Bestselling authors and leading human rights dignitaries have joined forces to condemn the UK Border Agency's decision to deport a deport renown Cameroonian playwright Lydia Besong and her husband, Bernard Batey.
Besong is due to be deported back to Cameroon where, she says, she was raped and would be maltreated for speaking out against the government. She is expected to leave on Saturday, barring any successful last-minute efforts to stop her removal.
Supporters say Besong was not informed that her husband's latest appeal against deportation had failed on 23 December. Instead on 10th January WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together) management member and playwright Lydia was detained after registering normally with immigration service sat Dallas Court and taken into detention at Yarlswood Detention Centre. At the same time her husband Bernard was grabbed by 11 police officers and sent to Morton Hall Prison in Lincoln.
Lydia and Bernard fled Cameroon and sought asylum in the UK on 18.12.06. Their asylum claim is based on their activities with the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) a peaceful political pressure group which campaigns for the rights of the English speaking minority of Southern Cameroon.
In Cameroon both Lydia and Bernard suffered beatings and imprisonment as a result of their involvement with SCNC and Lydia was raped by a uniformed guard. These experiences have left them both traumatised and subject to severe depression.
Since arriving in the UK in 2006 Besong has written three plays about her life as an asylum seeker and criticised the political situation in her home country.
Lawyers for the couple are seeking an emergency judicial review to stop the deportation. Supporters believe that Lydia and Bernard would face persuction and be imprisoned if returned to Cameroon. They argue that cuts to legal aid have left Besong more exposed, and reliant on fundraising to pay for legal representation.
The former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo, Helena Kennedy, Monica Ali, Hanif Kureishi, Nick Hornby and Alan Avckbourn, have written to the home secretary in this regard.
Kennedy described the agency's decision to deport the couple as "hideous" and "insensitive", and called for an overhaul of the way women are treated in the asylum system.
"It is so hard to get good legal advice in these cases and cuts to legal aid mean the only way of getting advice is to rely on others to pay. It is just hellish," added Kennedy.
Kennedy said the manner in which Besong and Batey were detained was unfair: "The way in which this was done was hideous; with the couple not informed they were going to be removed. The whole way it was carried out was insensitive and terrible." She added that the Home Office and the UKBA was failing women.
"There are serious concerns about the culture of disbelief in the immigration system," she said, adding that a lack of training and willingness to listen meant women who had been raped could not tell their stories. "There is an ongoing lack of understanding of the issues and how they affect women, because they do affect women differently."
Besong's play How I Became an Asylum Seeker – produced by Women for Refugee Women, who continue to support her – has been performed in Manchester, Liverpool and London. Rehearsals for a new play were due to begin in Manchester the week Besong was detained at Yarl's Wood removal centre, with a performance scheduled at an international theatre festival in Bristol at the end of March. Her husband is being detained separately.
Morpurgo said he was begging the home secretary not to remove a "remarkable woman". He said: "How this country treats asylum seekers is the measure of what kind of a people we are.”
He added Lydia was oppressed in Cameroon. He asserted there was risk that she will be imprisoned and abused again. He further stated,” Her talents would be of great value to us as a citizen in our society would seem to be obvious."
Speaking from Yarl's Wood, Besong said: "Of course it would put me in danger if I was returned to Cameroon. There is no hiding that my work is critical of the current government. I would be detained indefinitely. There is no freedom of expression in Cameroon, this is happening every day."
But she would not stop writing, she added. "I wanted to highlight what was happening at home," she said. "If it couldn't be beneficial to me maybe it could be beneficial to others. I didn't know I would find myself in this situation. I am very, very, scared."
TAKE ACTION: Quoting case reference: HOB1236372/3:
* Phone and/or fax Yarl’s Wood on Tel: 01234 821 000 Fax (Yarl’s
Wood centre): 01234 821 096; Fax (UKBA): 01234 271 349