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A Journey to the Immigration Tribunal

Written by Sheila Hayman, Freedom from Torture, 25 April 2016

I’m on a packed Piccadilly Line train in rush hour. I’m going to provide moral support to a former member of the Write to Life Group, at her asylum appeal hearing at the First Tier Immigration Tribunal - somewhere near Heathrow Airport.

The TfL website gave me four different options for my route from North London, each involving several forms of transport.

I’m not going to pay £34 for the return Heathrow Express so the route I’ve picked involves cycling to Kings Cross, getting on the Piccadilly Line to Acton Town, changing to one to Terminal 3, walking to the bus station, taking a 75 bus and then walking for another ten minutes.

In the event, when the packed carriage spits me out and I find the bus station, I discover that what the web site didn’t tell me is that the 75 bus goes only every half hour, and I’ve just missed it.

So, being confident, competent, solvent, healthy and capable, I run all the way to the Terminal Two  taxi rank and spend all my remaining cash on a cab.

And when I find it – late, despite the cab -– it’s right next to the razor wire, high blank walls and ubiquitous cameras of the Harmondsworth immigration detention centre.

So far I’ve found it difficult and expensive to get to, and the location looks frightening. In my experience many asylum applicants are scared, broke, and lonely people. What  must this place feel like to those who don’t know their way around, and may speak no English?

The woman who I'm here to support today was sent to live in a dingy hostel in a poor South Coast town two years ago, much against her will. She shares a room with another woman with whom she has no common language, and the only activity in her empty week is a choir rehearsal.

She was volunteering, but had to stop as she couldn’t afford the expense of travel out of her £36 a week. She has managed to complete an Access to University course, and been offered places to study archaeology at good universities. But of course, with no status she can’t go.

So her days and weeks drag on, in a paralysis of waiting.

But there she is at the hearing:  immaculate, pretty, smiling – all of them concealing the reality of her life as a torture survivor and asylum applicant. Inside, she’s terrified: of not saying the right thing, or saying the wrong one; of seeming too sane to deserve shelter, or too broken to contribute usefully to Britain.

The barristers are competent, the judge unreadable but not unkind. She’s told she may have a month to wait before the decision.

 “I can’t go back. There’s no future for me, if I can’t stay here. I’ve been fighting for too long. I’m tired. I just want to die.”

I said what I could, all useless platitudes. I bought her a coffee and gave her a hug and sent her back to another empty day in the hostel. Then I got on my bike, went to the shop, and headed back home. Lucky. Safe. Free.

About the author: Sheila Hayman runs Freedom from Torture's Write to Life creative writing group for torture survivors.
This blog post originally appeared on the Freedom from Torture blog and is reproduced with our thanks to Freedom from Torture.

Any views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of EIN