Article published: Thursday, December 10th 2009
Supporters of Lydia Besong are demanding her immediate release after she was detained this morning by immigration officials. Lydia, a playwright and human rights activist seeking asylum in the UK, was snatched this morning while signing in at the Home Office Reporting Centre Dallas Court in Salford. She is now being held in a detention centre in the south of England from which the Home Office plan to deport her on 21 December to Cameroon, where she is wanted by the authorities who previously tortured her for her political views.
Lydia and her husband, Bernard Batey, were told at the end of October that they must leave the UK. The couple fled Cameroon in December 2006, having been jailed and tortured for being members of the Southern Cameroon National Council, a party declared illegal by the government. As well as being tortured during her time in prison, Lydia was raped by one of the guards. When she escaped she and Bernard sought asylum in the UK, where they have lived ever since.
Lydia is a writer, whose debut play “How I Became an Asylum Seeker” was staged by Community Arts Northwest (CAN) on 3 December to a full house at the Zion Theatre in Hulme. She wrote the play partly to find a way of coping with her horrific experiences, and to raise awareness about asylum. She is also on the Management Committee of Woman Asylum Seekers Together (WAST).
More recently Lydia has been working alongside RAPAR and Commonword collecting stories about those living in destitution in Manchester. Commonword’s Artistic Director, Pete Kalu, said, “Lydia has been a tremendous resource in helping us to find new pathways to new writers in communities.”
Lead Artistic Manager for CAN Jasmine Ali said, “Lydia has been an inspiration for the artistic team with her dedication and commitment to the project. Without her contribution WAST would not have had the confidence to devise and perform their play to a wider audience.”
On the morning of 19 November Lydia signed in at Dallas Court to be told that she and her husband were now required to report every week to the centre on Thursday mornings. Lydia was detained this morning, on the third Thursday of the new conditions. Campaigners working on Lydia and Bernard’s behalf feared officials would arrest them at the Reporting Centre, as this tactic is often employed by the Home Office to stop any intervention by supporters and friends.
The campaign to stop the couple’s deportation has gained much support, under the umbrella of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. Both current and former MPs, Paul Rowen and Sir Cyril Smith, are backing their constituents along with Reverend Graham Lindley, Parish Priest at St Anne’s Church in Rochdale. Paul Rowen has been contacted by her supporters and is working with lawyers to secure her release.
Robert Sharp, of English PEN, the charity which campaigns for writers and playwrights internationally, is also calling for Lydia’s immediate release.
“This is a blow for freedom of speech. With this detention, Lydia’s fledgling literary career will be cut short. It is astonishing that the UK plans to deport someone who has been seeking refuge from a government that attacked her just for exercising her right to freedom of expression,” he said
Richard Goulding from RAPAR told MULE, “Lydia has now been transferred away from Manchester, presumably in the south of England. We guess Yarl’s Wood but we don’t know for certain.
“The reason it’s happened this week is because she had her play with a full house at the Zion Centre last week, and we don’t think they’d dare do it then. Now they’ve tried to do it with as little fuss as possible.”
In light of Lydia’s detention a vigil has been organised for this Saturday (12 December), 3pm at Friends Meeting House behind the Central Library. In a message encouraging people to attend, campaigner Tom Lavin said, “The Home Office’s deportation strategy is very pragmatic and public pressure makes a big influence on their decisions.”
This has recently been proven by the release of the Mansour family following a judicial review just hours before their scheduled flight back to Cairo.
Talking to MULE, Lydia’s husband Bernard was clearly distraught, “We’re fighting but the system is too much, we can’t go home but the government is trying to force us.
“I’m really confused. I don’t know what she’s going through now. She has to fight, we are going to fight you know. My wife is just my life and we have to fight for our lives.
“But at the moment we don’t know where Lydia is. I’m still waiting for the solicitors call.”
Goulding added, “It’s kind of a waiting game now, but we urge people to come along at 3pm on Saturday to show solidarity and to send emails of support.”
Campaigners are asking people to contact the Home Office urging Lydia’s immediate release and quoting HO Ref: B1236372
FAX: Home Office on 0208-760-3132
and cc firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information contact:
- Richard Goulding at RAPAR 0161 834 8221
- 07776 264646
- RAPAR’s Press Officer Kath on 0161-225-2260 or email@example.com
- or firstname.lastname@example.org
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