Hiding in plain sight

By: Boucabar Diallo

Photo by Bastian Sander

Many immigrants are living a double life since Prime Minister David Cameron urged the public in late 2011 to report suspected illegal immigrants in order to claim back UK borders.

Saint Dumbuya, a 32-year-old immigrant from Ivory Coast who came to the UK in 2005, said he has never received any help from the government. After claiming for asylum he explains that he was fast tracked and found himself in a detention camp for nine years.

Even after getting out of the camps, Dumbuya has found it tough to make a living and sometimes has ended up being exploited working under the table. Cameron’s speech has only make things worse.

“I am getting paranoid because I cannot trust my friends nor my colleagues, that’s why I don’t want either of the parties to meet for fear it could backlash on me,” he says. “I live a life of lies because I have been forced into it by my friends, neighbours, my colleagues and by the system. I wonder sometimes if this is going to be over,” he adds.

Pati (real name withheld) has been living in London for 14 years. She came to London with a student visa and then got a two-year work permit. When it expired, she kept on working and paying her taxes.

“They even registered me to vote but I am an illegal immigrant,” she says. However, after Cameron’s speech she had to change her routine.

“Getting to work has become a heavy business for me now, I always look around to see if I am traveling with the same people, I need to be alert everywhere, even at the supermarket.”

Over the years Pati got married and has a child but keeping the child is a problem because her husband is illegal as well and they are not allowed to claim for benefits. They take turns in looking after the child.

“Women with children who find themselves in a situation of irregularities are the most vulnerable and there is practically nothing to protect them,” says Anna Dixie, from the Refugee Migration Network in Sutton.

Rasa, a woman from Somalia in her early thirties who lives in north London, explains that from she come to the UK in 2002 to help her brother who was dying from terminal cancer.

“I came with a two-year visa and after my brother passed away I started working,” she said. “I wanted to keep his son from a previous marriage but I was not allowed”. When her visa expired she went through a lot of problems and contracted HIV.

“That was the lowest point in my life,” she says. Nevertheless, Rasa continued to fight and work in order to help her two children back home. She feels very disappointed with Cameron’s speech.

“I’m used to hiding. I don’t dare invite anyone in my flat,” she says. “I recently found leaflets in my mailbox urging me to report my neighbours, it is like living in a police state.”

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