Far From Home
A multimedia photo film, which for consent reasons cannot be displayed in full online.
An at times harrowing and at times heart-warming story of two women escaping persecution, who find themselves living together in the UK at the end of a long journey. It charts the paths that brought them from Iraq and Ethiopia, the realities of their lives, their struggles with the UK authorities and their overwhelming strength of character.
They are the lucky ones. Many like them never make it this far.
All around the world, there are thousands of people like them running from persecution, war or famine every day. But they, unlike Brits abroad, have not migrated in their hoards for sun, sand or a better life. They would rather return home to be with their loved ones or to continue their professional careers, but have no choice.
Of those who seek
protection around 70% are refused asylum and become destitute, forced to live
on the street, sofa surfing or in cars - their trauma exacerbated. Often marked out as a threat by the
media, politicians and through public fear they can find themselves alone and
persecuted once again in the UK.
Dedicated to the memory of Reem who died on 10 November 2012.
Featured by the BBC and Sunday Times (scroll right)
Exhibited during It Is What It Was group show in 2012.
In Memory of Reem
“Even if I don’t know you. If I haven’t met you before I will help you if you need help... because one day I will need [you] and [you] will help me.” (Reem, speaking in August 2012)
Very few people make a memorable impact on the lives of others in their lifetime. Reem was one.
We met in Birmingham in August 2012. As we sat and talked Reem told numerous stories. Once she had escorted a heavily pregnant Eritrean woman by bus and later in an ambulance to hospital. She stayed with her there for three days translating from English to Arabic, and was with her during the birth of her child. Unremarkable? Reem had only just met this woman, and had very little and on some days no money for her own food, medication and essentials - but gave them up willingly for a stranger.
On 10 November 2012 Reem Died
Reem had been feeling ill herself for some time, and went into hospital to have a polyp on her womb removed, a relatively risk free and routine operation. But she never came out again. I was shocked when I heard what had happened. It didn’t make sense that she’d gone so unexpectedly. I’d only seen her a few weeks before, and was hoping to visit her in hospital to wish her well. I was told that while being treated she had fallen and hit her head whilst walking the short distance to the toilet, after not being given the dignity or support from nurses that she had asked for. In her final time of need she was let down. And it wasn’t the first time.
Forced to Flee
Reem was an intelligent and educated surveyor from Iraq. In June 2011 she was forced to flee to the UK after being threatened with rape and murder. But when she arrived her asylum claim was refused, and fifteen months later UKBA arranged to deport her despite the severe risk to her life.
Having successfully worked for Baghdad Council since 1986, in 2011 her team wrote a collective report about unauthorised development work on Council land. On the 7th May 2011 one of her colleagues was unexpectedly murdered. Two days later while at work Reem received a telephone call instructing her to go home. When she arrived masked men asked her for money, assaulted her and ripped her ID card, threatening to rape and kill her saying they were also aware of her Christian identity, so she should make immediate arrangements to leave Iraq. The incident was logged but not acted upon by the police. On the 10th May 2011 another colleague was murdered. Having already encouraged her mother to flee Iraq, Reem made arrangements to fly to the UK, applying for a new ID card, and fortunate to have a visa after travelling to the UK for council training in 2009 and 2010.
Refused Legal Protection
Arriving to presumed safety in the UK Reem was refused asylum. The Home Office told her that being a Christian Iraqi woman and part of a persecuted group did not put her at risk. With no protection from the UK government and now legally not allowed to work, Reem avoided street homelessness with the help of a local charity.
Diligent in complying with the conditions of her leave to enter the UK, she regularly attended the UKBA’s Midland Enforcement Unit in Solihull to register. But in July 2012 she received a letter from the Home office and immediately sensed trouble was coming again, saying; “That day my friends they knew I was worried because they changed my signing day from two months to two weeks. They knew I was worried and scared. They came and prayed for me... I was picked up that day.”
Fight or Flight
On Monday 16th July 2012 Reem was taken by UKBA from Solihull to Yarlswood Detention Centre where she was detained. A flight had been booked for her to return to Baghdad against her will. Legal experts had told Reem that UKBA was unable to forcibly return anyone to Iraq, since the Iraqi government has stated that it would not accept nationals returned from Europe. Yet the Home Office attempted her removal.
On the 1st August 2012 whilst her friends, her solicitor, an Iraqi Bishop and Birmingham charities lobbied her MP and airline and spoke on local radio for support, Reem adamantly refused to get on the flight when enforcement staff arrived to deport her. Although now severely distressed, as other detainees were forced to board Reem did not give up also demanding her release from detention.
Then at 4pm news came. “It was a miracle that day, because I had a ticket the same day to go back home. I refused to go with them to the airport ” Reem told me. “The same afternoon they came to my room and said I want your release address. I said ‘what?’. Seventeen days I was dreaming of the day when I would hear this word release. When she said release I could not understand her. I said, ‘you mean I will go out?’ and she said yes.”
The next day the charity supporting Reem exclaimed on a blog; “Yesterday was nail-biting, but ended with tears of joy, quite literally... followed by a house dinner, laughing and even some dancing”. Reem was back with her friends.
Reem’s humble yet determined nature will always remain with me. But so too will the searing contrast of injustice. Reem was proud of her cultural identity and never turned her back on those who needed help.Yet time after time, right up until her premature death Reem was repeatedly let down by UK society, government and the structures that should have by international law protected her.
Christian Persecution in Iraq
http://www.christianpost.com/region/iraq/ (Christian Post, 2013 and prior)
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/world/middleeast/exodus-from-north-signals-iraqi-christians-decline.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (New York Times, 10 March 2012)
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christians.on.verge.of.extinction.in.iraq.muslim.leader.warns/27025.htm (Christian Today, 6 November 2010)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’ (United Nations, 1948).
Additionally, the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees says a ‘refugee’ is entitled to protection from their host country and should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom (OHCHR, 1951: Article 1 and 33 (Appendix A).