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. Instead, 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.