to be meaningful conversation about the reasons why people migrate and the role that western society has played in shaping migration patterns. Whether it’s climate change, colonialism, foreign policy (including the arms trade) and a range of other factors, public discussions that reflects on global history is a necessity. It will not only change the narrative of us and them, or us versus them, but also destabilise the fear and hatred that surrounds difference. For the late cultural theorist Stuart Hall, the question of the 21st century pertains to our ability to live with difference. It is this question with which we must now grapple. Jackie says that,
‘Those who care should do more and be active in joining and supporting anti-racist organisations like the Racial Justice Network and Migrants Organise. I was a lot quieter when I arrived but frustration and racism got me to speak up and I encourage others to speak up too, because silence does not help.
As I leave the UK, I leave with an anger about experiences that I have had and injustice I have faced over the years. Even though I am returning to the country of my birth with no money (I have not been allowed to work for 9 years and the voluntary return ‘scheme’ declined to offer me integration money to resettle), I leave with a desire to turn my experience into a positive for the education of others here and in my home country. I also have a yearning to see my family that I have not seen for over a decade.
I will be implementing skills and knowledge acquired as well as experiences for the betterment of others but I have some anxieties about how or where to start laying my foundations as I have no funds. Any support to do this is welcome.’
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