A Yemini asylum seekers tells us his experiences of coming to the UK and his fears about his removal on the 17th September
My brothers and I arrived in the UK on June 24. This was our third attempt. On the first attempt, the engine stopped, and the second time, the boat started sinking. My younger brother can’t swim so he started drowning, but thank God I was able to help him and we came back.
As we were close to arriving, we saw that the fuel on the boat was running out. We signalled to a ship to help us. It came close and we saw it was a French war ship. We panicked. We had been there for 6-7 hours already in the boat. We weren’t at all comfortable, and we were terrified – we felt we would drown. The French ship came close and asked if we needed help. We said no we don’t need anything. We preferred to stay in the sea for hours than to go back to France.
They started laughing at us. We were terrified. After 30 mins we saw a British boat – when we saw the British flag we felt – I can’t explain it – we felt like the efforts had all paid off, we were overjoyed. We were in British waters. We finally arrived at a place called Dover.
We were exhausted, we’d been travelling at sea from 4pm to 7-8am the next morning. But when we arrived, they didn’t let us rest; they photographed us, searched us, asked us lots of questions, where we’re from, how old we are, etc. But there were no translators, so I tried to translate because I know a little English. Then they put us in a bus and took us to a police station. The police were very serious, they didn’t smile or anything; the joy that was in our hearts from arriving there meant we didn’t care about their treatment. They weren’t happy at all. Even the doctors in Dover weren’t happy. Maybe because lots of boats arrived that day. When I arrived, I had seen my friends from Calais that had also arrived. We saw the police’s faces – they weren’t happy at all that we had arrived.
We had to stay in the police station for many hours – I can’t remember how many. Maybe 5 hours or more. There were more proceedings to be carried out – apparently the questions they asked in Dover weren’t enough. We waited some more before they put us back on the bus. They told us we were near London. We went to a detention centre. It was made up of rooms, each with a toilet. It was like a prison.
I was there for 4-5 days. They gave us clothes, because our own clothes were full of sea water. We were happy even though we were in prison, because we were with our friends and we had arrived in the UK. Each day we were happier. After 4 days they did another interview with us. Why did you come to the UK? We said we want to claim asylum. They asked more and more questions.
The guards were very angry. I would ask for something, like I wanted a remote. They would say ‘Do you think you’re in a five star hotel? You’re in prison’. They were harsh with us. We asked for a cup to drink from, anything, even a plastic one. They gave us a disposable plastic one which we threw away after using. The next day they said ‘Where is your cup? You already had one’. No-one spoke Arabic. Many of us don’t speak English. Rather than trying to understand, they would shout at us. They were harsh with us, but we had to put up with it. We had to be quiet and take it – we’re refugees.
Then they moved us to the hotels. It’s called Holiday Inn, and it was 5 stars. Of course, imagine, guys coming from the forest in Calais, where it’s freezing cold and you’re sleeping on the ground and facing racism from the French police and even from other refugees. Imagine going from that to a 5 star place, it was like heaven to us – there was a bath. To wash in Calais there was always an enormous queue. We would wait for hours just to wash for 5 minutes. They would say: ‘Here’s the water, go go go,’ and we would have to rush to wash. So when we were in this hotel and saw a proper bath we couldn’t believe it. We also had no opportunity to wash our clothes in Calais but here we could. We had what we needed, except for money. Food and drink was provided at the hotel. We were there for a month. They said it was because they had to check about coronavirus and that we would stay for 15 days, but it ended up being longer.
After one month, we began communicating with an organisation which could help with residence and food. We were talking to them daily to ensure we could live together, me and my brothers. My father was already in the UK, and we wanted to see him and go and live with him.
We were moved into a house after one month in the hotel, and our father was moved into the same house. When we saw our father, we were so happy. My mother, who is not in the UK, was also delighted that we were together again. But we were only together for one or two weeks. Every day was joy. We cooked, laughed together, like any family. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner together, we went out together and did everything together. We went looking to see if we could study. We had ambitions.
All this time we were hearing about people being detained. We were terrified that it would be our turn next. After all this exhaustion and everything that had happened, and then the joy of seeing our father, it would be so hard to be taken away.
