Refugee Stories

…… read some brief descriptions of some of the refugees and asylum seekers seen at ALM and of how they interact and are assisted by the centre. They represent a cross section of the people visiting the St Anne’s Centre.

Jane Smith – Zimbabwe

Jane Smith is a young woman from Zimbabwe, she presented as homeless at Asylum Link. She was depressed, not sleeping, was anorexic and unable or unwilling to communicate the reason for her distress. She was suspicious and afraid; her sister was returned by the home office to Zimbabwe earlier this year. Jane is a poor historian; she has been moved around by NASS services and in transit has lost her documentation.  Advocacy had thus far been unable to provide Jane with a general practitioner because of her inability to provide documentary proof of identity. Jane has presented twice at the mental health crisis team at the royal and once via ambulance to Fazakerly A&E but her reluctance to discuss has meant she has returned without services.

Jane, in fact, did have documentation showing her leave to remain in the UK, however she had kept this hidden for some reason we could not ascertain, until weeks after she first presented. She had worked as a care worker during her first few years in the UK but now seemed incapable of supporting herself, or of making any decisions on her own behalf. A deeply troubled woman she looks to Asylum Link for support and sustenance. In all probability she will return to Zimbabwe via the voluntary returns scheme, reuniting her with her children and family, although whether this will help her in the long term is debatable.

Amon Mohammed – Syria

Amon Mohammed is a Palestinian pursued by voices, he is also up and down emotionally, living on tenterhooks that the home office may be after him to deport him. He uses the subject of a racist attack in town. Advocacy for Amon involves keeping in touch with the nominated mental health professionals but also offering Amon support and encouragement. Amon needs constant attention. He is at times paranoid that his friends are betraying him and Asylum Link provides some safety, emotional and practical support.

 Simon Werry – Palestine

Simon Werry is a Spanish speaking Palestinian, who has a mental disorder recognized by the mental health system. He recently spent 3 months at Broadoak. Simon’s life is wrecked by voices and an inability to cope with noise. Advocacy has taken many forms with Samuel mostly keeping contact with his mental health professionals, but also with the associated difficulties of communicating with the home office and providing the reassurance and support the Samuel needs.

Hastaber – Cameroon

Hastaber has been in Liverpool since 2006, he is from Cameroon. His mental distress warranted admission to a psychiatric ward at Broadoak, under the care of Dr McCuthean Nov 2006, where he was viewed as a high suicide risk following two attempts.

Asylum Link provided the framework for Hastaber to slowly get his life together, Hastaber has few self-care skills. He was dependant upon others, unable to articulate his needs, restless, unable to live alone, pursued by memories of Cameroon and without the language or social skills to make progress. Asylum Link worked closely with the mental health professionals in providing Hastaber support and advocacy which he was able to accept. This involved facilitating contact with solicitors and interviews with the benefits agency. Persuading Hastaber to accept supported accommodation and encouraging him to pursue his talent of creative painting. Hastaber has moved through the spectrum of being dependent upon his caseworker at Asylum Link for every decision to one of relative independence.  This shows in his demeanour that he now stands tall, and smiles. His self-confidence was enhanced by Cherie Blair choosing to buy one of his paintings on display at the recent HOPE 08 conference that Hastaber was enabled to attend due to Asylum Link’s sponsorship of his place.

Of Anita, Hastaber’s main caseworker, how he got help he said “‘Told Anita (caseworker) at ALM. She is very close to me and very helpful. I trust her – she is my mum’

Dora – Uganda

Dora is a young woman from Uganda who came to the UK to join other family members. She was kept at home by her father who refused to return her passport. She had ‘learned helplessness’ when she presented to Asylum Link. She had disengaged from medical services. Dora had sickle cell anaemia and had a stroke aged 15 years. Dora was withdrawn and severely depressed. Asylum Link advocated with the police, hospital services and with her family. Contact with other agencies, particularly the benefits agency was long and protracted because of father’s obduracy and unwillingness to release documentation. Dora was seen daily and encouraged and supported until she was eventually able to achieve some level of independent living away from her father. Dora progressed from being depressed and withdrawn to someone who was once again able to make some decisions about her own life.

Karasiwe – Congo            

When Karasiwe’s case failed in 2004, we were able to accommodate her with about 16 other destitute women Asylum Seekers. At that time, we were able to give shelter, food and £20/week for 10 weeks. Asylum Seekers failed or not could still access further education – ESOL, computing, dress making, gardening and other Community College classes.

Karasiwe was caught up in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When her father’s faction was defeated, she was imprisoned and serially raped. She has never been able to talk through these terrible experiences until very recently in counselling sessions. Soon after she arrived in Liverpool she became so depressed, she tried to commit suicide, but was stopped by her friends.

At first when she became destitute she was able to cope and even seemed cheerful at times. Despite everything she kept up her appearances. She made little progress in English although she attended classes. Gradually, despite medical help, she sank farther into depression and unable to attend college, she became increasingly isolated. She always wore the same poor, worn clothing and was terrified of going into the Home Office to sign and eventually stopped attending.

We were able to convince a local firm of solicitors to put forward a fresh claim for Asylum based on Mental Health grounds. She began to sing on each week with support from volunteers, but when the Home Office demanded a fresh statement of her details and her signature to allow her embassy to produce travel documents for her removal, this worsened her depression. She was threatened with prison if she refused to sign. At this point she stated categorically, that if the Home Office took action to remove her, she would kill herself.

Karasiwe’s circumstances were radically altered when, at a court hearing, the Home Office stumbled across one of her earlier documents sent by a previous solicitor whom she had paid to prepare a new claim, but had been lost in the Home Office until the day of the hearing. This document was viewed as fresh evidence, having not been considered before and has formed the basis for a new asylum claim.

Karasiwe is still moving in and out of depression and is receiving medication and counselling and is beginning to talk through all she has suffered. She has hope although is still unable to trust the hope. She attends Mass each week and helps to clean the Church. She takes much more interest in her appearance but is still inclined to stay alone in her room. She is still housed by Asylum Link.

She is still not completely aware of what is happening around her and feels she is still being victimised. This leads to her becoming very angry and frustrated. She needs constant encouragement to move from being passive to taking charge of her life but is moving in a positive direction.

Pasture –  Cameroon

Pasture came to the UK 5 years ago and quickly arrived in Liverpool. From here the Red Cross traced her husband and unfortunately found he had been murdered. The government burned down their house because of their opposition to the ruling party. Her children were taken over the border to Gabon by their Uncle.

She began to suffer severe depression and needed serious medical help. She began to hear voices persuading her to kill herself and went to hospital several times. Her case failed and she was attacked and raped whilst in her Home Office accommodation. She had a termination and became extremely depressed. She was them taken into detention and a date for her removal was set.

Appeals were lodged based on severe mental illness. She was hospitalised and became so ill that a 24hour watch was kept on her. In July last Year she was finally put on board a plane to the Cameroon but was so badly beaten by the security guards during her transit, that the Cameroonian authorities refused her entry, saying that if she had died in their prison they would have been blamed and she was returned to the UK.