In the hustle and bustle of a BBC cafe (with Shami Chakrabarti to our left) Jeff and I chatted. Well, I asked a few questions and Jeff energetically told his story. Having spent many years in the finance industries of Zimbabwe, Jeff became politically active- firstly through union representation and later through supporting political candidates. At the turn of the century he left- fearing for his safety and well-being. His wife and family already here (staying on a student visa), he eventually applied for asylum but was rejected despite working throughout. He decided to study nursing in the UK and applied for a student visa but was completely ignored by the Home Office. Frustrated and angry (yes, even his MP had no luck with his case) he tried to leave the UK with a forged passport and was arrested and detained. At this point, the Home Office were more interested- but he was still charged and sent to prison (due to the fraudulent documents). Emerging over four months later he went through the process to eventually become ‘legal’ able to remain in the UK, pay taxes and survive. Now he is an active community organiser, a team leader of a Zimbabwean internship scheme with a vision to rebuild the skills bank of that country. He is passionate about preventing the detention of children for immigration purposes and actively advocates an amnesty for those ‘illegals’ who could be tax-paying citizens contributing in every way to our society. Hi work as part of Strangers into Citizens is quite literally giving a voice to the voiceless, advocacy and empowerment working in tandem.
It seems to me that there is much work to be done highlighting this problem- thousands of individuals here without the correct paperwork yet earning a wage, acting responsibly but unable to be citizens. Sadly, the last election campaign degenerated into a bidding war about who could be toughest on immigration- leaving ‘illegals’ out in the cold. Could an amnesty be a win-win where their taxes contribute to sustaining services in our society and their human dignity is validated and nourished by conferring equal status?
for more information look up the work of Strangers into Citizens, a branch of Citizens UK- click here.