Friday, 6 February 2009

What happened to compassion?

For the past six months, we have had an asylum seeker living with us. She was quiet, polite and friendly, becoming very much a member of the family during the time she was with us. Yesterday, she left the house to make the fortnightly trip to 'sign on' (basically, a way of making sure she did not give the authorities the slip) and she never returned. Around the time I was expecting her home, the phone rang and a hysterical voice I barely recognised sobbed: "They've turned down my case! They're taking me away!"

"Just a minute, what about your right to appeal?" I asked, trying to remain calm.
"They said I can appeal, but there is so little time, and I can't reach my lawyer."
"All right, keep calm. Come home and I'll try to get hold of him myself." In my mind, I was already sitting her down with a cup of tea whilst we talked everything through.

More crying. "I can't come home, they're taking me away." I heard the sound of a woman's voice in the background talking to her in a cold, detached tone that made my flesh creep. "They say they are taking me somewhere tonight and tomorrow to a detention centre. They won't let me come home."

And that is apparently that. There is nobody I can talk to on her behalf, nobody I can ask what on earth is going on or plead to let her remain in the supportive environment of a family home until her appeal is heard. Her emotional state - like many in her position - is very fragile. I know that the experience of being detained and separated from her friends so abruptly has left her frightened and distressed, but the most I can do is try to find encouraging things to say to her over the phone.

Her room is exactly as she left it, the bed unmade, her English language text books piled up on her desk because she was halfway through an ESOL course. She may well never enter my house again. I can't bear the thought of her having to deal with this all alone, but there are many things I can't bear to think of at the moment. I know a country has the right to turn down a person's asylum application after due process if they see fit, but I cannot get over the brutality of a system that can simply detain a person without charge, trial or the most cursory of explanations. When I consider the compassion with which my family were treated when we came to this country as refugees, I cannot stop myself from weeping. I do not recognise this country any longer. What happened to justice? What happened to common decency? For that matter, what happened to compassion?


angela said...

I hope you manage to find out what is going on, it may be a good idea to ring your local MP if you can't find out where she is from the police. If you know who her lawyer is and can get in touch with them I should think they ought to be able to help in some way too. This is an awful way to treat someone, even if she has to leave she should at least have been allowed to pack!
Would your local press be interested in her story?

amd42 said...

Fiorella, I'm so terribly sorry. Please let us know as soon as you can where she's been taken and if she needs things sent to her. And if we can write to support her appeal. Do you know about the campaign against deportations? They are good and you could ring them, I think.

Paul said...

Would anybody at the Jesuit Refugee Service be able to give you advice about how best to locate and assist your friend? I recall overhearing a phone conversation a few years ago that suggested that in the case then under discussion, quite a lot could still be done even though the officials were trying to give the impression that all avenues had closed.

torchofthefaith said...

Dear Fiorella

We will be praying for this tonight and getting friends and family to pray also.

In Christ
Alan and Angeline

Ttony said...

I've tried, but it's Fr Tim and Fr Ray and the big guns that you need on side, rather than people like me. You have my post and my prayers, though.