It was a Friday, we were at home, and I was studying English. We had planned to go out that day to sort out some insurance papers. The house was nice; it had bedrooms, a bathroom and even a garden where we could plant things. We were thinking of planting onions and tomatoes.
Around 5 or 6pm, I heard sounds on the stairs. I heard more than ten people. They were really loud on the stairs. I didn’t expect there would be 10 police or people from immigration coming to get us. I thought we might get a letter from the Home Office or something. There were 10 or maybe more people. Straight away, when we opened the door one of them started shouting at us. I was really scared. They pushed themselves in. Said empty your pockets. I felt hopeless. They said you are going to be deported to Spain.
They didn’t let us say goodbye to our father. They took us away, all three of us. We said to him, inshallah we will see you soon, and then we left. I had hoped the neighbours would come out and help us, and stop them taking us away. They tried to put each one of us in a vehicle, but in the end put me and my older brother in one bus, and my younger brother in a second bus. They took us to a police station. It was terrifying. There was an iron bed with a really thin mattress, we felt the iron more than the sponge of the mattress. After 5 or 6 hours they took me away by myself, and I asked where my brothers were. They said something about the coronavirus. They took us to Brook House – my brothers were together but I wasn’t with them.
As soon as I arrived, I met people from Syria and Yemen, and I knew many of them from Calais. We greeted each other, saying we hope we all get out soon. But I still couldn’t see my brothers. I didn’t see them for five days. I kept looking for them and asking them where they were. I told them I would hurt myself if I didn’t see them. Finally, five days later I saw them.
We tried to refuse eating, to show them that we were protesting what was happening. They treated us like criminals. We went on a hunger strike for 4 days. At first the Serco employees encouraged us nicely to eat, but then they changed their attitude and started saying ‘You will be deported in any case, the Home Office won’t change their minds, so what are you doing?’ After 4 days, they wore us down, a few of the guys started eating so we decided to eat too. Luckily there was an organisation which put us in touch with good lawyers. My lawyer would call me almost every day and follow up with my case, and she told me that I had a strong case and that I should be patient. She also referred us to a good psychiatrist who followed up with us. She helped us on lots of different levels. We owe her a lot.
The problem we are in now is one of life and death. Our first deportation ticket was Sep 3, for me and other guys from Syria and Yemen. Thank God, my ticket was cancelled. But sadly about 10 or 11 people from Syria were deported to Spain. The way they were deported was as if they were criminals. 3 people from Serco would go to the room to take just one person. Overall there were about 25-30 people from Serco there on Sep 3 to remove the group to the flight. They were giving us awful looks and didn’t say anything nice to us. We tried to say hello to them and they said nothing, they didn’t smile, nothing.
The treatment was terrible, some of the Syrians would say things like ‘even in Syria it wasn’t like this’.
I was terrified after I saw this on Sep 3. I went back to my room, but heard their shouts from my room. The shouts of the detainees, and the shouts of the police. I was terrified. I felt like I was hearing executions and waiting for my own. I saw them being dragged away, handcuffed.
I went on another hunger strike for 5 days, because we heard that those in Spain were abandoned on the street, and I felt like my turn was next. The Serco guys would come every day and say ‘You’re about to be deported, why are you striking?’
After 5 days I started eating again. The lawyer was encouraging me and telling me that my case was strong. She said that if it goes to court, there should even be compensation because of the way they took me. But despite that, I felt despair, and for the first time ever I thought of suicide. I was homeless in the Netherlands and in Spain, but the first time I thought of suicide was in the detention centre. Thinking of the three huge guards in black who would come to my room and take me by force. I had nightmares about it. I was angry. I’m not an angry guy but I was so angry. I felt hopeless.
They put me on the red list, which means people who are a suicide risk. They came every day to check my room. I tried to move away from those thoughts. Slowly my mental health got a bit better. But today is the 15th and I have a deportation order for 17th. So the thoughts of suicide are getting stronger. I am trying to stay with the guys here to stop thinking about it. Every day the fear is getting worse.
After everything that has happened, I have no more faith in the security services, in the Home Office, anything. After the raids and everything. The house with my father is the only place I feel safe. This is the life of the refugee and the migrant. My journey as a refugee from the war in Yemen till now – there’s always imprisonment and detention waiting for me.