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 Kelechi Chioba?

Kelechi Chioba

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)