Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari?

Opelo Kgari

The hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood is now in its second week. In the past week, the Home Office first tried to claim there was no hunger strike, then tried to claim that if there was a hunger strike there was no reason for it, and finally lit upon the great idea of claiming the hunger strike was for dietary and religious reasons. None of these patent lies worked, the hunger strike continues, and the support for it deepens and grows. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Opelo Kgari, one of the spokespersons for the hunger strikers, and her mother, Florence Kgari, were, without notice, dumped into a van, hauled to Heathrow, and told that they were to be dumped onto an 8:15 pm Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa. Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari are originally from Botswana. Thanks to last minute interventions, the two were `spared’ that ordeal … and returned to Yarl’s Wood. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and her mother, Florence Kgari?

Opelo Kgari is 27 years old. She has lived in England since she was 13 years old. She excelled in secondary school, and has an unblemished record of accomplishment. Last May, on her way back from a brief holiday with friends in Belfast, Opelo Kgari was thrown into a holding cell for 12 hours … for no apparent reason. Six weeks ago, Opelo Kgari dutifully reported to the Home Office, as she does every two weeks, and was thrown into a holding cell, again for 12 hours, and then shipped to Yarl’s Wood: “This time round, I wasn’t even wearing a bra. I was going to yoga with a friend after reporting to the Home Office, so I just threw a coat on. I never got to the class. They put me and my mum in a holding cell for over 12 hours, with three officers outside. I didn’t have a bra for five days once I got here, or a change of underwear.” What justifies such inhumane treatment?

Opelo Kgari has been asking that exact question, on her own and as one of the spokespersons for the 120 women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood. Opelo Kgari has become the spokesperson partially because her English is so good, but more because she has much to say about the conditions and their impact on the women: “There’s one woman who spends all day walking around the centre with a packed handbag, claiming she had everything she needs in there. She’s clearly not well. And there’s an Iranian woman who’s on suicide watch. Officers just sit outside her cell with the door open. She clearly shouldn’t be in here at all. It’s inhumane.”

It’s inhumane. Hatred is always inhumane. Why does the English government hate Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, Irene Clennell, Chennan Fei, Kelechi Chioba, Paulette Wilson, Patricia Simeon, Lazia Nabbanja, and this is only a partial list of prominent cases within the last twelve months. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and her mother, Florence Kgari? What is the point of a policy that predictably traumatizes women, of whom the majority are women of color? The Independent has put a focus on Opelo Kgari’s situation, calling it “a terrible case” and, echoing Opelo Kgari, a facet of England’s inhumane immigration system. Today, Independent reporter Charlotte England wrote, “Saturday night was a victory. But we must keep paying attention to what is happening in Yarl’s Wood — where Opelo is still being held against her will and still faces deportation — and other similar facilities, and we must keep putting pressure on politicians to end detention and unlawful, unjust deportations entirely.”

Deportation is preceded by incarceration. For those not deported, incarceration has preceded “community release.” In either case, “incarceration” is a cover for institutional violence against women. Why does the English government hate Opelo Kgari and Florence Kgari?

 

(Photo Credit: Independent)

Why does the English government hate Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon?

Paulette Wilson

Why does the English government hate Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon? What horrible crime has each committed? The only binding element in their combined story is that they are Black immigrant women. Individually, each woman’s story shows a State built of shameful violence against women. Taken together, the combined story of Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon shows a State in which State violence against women of color immigrants is an ever expanding and intensifying evil, a key part of which is the humdrum ordinariness of the women’s stories. What happened and is happening to Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon happens every day and all the time. Their stories are so common they barely get told.

Paulette Wilson is 61 years old. She arrived in England, from Jamaica, in 1968, when she was 10 years old. She has never left England. She has never returned to Jamaica. She grew up in Telford, where her grandparents looked after her. She has a British daughter and grandchild. She has 34 years of National Insurance payments. The law in the United Kingdom states that anyone who settled there prior to January 1, 1973, has the right to remain in the country. Paulette Wilson’s lawyers provided evidence, ample evidence, that she had been in the country since 1968, and that evidence was ignored. Last week, she was taken to Yarl’s Wood. Today, she and her daughter were informed that she was going to be released. When asked about the “heavy handed” approach applied to this Black woman who has lived, nonstop and without trouble for 50 years in the country, when asked about the reasons for ignoring both the law and evidence, the Home Office replied, “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”

In so many ways, this is not an individual case; in so many ways, this case is routine.

Just down the road a bit lies Sheffield, where Patricia Simeon has lived since 2012. Patricia Simeon is 30 years old, Hal Paulette Wilson’s age. Patricia Simeon is a lesbian organizer and human rights campaigner from Sierra Leone. She is locally well known for campaigning for LGBT+, refugee, and faith community rights. She is one of the founders of LASS, the Lesbian Asylum Support Sheffield group. Initially refused asylum, Patricia Simeon was preparing for a November 7 appeal when, last Wednesday, she was picked up and dumped in Yarl’s Wood. Friends and allies launched a campaign to set her free. They noted that Patricia Simeon has provided ample evidence of having been tortured, which means, according to Home Office rules, she should never have been detained. As with Paulette Wilson, the rules and evidence were ignored. On Tuesday, Patricia Simeon was released from Yarl’s Wood.

