Archive for December 2012

Lydia Besong’s Christmas


Lydia Besong sought asylum in the UK after being imprisoned  in Cameroon. Her campaign for asylum was supported by a number of prominent writers and actors, including Michael Morpurgo, Juliet Stevenson, Sarah Waters, Nick Hornby and Joan Bakewell. She now has refugee status.

I sought asylum in the UK from Cameroon after I was persecuted for my political activities.  I was originally refused asylum. In 2009 I was arrested by the UK Border Agency on 9 December and I spent Christmas in Yarl’s Wood detention centre near to Bedford. Christmas is a time for being with your family, it is a time for sharing, for dancing, for music. Instebarbedwiread, I was in detention. I thought I was going to be deported and then I knew my government would put me back into prison. The thing that kept me going was that I received many, many Christmas cards from my supporters. I got more than 50 cards. Every time I opened a card I felt very emotional, to know that many people were thinking of me and I could not be with them.

But in Yarl’s Wood there were many women who did not even receive one card. I met one girl who was only 18 who had come here seeking asylum from Nigeria because of the harm she had suffered in her traditional community. Nobody knew she was in detention. She was totally alone. She was crying all the time. On Christmas Day I went to the little shop in Yarl’s Wood where you could buy those little packets of noodles for 50p which you heat up in the microwave and I bought two of those and two bottles of Fanta. The Nigerian girl and I had a little Christmas together with the noodles and the Fanta.

I am a Christian and I went to the church in the detention centre on Christmas Day. The preacher was giving the sermon and saying that miracles do happen and they can happen at any time. Then as we left the service one of the officers came and announced that one woman was to be released. We all felt it was  a miracle of Christmas.

I do now have leave to remain, after a long campaign that was fought for many years and which was supported by many people. So this Christmas I do not fear the knock on the door and that the UK Border Agency might come to deport me. I will be going to a friend’s house with my husband. I will cook a traditional Cameroonian dish, it’s a vegetable called eru which I buy in African shops,  we eat it with meat and fish. But I won’t forget what other women are going through. A friend of mine here in Manchester was detained just last week. This Christmas many women in Yarl’s Wood will be suffering as I suffered.

Chawada’s Christmas


Chawada Matiwala came to the UK from Zimbabwe in 2009, when she and her mother felt threatened by the political situation. She lives in a hostel in Stockton-on-Tees.
I am so excited about spending time away from Stockton at Christmas because my baby daughter and I live in a cramped hostel with 32 women and 38 children. I know that there are many women here who will be spending Christmas in their tiny rooms, trying to contain their young kids. Just on our floor there are nine other children and as there is no communal space the only place they can play and stretch their legs is in the narrow corridor. As there is no stairgate I worry that my daughter will fall down the stairs because she has just started to crawl and pull herself up to try and walk. I feel that I just can’t let her out of our little room.
All the children are different ages and the sound of the older children playing can keep the young children awake, which makes the mothers feel very stressed and tense with each other. Some women never engage with each other, while others keep their doors open so that they can chat to each other and try and make life more bearable. If one of the children is ill, the infection spreads very quickly because we all live in such close proximity, and each week an ambulance comes to take one of the children to hospital. My one year old daughter has just been very ill and was vomiting and had diarrhea and it seemed to spread very quickly through the hostel.
treeBut I will be lucky to be celebrating Christmas in Newcastle with some friends from my county. They are a family I met over here through my Church, a brother and three sisters. I get on with them like a house on fire. Zimbabweans celebrate Christmas in a British way with turkey and all the trimmings and Christmas tree and lights. This year we have decided to have a hot chocolate pudding rather than a traditional Christmas pudding. There will be seven children all together at Christmas which will be great. We will do Secret Santa for the children and all buy a gift for ten pounds so that it is equal and one child will not get more than another and it will be fair and fun.
This New Year I am trying to be optimistic and hope for good things. I would so much like a decision on my asylum claim and to get my papers. Not having leave to remain has such a profound effect on your mental state. It keeps you in a box, and stops you getting out and about in the world and makes you feel like a number rather than a person with experiences to offer. I so want to break free from the constraints of this indecision. I feel like I am a force to be reckoned with and that I could do good if I was allowed to. I want to work not only for asylum seekers but for all those who are suffering from poverty in this country. I see so much poverty in the North East of England and children whose chances are so limited because they are not given the support to escape the box they have been born into.

The situation in Cha’s hostel, which is run by a private landlord, Jomast,  has been covered in the Guardian, Open Democracy and the Independent. Cha was speaking to Sophie Radice, Communications Executive of WRW.

Helen’s Christmas


Helen sought asylum in the UK from Ethiopia and blogs regularly at This is her last entry, about Christmas.

For the last five years a group of us has spent Christmas all together, travelling to my friend’s house on Christmas Eve and staying the night in North London with all the children. It is such a fun day and the children run around and are so excited. On Christmas day we cook together and make coffee for the Ethiopian traditional coffee ritual in which the unprocessed green beans are roasted, and then hand ground and served with beautiful flowers all around. It is a very important part of our tradition and even more so at Christmas and the whole thing can take two to three hours. We all sit on cushions on the floor and talk and chat and presents are given out.  The adults all receive one present each but the children receive presents from everyone. We have traditional Ethiopian chicken dishes, but also we have English minced pies and mulled wine.

miince piesMy four year old has just started to understand what Christmas means because yesterday when we came out of the tube when I was collecting my allowance in Hammersmith there was a great big Christmas tree and he wanted to just stand and look at the beautiful lights for ages. It made him feel excited for the thing that was coming and he has been talking about it ever since. Sometimes I feel sad because my friends are always so generous to me and the children and I have so little money that either I can’t give them anything or I have to find very cheap presents from the pound shop. And Christmas also makes me sad because it reminds me that another year has passed and I am still unsettled and I have been waiting for leave to remain in the UK for nine years.

Mariana’s Christmas


Mariana sought asylum in the UK from Angola. When she was refused asylum she became destitute, with no right to work or to claim benefits. She lived destitute, dependent on friends and charity, for five years with her baby son.

Four years ago on Christmas Eve, when my son was two years old, the woman I was staying with told me that she was going to her family on Christmas Day and she didn’t want us in her house while she was gone. So I didn’t know where to go. I rang another friend who reluctantly said we could come to them. I had to get from Colindale to Ilford on Christmas Eve. It took forever. We had to take several buses. I remember sitting on the 25 bus that goes from centrImageal London to Ilford, with my son sleeping against me. I was looking out at the Christmas lights and people with their shopping.  I thought, Christmas is not for us. At the house we went to, there were no presents for us – obviously, we were not expected, we were not very welcome. I had to protect my son from realising that all the other children had presents but he didn’t.

All I longed for that Christmas and the next Christmas and one after that was a roof over our heads. Just that. Nothing but a roof over our heads. Now, thank God we have that. Women for Refugee Women helped us access support and now I have leave to remain and we have  a little flat. I am looking for work now and I am on Jobseekers’ Allowance while I seek work. I volunteer at a charity while my son is at school to try to improve my skills. A month ago my benefits were stopped because they said I wasn’t trying hard enough to find work. I had been trying to save for Christmas. I had dreamed of having  a little Christmas tree with a present under it for my son on Christmas morning. But I know there are women worse off than us – women who are homeless like we were for five years.

Read Mariana’s first blog at