Aderonke Apata, a lesbian asylum seeker fleeing death threats and or imprisonment under anti gay laws in Nigeria is currently under threat of deportation from the UK back to Nigeria. She set up Movement for Justice campaigning group in Manchester and speaks to Black Feminists Manchester about her personal case and calls for change of the current immigration, refugee and asylum system.
Interviewer: ‘Why did you set up Movement for Justice in Manchester?’
Aderonke: ‘I set up Movement for Justice (MfJ) in Manchester because there is so many injustices going on in the asylum seeking and immigration system that I think people should be aware of, and so that immigrants and asylum seekers here can have support from MfJ who has been solely London based, I thought it was something worthwhile as I have been and still being supported by them. MfJ do a lot of campaigning for immigrants and asylum seekers, LGBT groups and they have been at the forefront for quite a number of years now and have always been successful in their fights.
I was detained in Yarl’s Wood that was when I first came into contact with MfJ. I first started working with them in 2012; I formed a MFJ Group in Yarl’s Wood which is still waxing strong there; that led to so much publicity about the ‘rotten culture’ of Yarl’s Wood management being exposed. All the injustices and unfair treatments of detained immigrants and asylum seekers fleeing all sorts of abuse women routinely face around the world such as rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual abuse, forced marriage, anti-gay persecution, trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, ‘honour’ killing etc being exposed to the public following the peaceful demonstration that I led inside the centre and MfJ were able to help with that publicity.
So I thought setting up an MfJ where I live will allow me to give more support to people like me in the asylum system and who really need their voices to be heard and need so much support from people and challenging all this bureaucracy and hypocrisy of policies around immigration and asylum seeking. These are the reasons why I set it up in Manchester.
Right now nearly every organisation and groups supporting asylum seekers and immigrants are joining in to campaign to shut down detention centres, which makes me glad as MFJ has been able to expose the psychological, mental, emotional effects detention is having on asylum detainees and the illegality of detention centres.’
I: ‘How does MfJ campaign and how can people support?’
A: ‘We have several ways we campaign in MfJ, because as a movement it involves everybody. Not a particular sector of the community or society whatever you are British, non British, asylum seeker or not.
We advocate on people’s behalf if given the authority, with their solicitors, different support agencies that could assist in their asylum claims. Support people at their appeal hearings in court etc.
We go out, we do demonstrations in Home Office buildings, we go to reporting centres to campaign, we have leaflets all over the place, we have public hearings, people come and give testimonies about what they have witnessed as their treatment of the asylum seeking process – awareness raising.
If anyone was under imminent threat of deportation, we contact the airline not to collude with the UKBA, ask people to do so, go to airport to speak to other passengers on the flight and raise awareness of the person’s plight for their support in influencing the pilot not to fly the person etc.
Also we have campaigns like online petitions where people’s stories are being told to the whole world. We believe that anybody that is bold enough to publish what they are going through, I’m not saying that the other people that cannot publish their petition or cases are not telling the truth, don’t get me wrong, because there are some people who are not bold enough, they don’t have that courage to go public about what is happening to them , for some people who are bold enough and can go public, MfJ does support such people to launch petitions online, call for support of their situation, then we take the signatures forward to the Home Office. The ones that aren’t bold enough to launch online petitions are equally supported in whatever way they are comfortable with.
We hold rallies, meetings, talks, we raise awareness, there are several ways people can support us, one is to attend weekly meetings in Manchester, which is usually on Tuesdays at 1.30pm at St. James’ Church in Higher Broughton, Salford.
You can share your own experiences, we encourage people to come to rallies, sign petitions, donate because MfJ does not take money from the government because it is a political organisation that stands up to the government, so we rely on what people can give us or what we can raise ourselves.
If people want to donate they can see how to donate on the MfJ website. Come to our meetings and spread the news, talk about it in your churches, in your mosques, in the school, your universities, be aware of what is wrong and what we want to right. Infact that is the most important way to support a movement really, being part of a movement and being able to fight a good cause.’
I: ‘You’re currently part of the asylum seeking system; tell us more about your personal journey.’
A: ‘ It’s a very very long journey, it’s not been an easy journey, it started about 10 years ago, but lately it’s been quite inundated with refusals, if you have seen my own online petition, where I have to cry out to the world about what I am going through; which I do not have to, because being a lesbian is not what I ever wanted to talk about with anyone … in fact even if you’re not a lesbian I don’t think sexuality is what we should publicise, as I think it’s a private thing to anybody. But for me to go the length of doing an online petition that everybody in the whole world is able to read and talking about what is private in my life. That tells you how desperate point I am at being faced with deportation and for whoever to take the decision to NOT believe what and who I say I am, being a lesbian, other people have the right to their privacy, heterosexual people, they don’t have to prove they are heterosexuals.
It’s nerve wracking to have to prove you are a lesbian or gay person to the UK government. When it comes to claiming asylum based on your sexuality it is a very ,very big war, because they won’t believe you to start with, that’s not just particular to anyone claiming homosexuality, the unbelief culture is across the board for anybody claiming asylum, anybody who is an immigrant, they just don’t believe us, so then when claiming homosexuality it’s another big problem because there is no way you can prove your sexuality to anybody who is not your partner or has the prior knowledge of your sexuality but it’s made so nerve wracking, that now have you video record what you do with your partner, in privacy, and send it to the Home Office as evidence for your sexuality.
It makes me so sad we have to go to this length, it’s like you’re producing pornography, that is the way it looks to me because you have to make love to your partner and you have to record it and send it to whoever is going to make a decision on your case, it is that serious.
