This blog post was written to coincide with the release of the film SAMBA (in cinemas 1st May) - a film that brings to life the struggles faced by immigrants in the often adversarial immigration process and in the integration in to society.
We live in an ever increasing hostile environment to immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. The media and the government share responsibility for dehumanising this often vulnerable class. They seem to be no one's concern, let alone priority. They occasionally conjure up an outpouring of public sympathy but it takes the meaningless death of hundreds, if not thousands in a watery grave.
I'm a solicitor who specialises in immigration, human rights and public law. My job title alone can be the source of controversy. There is the myth that "only bad people need to rely on their human rights," the "ordinary" person does not. This is simply not true. In the United Kingdom, by way of pure luck we find ourselves in a stable country, we are not affected by civil war, warring factions, an autocratic government or totalitarian state. If we have a serious health condition we are lucky enough to be able to find the right treatment and support at home. What fluke of fate meant that I was born to parents in the United Kingdom and not to critics of the Assad government in Syria or political prisoners in Eritrea?
I chose a career in law as I want to hold the government to account. The rule of law to me is sacrosanct. I chose a career in immigration law as I want to be able to help the most marginalised in society.
On an average day when I am not in court I will check my emails on the way in to the office. On arrival, over a black coffee I check the deadlines I have for that day and put together a to do list. I may have client meetings scheduled and so I plan my time for the day accordingly. I prioritise any court, Home Office or Legal Aid Agency set deadlines. My outlook reminders are a god send but also a constant reminder of the sheer amount of work I have to get through before home time. If I am in court or on a prison visit then it will be an earlier start and a large amount of waiting around time whilst waiting for your turn to go before the judge or for your client to be brought up from their wing.
I have worked in immigration law for the last nine years. It has always been challenging and rewarding in equal measures. In April 2013 legal aid was removed for a large part of my client base, essentially for those who do not have an asylum or trafficking claim. It is the government's view that they are able to represent themselves. How such a view was formed when the government themselves do not understand their own laws, laws that are very often rushed through just to garner more votes from the anti-immigration masses, and not actually subject to the scrutiny of Parliament, is inconceivable. Immigration has always been a fast moving area of law, but given the extensive recent changes in particular in respect of Article 8 ECHR (where someone dares to rely on their right to a private and family life) the law is now labyrinthine. I have had clients weep inconsolably when they have been told that legal aid is not available as there is simply no way they can afford private fees and no way in the world they can represent themselves when the stakes are so high: if they lose, they and their children are forced to leave the country they now call home.
It's not all doom and gloom. I still feel a high when a result is achieved for a client, whether this is a grant of asylum or other form of status providing certainty and stability. There is no better feeling than when a client is released on bail and they are reunited with their family or where they are granted damages, compensation for their liberty having been taken from them by the state for no other reason than they were not lucky enough to have been born here.
Like everyone else I am underpaid and overworked but it is important that the fight continues. Whenever I read a decision letter where it is obvious that the decision maker has seen my client, a person, a human being just like you and me, as nothing more than a number, a statistic to be massaged and manipulated to score points and win votes I know that I am in the right job for me.
SAMBA - in UK cinemas 1st May