Why does the English government hate Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell? What horrible crime has each committed? Individually, each woman’s story shows a State built of shameful violence against women. Taken together, the collective story of Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell shows a State in which “callous attitudes towards immigrants” entails expanding and intensifying evil, a key part of which is the humdrum ordinariness of the women’s stories. What happened and is happening to Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah and Irene Clennell happens every day and all the time. It is the State unguent that keeps the everyday together.
More than 30 years ago, Erioth Mwesigwa’s husband was suspected of opposing Milton Obote, the then-President of Uganda. Her husband escaped and made it to England, where he was given asylum. Erioth Mwesigwa stayed, was imprisoned and raped by soldiers. Finally, Erioth Mwesigwa escaped prison and went into hiding. She changed hiding places repeatedly. Her godfather, who hid her at one point, was killed. In 2002, Erioth Mwesigwa fled Uganda and made her way to England. She has lived in England for nearly 14 years. Recently, she was detained and sent to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. On February 10, guards came to take her to the airport and “remove” her to Uganda. Erioth Mwesigwa reportedly politely but firmly declined the invitation. The guards backed off, threatening to return with more force.
Erioth Mwesigwa has been an active, vocal and visible member of the All African Women’s Group, a self-help group of women asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees, formed in 2003. Erioth Mwesigwa called the All African Women’s Group and left this message: “I do not understand why the Home Office gave refugee status to my ex-husband, who thankfully was able to escape with our children before anything terrible happened, yet refuses it to me when I was the one unable to get out in time and so suffered the terrible consequences. It took many years for me to escape from Uganda after the imprisonment and rapes. I lived those years in constant fear; hiding from place to place, rarely leaving the house and only in darkness. I had lost all hope, self-confidence, and nearly my mind. Finally I was found and ordered to make my husband come back to Uganda. My friends told me that I would be killed and organized my escape to the UK. It is here that I have found people who love and care for me. The men who abused me in Uganda are still in positions of authority. I can never go back and be safe.”
Shiromini Satkunarajah studies engineering at Bangor University and is an exceptional student. Shiromini Satkunarajah arrived in the United Kingdom eight years ago, at the age of 12. She worked hard, studied hard, and planned hard. She, her father and mother had fled the civil war in Sri Lanka, and had arrived on her father’s student visa. When her father died, in 2011, she and her mother, Roshani, were allowed to stay so as to complete her studies. On February 21, they appeared for their regular sign-in and were informed that Shiromini Satkunarajah’s application for full student visa was denied. The two were taken home to pack, taken back to the local police station where they were held for two days, and then carted off to Yarl’s Wood, where they were told they would be shipped off to Sri Lanka, Tuesday, February 28.
More than 165,000 people signed a petition to overturn the petition. Her local Member of Parliament waged a mighty campaign within the halls of the legislature. Clergy and other prominent figures lobbied and urged. At the eleventh hour, Shiromini Satkunarajah were told they would be set free, and that Shiromini Satkunarajah could return to her studies.
On Sunday, February 26, Irene Clennell was forcibly put on a plane to Singapore.
Irene Clennell moved to England in 1988. Two years later, she met and married an Englishman, John. They have two children together, and one grandchild, all in England. For the past few years, Irene Clennell has been the primary carer for her husband, who has suffered various major illnesses. Starting in 1990, Irene Clennell was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK. During that time, she spent periods in Singapore caring for her parents before they died. Recently passed laws require that a couple can demonstrate long periods of uninterrupted time living in the United Kingdom. Because Irene Clennell took care of her parents when they were dying, she was picked up, carted off to Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre, in Scotland, and from there, with £12 in her pocket and the clothes on her back, she was shipped off to Singapore.
Now the 53-year-old grandmother, mother, wife sits in Singapore and gives interviews, organizes, waits, and hopes: “If there are enough people fighting and giving support, I think I will get back to Britain.”
On Monday, February 20, hundreds called for Erioth Mwesigwa to be set free. Shiromini Satkunarajah was set free, thanks to the intervention of close to 200,000 people. Irene Clennell now relies on the work of “enough people fighting” to have her set free. This is the new face of the old White Male Supremacist Imperial State. For non-native born women of color, “freedom” must be purchased, with actual money and with the labor time of hundreds of thousands. The English government hates Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell because hatred pays.