So I have been through so much, even though it’s not been very easy for me to come out at the beginning, because where I was born I was never out and nobody was out or out now, I’ve been in the closet for maybe over 20 yrs of my life that I could remember, could not talk about my sexuality to anybody. The only girlfriend I had knew and just one other close friend of ours so I could not talk about it, even when I came to the UK I could not come out and say I’m a gay person, it took me a very long time to have the confidence to come out and even talk about it and claim asylum based on my sexuality and that to me is quite harrowing and horrific what I have to go through, not only that I’ve been locked up in prison locked up in detention centre, just because I am claiming asylum.
When I was back home (Nigeria) I was locked up because I was a lesbian, I was arrested by the police and had to pay a bribe so I didn’t go to court for that but in the UK I have been detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre for nearly a year just because I am claiming asylum in this country.
I have worked illegally because I had no recourse to public funds, no house or support in any form from the government and I have to eat. I can’t peddle drugs, claim benefits that I am not entitled to and do all sorts so I went to work, I was sent to prison for working. I was paying tax and NI when I was working, I wasn’t evading tax.
My experience of the asylum system is so mixed, it’s giving me this thought that coming to seek asylum in this country is like you have signed yourself off to go to jail, which is what I don’t think it should be, because so many policies are set up for people to fail and nothing more than that.
I was with my partner for 20yrs in Nigeria before I flee to the UK in 2004, but I was informed in 2012 that my partner in Nigeria was killed brutally by vigilantes who found out she was a lesbian and she was going out with me and they killed her.
I’ve had several death threat letters from them, and some other individuals calling me all sorts of names, being sodomised, ready to set me ablaze if I come to Nigeria, so it’s heartbreaking and terrifying if I have to return to Nigeria, it’s not an option for me anyway, because I am out in the UK, even in the UK I’ve had homophobic attacks from Nigerian women in Yarl’s Wood for a period of almost a year were physically and verbally always attacking me, calling me names.
Even in Manchester I was physically attacked by a woman I didn’t even know, I presume she was Nigerian, who said ‘ I don’t know if you are a man or a woman but I know what you are, you are one of them that suck women’s pussy’ which I reported to the police. If I was in Nigeria I would not be able to report to the police because it would mean going to the government and report myself for homosexuality! So who would I have gone to call to come to my rescue?’
I: ‘It’s essential we address the political and historical root causes relating to immigration, refuge and asylum systems, hearing about your experience of seeking asylum and reasons for setting up MfJ, how can we best examine the underpinnings of the systems to build further momentum to make positive change?’
A: ‘ We need to be aware of the fact that, changes to the asylum system in the UK predate the colonial era, looking at the fact that the door was opened for people to come to this country, for instance from India, Nigeria where I come from, Africa, even Jamaica for them to be used as workers to develop this country.
At that point in time there was no restriction saying you cannot live in this country, but I think now, we’ve been made to develop this country, which I am proud of and want to be a part of this country, but looking at what is happening to me and looking inwards I’m beginning to think ok though it’s a case of we’ve been used and we’ve been dumped and because we don’t need you again, you don’t need to be here again, but above all there is a political aspect to it, wanting to use the immigrants and asylum seekers as scapegoats for any political party to score goals, so they are seen as a party that is in control of bringing down immigration numbers, but that’s not the real thing.
Why do we have all this political scoring to start with? Because I can’t see any need for it, I’ve listened to the news; I’ve read in the newspapers there are so many people talking about the fact that there is no evidence to show that asylum seekers and immigrants add any strain to this country in terms of NHS or benefits.
There is so much documented evidence showing that we do not strain this country , we come into the UK we want to be a part of it and want to build a UK that is prosperous and accommodating, we want to make it a good community to live because we are fleeing our country. It’s not because we just want to come here and start claiming benefits.
We have good skills we are educated and we can contribute positively to this country, and they know this, but because of political reasons they have to make us scapegoats in the name of wanting to control the immigration numbers, which I think is very sad.
Looking at the fact that most people, when you trace your roots, most people were immigrants to this country, why is it becoming so difficult for them to embrace immigrants or asylum seekers now? So it makes me think, one, it’s political, secondly it is racism, and when I talk about sexuality claims I want to say it is homophobic what they are doing to anybody of my sexual orientation.
Look at people who are fleeing to this country because they are victims of human trafficking. A lady was detained in Yarl’s Wood said to me she went to claim asylum because she was raped, she was a victim of torture in an area in the Congo or something where there is war, and she said the immigration officer said to her’ no you were not raped I’m sure those soldiers were having fun sleeping with you’ and I was like goodness me how can an officer representing this country say that to somebody who was fleeing torture and telling you they were a subject of rape, gang raping, and then you say ‘ no I’m sure you enjoyed it and those guys were having fun’. How does that translate to any human feelings?
There is so much embedded in this system that you cannot unstrand. The minute you start to unstrand one you are entangled into another one, it’s so complicated, there is so much racism and homophobia in it, and this is why even when their own agents are being abusive to immigrants and asylum seekers, it doesn’t mean anything to them, that’s what they want anyway, to frustrate you and send you back to whoever is torturing you, I don’t think that is fair and proper.
Looking at the petition I would say the support has been very high and I would encourage people to keep supporting and keep signing for us to gather the signatures and take it to the Home Office in support of my asylum claim.’
You can sign Aderonke’s petition here
Movement for Justice meetings are held at:
St James Rectory, Great Cheetham St,Salford M7 4UH http://www.achurchnearyou.com/higher-broughton-st-james/
Movement for Justice contact details:
Tel: 07448 483914