I sought asylum in the UK for protective reasons, as a result of my political activism and role in advocating against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. However, nothing could have prepared me for the dehumanising asylum process I would face as a direct result of Theresa May’s hostile environment policies.
Looking back at my own journey I now realise, clear as day, how deliberately her legislative measures were designed to make staying in the United Kingdom virtually impossible for people like me.
If only Theresa May could walk a mile in my shoes. Living on the £35.39 weekly asylum support (for food, clothing and toiletries) which was uploaded onto a debit card (ASPEN) was horrible. In fact, it was backbreaking. I was on Section 4 support, which meant that I wasn’t permitted to withdraw the cash at any cash machine – I often had no choice but to walk miles on end because I could not pay for my bus travel.
On days when it was raining I had no option but to beg strangers for money to purchase bus fare whilst my youngest son was wrapped gently on my back. I will never forget the cold responses I received from commuters. One man who reluctantly gave me 25p, mockingly saying “you better not spend it all on drugs and alcohol” as he laughed and walked on. I felt broken, the whole process broke me. If it was not for the innocent look on my son’s face, I could have given up – but the love for my children helped me to fight on.
Throughout these difficult eight years I relied on food banks, and local charities for clothing and toiletries. I will forever be grateful for their love and compassion. Still, there were always days when there wouldn’t be enough to go around. I had to resort to rationing food portions to ensure my children had enough.
What pains me most is knowing that had I been allowed to work, I would have been able to support my family better, and even make more meaningful contributions to my community. Instead I was reduced to begging as a means of survival.
The worst part of my ordeal was not knowing my fate, and constantly waiting for a positive decision to be made on my claim for asylum. My children and I were literally living in limbo – incessantly afraid to dream of a better life, terrified at the thought of being deported back to Zimbabwe, where I would face persecution and torture at the hands of a brutal and despotic regime. The Home Office claims to inform asylum seekers within six months of them making an application. I waited eight years before my claim was accepted.
Tell me, would you be able to survive this way? I was deliberately placed in a black hole where I was prevented from building a new home for my family. My treatment as an asylum seeker made me feel unwanted, anxious and meaningless as a human being.
To make matters worse, the pain and struggle was extended to my innocent children. My youngest son – even though he was born in the United Kingdom – had no right to free education like other children under two, as part of the UK Immigration and Asylum Act. He was deprived of crucial early years education at the most formative years of his life. This had extensive and negative impact on his growth and development.
By the time he was three-years-old, he developed behavioural issues and was diagnosed with severe speech delay and as a result had to undergo numerous treatments to aid his recovery. This took a huge toll on my son’s confidence – all because he was isolated and didn’t have the opportunity to integrate with other children. My child’s rights were taken away from him simply because his mother’s immigration status. Isn’t education still a human right? I tell you, any policy that cause suffering and distress to innocent children is as hostile as its architect.
Undoubtedly, Theresa May will be remembered for her role in Brexit. But I shall remember her for the brutal immigration legacy she leaves behind on families like mine.
Salani Murseyami is a Zimbabwean human rights and political activist