During my time with René Cassin, I have been meeting with asylum seekers who had been detained in UK immigration removal centres. They had very different stories but with something in common: they all had experienced great suffering in their lives.
It was not easy for me to hear their stories, but obviously it was even more painful for them to share it. For example, a Ghanaian man who was sold by his father to work as a slave on a plantation, and was later trafficked to England but continued to be enslaved. Eventually he escaped only to be put in immigration detention for three years because his status was “irregular”. Another was a woman from Uganda who has been sexually abused by close relatives since the age of 17, and after receiving death threats fled to the UK where she was detained and ultimately became suicidal.
The more I spoke with people the more I was impressed by their state of mind: for all, life has not been kind with them, yet none of them felt bitter about how they had been treated. Rather, they were kind and felt a strong desire to move forward; they all wanted to study, work and have a normal life. Unfortunately, none of them had received these opportunities in the UK and all lived in fear of being detained again.
They were so grateful that René Cassin was helping them to tell their stories to policy makers. One of them told me “Now that I shared my story with you, we cannot be anything else but friends. I trust you”. I will never forget these people, nor my experience working with René Cassin to help persuade the UK Government to change its policy of indefinite detention.