Asylum Is No Laughing Business

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The majority of genuine asylum seekers do not want to leave their countries but circumstances force them to do so.

[London Bridge Is Burning]

We in the Western Hemisphere take for granted the freedom and the relative peace, security and stability that we enjoy.

This is not the case for some African countries--there is, for some countries the constant threat of civil war and foreign aggression from neighboring
countries, usually with backing from their former colonial rulers.

It was recently reported in a London newspaper, Metro that some Border agency staff are being investigated over claims that they mocked asylum –seekers with
racist chants and forced former child soldiers to re-enact shootings.

The reality of war is dehumanizing. The ensuing lawlessness in war zones brings untold suffering and grief to innocents and aid is usually slow to come if at all.

Lives are lost, homes and livelihood destroyed and therefore victims endure makeshift shelters or “protected camps.” Women and now even men are raped, sodomized or abducted to be maids and
sex slaves. Boys and young men are “conscripted” into the army, untrained and unprepared, and death is a virtual certainty.

War is tragic and devastating to those experiencing it so they seek asylum in countries they consider safer than their own. The most common reasons for seeking asylum is civil war, wars between countries, political, racial and religious persecution--the uniting factor is that all asylees seek to escape fear.

For Djibril Karim, who was recruited into the Sierra Leone army at the age of 13, the goal was sheer survival. With his parents and brothers killed by rebel forces, Djibril explained in an interview with Africa Recovery, he wandered the countryside for months trying to find a safe place, eventually ending up at a small town protected by an army camp.

To stay there, he and other refugee children had to work in the camps for the soldiers. "You had to collaborate with the military in order to breathe in that town," he recalls. Then as rebels killed more and more adult soldiers, the army turned increasingly to younger recruits. The children were confronted with a stark choice: "you can either join us or you leave." And leaving meant almost certain death at rebel hands.

In the play "Butterflies of Uganda," Mary recalls her days as a child soldier in Uganda. Kidnapped along with her brother and father, then forced to kill her father, Mary managed to escape after being raped by an influential officer, only to discover she was pregnant. Following an attempt at suicide, she decided to live and raise her child, Mercy.

Details aren't revealed until history threatens to repeat itself and Mary finds the courage to protect her daughter from a similar fate. The catharsis of dealing with her personal demons brings Mary a sense of peace and Mercy an understanding of the influences that forced her mother and grandmother to take the actions they did.

These are just some examples of the horror endured by child soldiers. How do they forget the atrocities perpetrated against them?  How do they forget the atrocities they inflicted on their family and friends? To be mocked and cruelly reminded about their past experiences is akin to being abused all over again.

It is reported in the Metro that Immigration workers allegedly sung an insulting version of the "Um Bongo" song from a 1980s soft drink advert and gave a cuddly toy – dubbed "grant monkey" to staff who approved asylum applications.

These claims were made by a former UK Border Agency worker Louise Perrett.  Such claims are now being investigated by an independent body, confirmed agency chief executive Lin Homer.

Ms. Perrett alleges that younger staff at the agency’s Cardiff office were "gung-ho" --overzealous and unrestrained-- and "rude" and showed general "hostility" when interviewing asylum-seekers.  She said one member of staff, when told an applicant came from Congo, sang: "Um Bongo, they kill them in the Congo."

Of another, she said: "When we had young men or children claiming to be former child soldiers, he would make them lie on the floor and demonstrate how they would shoot someone.  If they didn’t do it immediately or there was some hesitation, they would be refused."

This is a shameful and despicable stain on a multicultural society that prides itself on diversity and tolerance. The majority of genuine asylum seekers do not want to leave their countries but circumstances force them to do so. My late parents, brothers and sisters came to England as political asylum seekers with genuine fear for our lives and future safety. We left our home, grandparents, favorite aunties and best friends.

We certainly did not want to leave our beautiful Uganda and our privileged way of life to seek refuge in another country but circumstances forced us to do so.

The flight was daunting and very traumatic indeed. I was 16 and travelling alone for the very first time. We all left Uganda at different times and via different routes. My late father was smuggled into the Sudan and then made his way to England. We had no idea where he was and whether or not we would ever see him again.

We were fortunate that we all found each other. The story is different for countless asylum seekers. They leave behind loved ones, homes, land,businesses. They come in pain, with questions and into a life of uncertainty. Some families never reunite and questions of the whereabouts of loved ones, their safety, whether or not they are still alive or dead haunt the lives of those who escape to safety.

Although thankful for their lives, it is a life racked with guilt. All they need is a helping hand and not the suspicion and pre conceived notions at the first port of call.

Shame, shame,shame.

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