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Asylum seekers speak out about persecution and a life on the edge

This article is over 15 years, 5 months old
Sian Ruddick reports from Swansea on the harsh reality of existence for asylum seekers fleeing poverty and war in Gordon Brown’s Britain
Issue 2125

The government and the mainstream press are attempting to scapegoat asylum seekers in Britain. But there is a stark contrast between the lifestyle the media allege they have and the reality.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, regardless of their skills or education. While they want to participate and contribute to society they are shackled by government legislation.

Faustin, a Congolese student at Swansea University, took me to meet Congolese asylum seekers living in the area.

Many asylum seekers are put in the poorest areas of the city, with little services or support.

We first went to see Francis in the Townhill area. As we went in the back of his house, I noticed the gate has collapsed from rot and there are no curtains in any of the windows.

Francis told me his story, translated by Faustin.

He said, “I worked for the ministry of external affairs in the Congo. The government sent me to Britain to visit the communities here to try to stop them criticising the government.

“But the government is illegal. It has hurt many people and ruined the country. The government found out that I agreed with these people and attacked my family in the Congo while I was still in Britain.

“My family scattered, the children, my wife. Their lives are in danger and so is mine if I return.

“I have applied for asylum and my application is in the final stages. My morale is low. I don’t feel comfortable. I have had no news from my family for over a year. I don’t know where they are, if they are safe.


“I have £40 a week to pay for everything apart from my rent. Winter is coming and I have few warm clothes. It is not easy here but I have no choice.

“If I got refugee status it would allow me to make a home and to connect.

“You can see this house is bare, I only have a bed and a chair and it is just men in the house together.

“There are Iraqi and Somali people living here.

“We don’t speak the same language and none of us speak English well. We have signs and actions to try and explain to each other. But it’s so hard.

“I am learning English slowly. If I get my status I will stay in Swansea as it’s the only place I know in Britain. I have been educated and have taught before. If I get settled I would like to learn computing.

“People have been really welcoming. We don’t have many problems, only a few minor ones.

“It makes me angry to think of how people are treated. The government here knows what is happening in Congo. Why are they making the process so long?

“They act like they don’t believe us but they see the news. I’m thinking all the time. Sometimes I feel like I’m going mad. I can’t work, I can’t go to college – I just have to stay in this room and wait for their decision.”

We said our goodbyes and walked up the hill to Gloria’s house. Gloria is in her 60s, living in a basement flat with women from Ethiopia and Eritrea. She has health problems and finds accessing services difficult.

She said, “I have £30 a week to live on. I am an elderly person and the buses in Swansea are expensive.

“Our asylum claims are affected by connections to Britain. If you have family here you’re more likely to get through, to get housing. It’s an unfair system.

“Our problems haven’t been with the local community, but with the forms and the law.


“I have health problems and there is no translation service at the doctors. My friend has to come with me to translate. If he’s not with me they tell me to go and I miss medication.

“The government here is so unfair. It doesn’t take Congolese people seriously. It takes it so long to recognise the problems facing our country and us.

“We have one of the highest rates of rejections as a nationality.

“The Congolese government finds your family who still live there, asks them questions and makes them scared.

“They ask where we are, but they don’t know. Lots of people lose contact with their families.

“I found out today that I have passed and I am allowed to stay. I feel like I can be settled now. I am old now and can’t work but I contribute what I can.”

Names have been changed to protect identities

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