Gimme ShelterDecember 14, 2008 at 11:31 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics, New Labour | 8 Comments
I know there are few moral absolutes in politics. Every day our public sphere throbs with debate about the challenges we face, and on issues as complex as tax and spending, crime and welfare, women and men of good conscience should be able to argue in good faith, and their disagreements shouldn’t mean that one is more virtuous than the other.
I know, too, that in an age of austerity, the prevailing instinct is self-preservation. When we’re losing our jobs and our homes and are paying for the shopping with small change, it’s sometimes impossible to look outside of our own private battles towards the wars which rage outside our windows.
But surely we can agree that no matter how wretched the recession, no matter how frightening our finances, no matter how much more prudent we all need to be with our money, we can still, as a country, afford a home for someone with nowhere else to go.
Surely we can agree that in Great Britain, in the 21st century, under the party of Labour, a woman who has tried to rescue her children from tyranny can be found some quiet corner of this green and pleasant land to live the rest of her life in peace. We can still manage that, can’t we?
The woman in the centre of this picture is Priviledge Thulambo. Several years ago, her husband was murdered for failing to goose-step to the tyrannical drumbeat of Robert Mugabe. When she tried to flee Zimbabwe with her two daughters (both pictured), she was arrested, raped and tortured. She eventually escaped to neighbouring Malawi, where her late husband held dual citizenship, and then came to Britain to claim asylum. Priviledge and her daughters have lived here for eight years, and have become part of the community in the Sheffield suburb in which they live.
But now the Home Office wants to send them back. Because they entered into the country on Malawian passports (which was the only way they could’ve gotten here in the first place), they have been idiotically assessed as Malawians, which makes their asylum claim invalid. As a result, they will spend Christmas in a detention centre before being deported to Malawi, where they face the prospect of a second deportation back to Zimbabwe and an all-but-certain execution.
For all the faults of this government, it is not intrinsically malicious or mean-spirited; indeed, the Home Office has promised to protect Zimbabwean asylum seekers for however long that crazed despot continues to squeeze the life out of it. Instead, Ms Thulambo and her daughters have become victims of bureaucracy – that abyss of form-filling, box-ticking and de-personalised processing which leaves asylum seekers in years of limbo: barred from employment, unable to plan a future for themselves, and left at the mercy of Churches and charities like ASSIST, which does incredible, heart-rending work.
These brave women’s plight isn’t the first injustice our asylum system has created and it won’t be the last. Some, like Mehdi Kazemi, will be saved through the publicising of their plight, whilst others will pass unnoticed, tossed back to whichever humanitarian catastrophe they fled. Whilst I’m open to ideas about how this mess could be reformed, one thing should be undeniable: when the system makes decisions like this, it desperately, urgently needs to be changed.
One quote you read often in civil liberties circles is “give me liberty or give me death“. For Ms Thulambo and her daughters, their future really is that depressingly stark, and it’s to this country’s shame that we’ve allowed it to happen.