The recent Illegal Migration Bill was promoted by the government as a response to “the will of the people” to get tough on asylum-seekers. But despite Suella Braverman’s assumptions about what the “patriotic majority” want, for many of us the Bill’s inhumanity and hate-inciting language makes us cringe with shame. Is this really the country we belong to?
And then, in the local papers, a heart-warming story of a community’s positive reaction to an asylum-seeking family began to emerge. Seldom is the focus on the individuals caught up in the government’s anti-refugee rhetoric. But thanks to a teacher at Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove noticing one of her student’s distress and encouraging her to talk, people now have a better idea of how it feels to be on the receiving end of such hostile policies.
According to the Red Cross, in 2022 89,398 people applied for asylum in the UK. In 2020, 16-year-old Ann Bashir, along with her mother and older sister, became an asylum statistic as they fled Sudan to seek refuge in Brighton. Ann is studying for her GCSEs at Cardinal Newman and her sister is a student at Brighton University. Despite settling and thriving here, the family were recently given the devastating news that their application has been refused because the UK government does not consider there to be “enough risk to their safety” back in Sudan. The family now await deportation, and have launched an appeal.
The family’s story begins in the Sudan riots in 2018 when they joined the peaceful demonstrations against Omar al-Bashir’s dictatorship. In an open letter about her experiences, Ann wrote: “People had had enough of 30 years of dictatorship…arrests of political opponents, lack of freedom, poverty, hunger and high unemployment.” When al-Bashir declared a state of emergency and replaced national and regional governments with military and intelligence officers, things became deadly.
Being Coptic Christian in a predominantly Muslim country compounded their fears. Ann described the Sudanese militia group Janjaweed as particularly scary: “We lived in fear of terrorism during this time, we feared being killed, raped or threatened with detention.”
All Ann’s family were imprisoned. After 33 days she, her mother and sister were released, but their father was not, and to this day they are unsure of what has happened to him, fearing the worst.
They flew to the UK in March 2020, welcomed by a family member who had already settled here. However, as the government insists those seeking asylum live in designated detention centres, it hasn’t been easy for them, and last year the trio were moved from Brighton to a block of flats in Tower Hamlets, where they have to sign in every day. Undeterred by the distance, Ann and her sister still travel to Brighton and Hove to study, even on exam days.
Georgia Neale, Ann’s pastoral tutor, told me that other students in the school have been “amazing” in their desire to help and support. They have set up a campaign, led assemblies, contacted over 70 politicians and organised a vigil where local councillors also expressed their support for the family. Hannah Albrooke, deputy leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “In Brighton and Hove, we are a city of sanctuary. We welcome asylum seekers and refugees, and as a city and community we do everything we can to support them.”
As with many stories about refugees fleeing desperate circumstances to the UK, the heartlessness of this government is both spot-lighted and outshone by the humanity demonstrated by ordinary people. Ann’s story shows us the importance of listening to peoples’ experiences in order to better understand what they’ve been through and also what they can contribute to our society. Local support for Ann and her family has been heart-warming, not just for them but for all of us who want to distance ourselves from the hostile environment stoked up by the current government’s inhumane policies.
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