Azbaa’s anguish, Auden’s blues

Azbaa Dar

Pakistani born Azbaa Dar is being held in Yarl’s Wood. On Monday of this week she reported, dutifully, to the Liverpool office of the UK Border Agency. She has been applying for asylum for nine years, and as part of the process, she has to `visit’ the UKBA offices regularly. At this visit, she was given a letter denying her asylum. She was then taken to Yarl’s Wood and told she was to be returned to Pakistan.

Azbaa’s family had been turned down for asylum on Easter 2006, after a five year asylum process. Her father, Arif, a local high school governor, her mother, her four younger sisters were sent to Yarl’s Wood, and then shipped back to Pakistan. Since their return, Arif has been detained and tortured on a number of occasions, her mother is ill, her sisters have been threatened if they pursue formal education. And then of course there are the floods.

Azbaa escaped capture and lived clandestinely around Liverpool for close to four years. Finally, a deal was struck that if she turned herself in and came regularly to the office, she’d be fast tracked. She was. To Yarl’s Wood.

She was supposed to fall under a `legacy’ agreement, that would take into account the roots of the applicant in her new community. Azbaa has won Good Citizenship awards, has logged in 800 hours of volunteer, unpaid service at a local hospital, and is generally viewed as a model. She was supposed to be treated with some modicum of decency, recognition, appreciation. She was supposed to receive due process of some sort.

Instead, she has been treated as a dangerous criminal, a threat to society.

Azbaa Dar’s story, and that of her family for that matter, is all too common in the so-called advanced democracies. Pregnant Tamil asylum seekers are kept as prisoners in Canada. An Australian candidate for Prime Minister of Australia bases his campaign on severely limiting the number of asylum seekers who reach the nation’s golden shores.

It’s a common story. Seventy one years ago, 1939, on the verge of World War II, W.H. Auden wrote “Refugee Blues”. Here are some stanzas:

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us….

The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me….

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.”

I dreamed I saw Azbaa Dar and W.H. Auden, walking down the road, smiling. But that didn’t happen. Instead, we live with the anguish of the asylum seekers, in the UK, in Canada, in Australia, in the US, in the great democracies of the world. Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.


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