At Body & Soul, we support some of the most vulnerable members in society – people who have experienced serious trauma in their past and often struggle as a result to cope with life’s challenges in the present. Our whole-person approach means we work with our members both to overcome practical difficulties and to set them on a path to fulfilment in their lives.
The fact that we are pursuing our mission in the face of a brutal and sometimes capricious system was brought home to me in a stark way earlier in the summer when one of our members, Kemi, was taken late one evening from the care home where she was living and within 12 hours had been placed on a charter flight back to her native Nigeria.
The challenges faced by Kemi are shared by many Body & Soul members:
However the facts of Kemi’s case raise some worrying questions about the way such cases are handled:
When a member’s legal avenues have been exhausted, it is our job to help that member come to terms with the fact that they may have to return to their country of origin. This usually involves practical as well as emotional support: we try to put them in touch with services in their own country that can go some way towards meeting their needs, but we also help them to prepare psychologically for a major change in their circumstances – something that can be particularly troubling for members with mental health issues.
I dread to think how Kemi must have felt as she boarded that flight to Nigeria on her own, with no plans in place and no clear sense of what she was returning to. As Kemi was deported before a final decision was made on her application, she was not given her due in terms of legal process, and we were not given the opportunity to prepare her for a return to Nigeria (should the final decision have gone against her). As it is, we are doing what we can to support Kemi from a distance as an appeal is prepared on her behalf. It is a priority to find out when her HIV and mental health medication will run out, and whether she has been able to access suitable healthcare in Nigeria.
At Body & Soul we acknowledge the need for a regulated immigration system, and understand that ultimately not everyone who arrives in this country will be able to stay indefinitely. However it is important that the system should (i) be humane and (ii) follow due process. In Kemi’s case, the system failed on both these counts. We as a society need to do better.
In this post the member’s name has been changed to protect her identity.