Thousands of people risk their lives in the journey to get to Britain only to be herded into camps, barges and hotels, sometimes for years at a time.
Others are for years left in limbo, unsure whether they will be rounded up in an immigration police raid, imprisoned and deported. This is the cruel reality of Britain’s asylum system. The Tories are hell‑bent on demonising refugees. They want people in Britain to think of those coming here as somehow separate from the rest of society, and therefore less deserving of compassion or rights.
As a result, we only rarely hear refugees telling their own stories in their own words. But those who have been through hell to get here, and endured still more of it after they’ve arrived, are real people with lives, families and dreams.
Loraine claimed asylum in November 2015 after coming from Malawi. She was thrown into a hotel in Birmingham for six weeks before being moved to Coventry. The Home Office refused her application in 2017 because of a “lack of evidence”.
“It’s a nightmare when you don’t know what’s coming. I was forced to live with fear, anxiety, and stress for seven years,” Loraine told Socialist Worker.
“I was made homeless and a night shelter gave me a room. I didn’t have any source of income, and I wasn’t allowed to work. It’s tough when you don’t know where food will come from.”
In September 2020 she began to put her application together again. “The waiting was hard. “You’re no longer worth anything. You feel useless. You’re just there. And I left my son back at home. It takes a toll on your mental health.”
Some 172,758 people are trapped in the Tories’ asylum system awaiting an initial decision. The state labels them “asylum seekers” until they’re given refugee status.
In August 2022, Loraine was finally given refugee status for five years. “I screamed in excitement and was also crying. Why had I been left to suffer all this time?
“To be told you’re free and can live, it was a lot to process. I felt like a weight came off my shoulders.
“It gave me a chance to do the things I want to do. In October 2022 I published a book of my poetry and now work for an organisation called Migrant Voice.”
Loraine says the Home Office could make its decisions far quicker but that “delays are deliberately part of the strategy.”
“It’s designed to crush people mentally and stop them coming. If decisions were made more quickly, people wouldn’t be stuck in hotels for years and would be able to support themselves,” she added.
“People don’t have a choice to stay in their own countries—they need a place to rebuild their lives. Instead, the government diverts people’s anger against refugees to avoid the real problems. “We need an asylum system that is kind, compassionate and humane.”
Most refugees have gone through terrible suffering before they get here. But that shouldn’t be a condition of entry into Britain. Socialists are against all borders and immigration controls because they are designed to trick and divide workers.
Julian Bild, a legal Aid immigration lawyer who represents victims of trafficking, told Socialist Worker, “The government is reducing the capacity of our sector to represent people, especially outside of London.
“We do lots of last-minute work to stop people being removed because people only get legal support at this point. If they had it earlier, they’d never have been put on a plane.”
Julian says harsh border regimes in Britain and the European Union haven’t stopped thousands from risking their lives to escape repression, extreme poverty and environmental crisis.
“What better gift to traffickers than letting the state threaten people with deportation if they try to escape? I have clients who found it impossible to meet their families’ bare essential needs.
“One only had a single egg to feed her four children for the day. She became a domestic worker, worked 18 hours a day and was physically and sexually abused.
“Almost all refugees are incredibly traumatised not just by what made them flee but the journey here,” he said. “A lot of people tell the truth, but there’s only a narrow way in.”
Trying to survive on just £9.10 a week
Waleed has been stuck in a hotel room in Rotherham for nine months. He came to Britain by plane from Eritrea—one of the poorest countries in the world—in November 2022.
Now he is supposed to exist on just £9.10 a week. “By the time you’ve gone to the town centre you’ve spent at least £4 and you have nothing left,” he told Socialist Worker
“A lot of people have no contact with local people and can’t speak much English. People here live in fear. They’re afraid when they see the news about barges or Rwanda. They get so worried they think they’re going to be taken while sleeping.
“All this because of the racist Home Office. It wants us to think we’re not welcome in this country. But there are people fighting for us.
“Without support from organisations like the Refugee Council and the Socialist Workers Party in South Yorkshire, it would be even more difficult.”
Waleed was inside the Holiday Inn earlier this year when 400 protesters from Stand Up To Racism guarded the hotel against 80 fascists intent on attacking them.
“After that day I decided to join the fight.
“All I want is for the Home Office to decide, then I can meet my wife and family again. But for now I am stuck here without the right to leave.”
‘I never thought my life would turn out like this’
Moussa, originally from Sudan, came to Britain from Beirut in June 2011. He had to travel through Turkey, Greece, Italy and France and waited eight months before receiving refugee status.
When he lived in Sudan, the country gripped by a civil war that caused millions to flee. In the Darfur region, in March 2005, some 2.7 million people were displaced, and in February 2008, another 3.4 million ran for their lives.
“It wasn’t easy coming to Britain,” he told Socialist Worker. “Something happened with my asylum review, and I was refused. “Then the process continued, and I was allowed to stay.
“It was quite difficult for me. I had my wife who wanted to come, but the authorities twice refused her.” Moussa hoped that receiving refugee status would be the end of the process.
“But I was homeless for nearly two years,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t strong enough to deal with these situations and have lost their lives because of it. “My cousin, who was also in Britain, passed away, and my close friend in Norwich died. I’ve lost my wife too.
“We couldn’t be together, so I’ve had to live my life, and she’s gone to live hers. This is the reality.
“There’s war back home which means people have to move and find a new life. We didn’t think our lives would turn out like this.” Fifteen years on Moussa is still facing legal problems. “I should be able to go to another country for as long as I like and come back,” he said. “But I can’t because there are too many problems.
“I love my family a lot, but I haven’t seen them for 22 years. I left my daughter when she was one years old and haven’t seen her since.”
“There are also complications with my national insurance number and my application for citizenship.” Moussa says people who come to Britain should be given the opportunity to have decent lives.
“People should be born anew when coming here, but instead they’re just labelled ‘refugees’. They have a right to live in this world and shouldn’t have to beg.
“Countries such as Britain have a responsibility to help, but there’s no humanity. We must make it better for the next generation.”
‘We are ordinary people that have been stuck with a label’
Saleh, originally from Chad, came to Britain from the Middle East by boat nine months ago. He crossed the English Channel in a small boat and waited for hours to be rescued.
“It was raining, and cold,” he told Socialist Worker. “The lifeboats took us to Dover where we stayed for three days in a camp with big tents with 50 to 60 people in them.”
This centre—Manston—hit headlines after the Home Office knowingly overcrowded the temporary facility for weeks, letting diseases like diphtheria and scabies spread.
“It was pretty horrible,” Saleh recalls. “Some people were there for 20 days. We had to sleep on the floor with only a sheet to cover ourselves. All we had to eat were biscuits, sandwiches and bananas.”
Saleh was later transferred to London for two days, and finally to Nottingham, where he’s been since.
“In the hotel there’s a lot of anxiety and depression,” he says. “People start thinking about why they had to come here and ask why they’re being treated like this.
“Then they think the problem is them. “And the hotel always has new rules about how we must live. They just want to make it difficult for people who are stuck there and frustrated.”
Saleh received a “Section 95” when he arrived, which entitles him to limited financial and housing support, but he hasn’t heard from the Home Office since.
“Thankfully there are people who want to help,” he said. “Without their support, giving access to lawyers, English lessons and clothes, I don’t want to think about how difficult it would be.
“We’re just normal people stuck with the status of ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’. That’s not my identity. It’s just my legal situation. “My goal is to help people in the asylum system because I know it means to be a refugee.”