Why does the English government hate 36-year-old Kelechi Chioba? What horrible crime has she committed? The same crime committed by other immigrant women of color: Mabel Gawanas, Dianne Ngoza, Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, Irene Clennell, Chennan Fei, to name only the most recent. Is it that Kelechi Chioba lives with physical disabilities and mental health issues? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a disability rights activist and fiercely independent? Is it that Kelechi Chioba applied for asylum? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a Black African woman? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a queer woman? Is it that Kelechi Chiobia is a queer Black African woman? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a Black Nigerian woman? Yes, to each and all of the above. Each attribute is another “crime” committed against the State, and so Kelechi Chioba has been told to prepare for Yarl’s Wood and then for the long trip “home”, to the place where she was deemed a “curse” and beaten and abandoned. That’s why it’s called criminal justice.
Kelechi Chioba’s story is one of self-determination and autonomy. Living with polio and scoliosis, Kelechi Chioba was viewed as a “curse” by her family, in particular by her father. She was beaten by family members. In response, she decided to work, save her money, and go to England to study. While working and saving, she was sexually abused at work. Desperate, she attempted suicide. Finally, Kelechi Chioba saved enough money to pay for her visa and fees, and moved to England, in 2011, where she studied hospital, health and social care at the University of Wolverhampton. When Kelechi Chioba arrived in England, she used crutches, but by 2014, her physical condition had changed such that she became wheelchair reliant. She needed operations. Her arm deteriorated, which meant she needed an electric wheelchair. Every step of the way, Kelechi Chioba paid her way. For that reason, in 2014, she had to suspend classes. At that point, Kelechi Chioba applied for asylum.
During her time at Wolverhampton, and since, Kelechi Chioba has been a prominent and leading activist. For example, in 2014, she signed an open letter supporting the right to free education. Her signature read: “Kelechi Chioba, Black students’ committee and disabled students’ rep, NUS”. She has worked continually for the National Union of Students (NUS) Disabled Students Campaign and Black Students Campaign. As Kelechi Chioba explains, ““I’m someone who believes that disability is not the same as incapability. I believe that I can do things with my life. I want to make a change, I want to progress. When I came to the UK the education system inspired me to become an activist. Thanks to the freedoms this culture offers me, I now have the courage to talk about what happened to me, and I want to help other victims of violence and abuse to talk about their experiences.”
Kelechi Chioba organizes and encourages, and she and her supporters wait to see what happens next. This week, Liz Truss, the “Justice” Secretary, proposed a new fast track system for asylum seekers. The last fast track system was an atrocity, but that doesn’t matter. In a global economy of miserable efficiencies, in which women who seek haven are criminalized and then forced to pay for “the troubles” they have caused. Fast track is just another way of proving time is money, and Black women’s lives are cheap. Why does the English government hate Kelechi Chioba? Because she wants to help create a world in which a disabled Black queer woman living with mental health concerns can live happily and productively, with dignity and self-respect. And that desire is a crime. #SaveKelechi
(Photo Credit: YouCaring)