While the release of both Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon is a cause for celebration, the question remains, “Why does the English government hate Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon?” They join the list of women of color immigrant women who have had to live with that same question, a list that includes, in the past seven months alone, Kelechi Chioba,  Erioth MwesigwaShiromini SatkunarajahIrene ClennellChennan Fei. As members of #SetHerFree and Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary know, and as every woman who’s been held in or threatened with a stay in Yarl’s Wood, there is no setting free and there is no justice until Yarl’s Wood and its adjudicating apparatus is destroyed, once and for all, brick by brick, razor wire by razor wire, pen by pen. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now!

Patricia Simeon

 

(Photo Credit 1: BBC) (Photo Credit 2: The Star)

Why does the English government hate Chennan Fei?

Chennan Fei

Why does the English government hate 28-year-old Chennan Fei? What horrible crime has she committed? The same crime committed by other immigrant women of color: Mabel Gawanas, Dianne Ngoza, Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell, to name a few. Chennan Fei is blameless. She has done everything right, and, in the spectacle of State intimidation of immigrant women of color, that counts for less than nothing.

In 2002, Chennan Fei, then 13 years old, was brought by her parents to Scotland. Her parents were on student visas. Chennan Fei grew up in Glasgow, attended school there and university in Edinburgh, developed a community of friends, fell in love in Glasgow and thrived. Glasgow is Chennan Fei’s home.

Unbeknownst to Chennan Fei, her parents’ visa expired a few years after their arrival. Then, in 2012, the then-Home Secretary Theresa May announced new, stringent restrictions on immigrants. Tucked into the new menu was the withdrawal of Paragraph 276B(i)(b) of the Immigration Rules, which allowed for settlement in the United Kingdom after 14 years’ residence. With that, Chennan Fei was thrown into limbo, and, until recently, she had no idea.

On March 23, Chennan Fei was arrested and taken to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre. On March 25, she was moved to Yarl’s Wood and told she would be deported to China today, Wednesday, March 29.

While in Yarl’s Wood, Chennan Fei wrote: “It’s a strange feeling. Although they say it’s not a prison, I am trapped. My mind and my body wants to be liberated. I can’t seem to remember much from the last few days, and this agonising feeling just grows stronger every passing day. Being here is mind numbing, I see others losing track of the date and time. I just hope I don’t have to stay here too long. I want to come home to Scotland.”

Her partner Duncan Harkness says: “Chennan …  is deeply loved by a wide circle of friends and family … As Chennan moved to the UK as a young child, she has no friends, family or contacts in China. It would be inhumane to deport her back to a country where she has no support, nowhere to stay and no family to provide assistance.”

Chennan Fei’s local MP, Anne McLaughlin, says, “I met Chennan 18 months ago when she visited my Glasgow North East constituency to explain the circumstances surrounding her current immigration status. I was very impressed with this sensitive, intelligent young woman. Although, there is no rule or provision in the Immigration Act that deals directly with the ‘children’ of over-stayers, for Chennan to be exiled from all her friends and family in the UK is an extremely harsh decision for the Home Office to make. Chennan is now 28 years old and has lived more than half her life in Scotland. She has a Scottish partner and most definitely established a strong ‘private life’ here. Although her almost 15 years living in the UK may not be considered ‘legal’, this is through no fault of Chennan’s. She is blameless.”

Her attorney Usman Aslam, agrees, “Chennan, despite having funded her education from her own resources, having attained a degree in accountancy through the University of Edinburgh and having integrated within society and being involved in community activities, was still considered as someone who should be sent away from Scotland. The decision shocked a number of local groups with which she had volunteered. Chennan hopes to ultimately be granted leave to remain so that she can look forward to her life in the community and country that she loves.”

A friend, Annette Christie, started a petition, “Help Chennan Fei stay in Scotland“. Thus far, over 2000 people have signed. Please consider adding your name.

On Tuesday night, Chennan Fei was given a temporary reprieve, and today returned by train to Glasgow. She now awaits her next court appearance. Who benefits from such persecution? This form of structural and immediate brutality etches into the body and soul of the blameless, the individuals and their communities, that, despite all evidence to the contrary, they are the ones who bear the blame, the ones who dared to call this place home. That’s why the English government hates Chennan Fei. #SaveChennanFei

(Photo Credit: Change.org)

Why does England hate Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell?

Irene Clennell

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 and her mother 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.

Shiromini Satkunarajah

 

(Photo Credit 1: Laura Gallant / Buzzfeed) {Photo Credit 2: Wales On Line)