20 years ago, to save her life, Nadine Tunasi made a last resort decision to flee the Democratic Republic of Congo where her and her family were branded as enemies of the state. Nadine has lived in the UK for the past 20 years which she calls her ‘sanctuary’. However, with an increasing hostile environment created by changes in laws and the introduction of new policies, Nadine speaks about her concerns that people seeking asylum now, may not receive the treatment she did.
I grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I had a happy childhood, but when the war started, everything changed. Although I had always considered myself Congolese, my father’s Tutsi heritage meant we were no longer welcome in the country. Branded as enemies of the state, we were suddenly hounded as traitors by our neighbours. To escape torture and persecution and save my life, I took the painful decision to leave my country forever.
Being welcomed as a refugee should not feel like winning the lottery
I have lived in the UK for over 20 years and have been given a chance to rebuild my life. I will always be grateful to this country for providing me sanctuary in my hour of need. But I now fear that people facing the same fate as me will not be so lucky.
Being welcomed as a refugee should not feel like winning the lottery. The UK is signatory to the Refugee Convention and is a global leader that many around the world look to as a place where human rights are respected. However, by introducing increasingly anti-refugee policies, the UK government is backsliding further and further on its international commitment to protect torture survivors seeking safety in this country.
Under the repressive Nationality and Borders Act passed earlier this year, anyone who seeks asylum in the UK by so-called ‘unofficial routes’ will be classed as second-class refugees and will not be given the full protection of refugee status. This two-tier system promulgates the lie that some refugees are more deserving of sanctuary than others, despite the fact that when you are running for your life you do not have time for administrative procedures, as the outbreak of war in Ukraine earlier this year showed.
The decision to flee is not made lightly
What’s more, ‘official routes’ to protection in the UK are simply not available for the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees. I would have much preferred to take a ‘safe route’ to the UK, rather than the perilous journey across the desert I was forced to take, but no safe option was available to me. It is for this very reason that the Refugee Convention prohibits discriminating against refugees based on their means of arrival. The convention was drafted in the wake of the Holocaust to ensure that nobody would ever be turned back to their deaths for lacking the correct paperwork.
The two-tier system is not even the worst policy the government is trying to introduce. If home secretary Suella Braverman has her way, torture survivors like me could be forcibly removed to Rwanda under a cruel ‘cash-for-humans’ scheme. Under the new rules, survivors will have an extremely limited period in which to disclose evidence of torture, or potentially face removal. A recent investigation by the charity Medical Justice found that at least 17 people who have received notice of removal to Rwanda are torture survivors.
The government is wasting millions of pounds trying to tear families apart
As any survivor will tell you, the experience of torture is so traumatic it takes a long time until you feel safe enough to disclose details of your ordeal. British organisations like Freedom from Torture specialise in helping survivors address their trauma and provide medical evidence to support their asylum claim. It is deeply disturbing that the government would consider expelling survivors for late disclosure of evidence, to a country like Rwanda that lacks services that can address their complex recovery needs. It also saddens me that at a time of economic crisis, the government is wasting millions of pounds trying to tear families apart, causing further trauma to people who are already vulnerable.
The UK government has a responsibility to protect people who seek safety on these shores. But instead, they demonise refugees to distract from their own mismanagement of the country, stoking the flames of racism and division.
Change is possible
However, I believe that change is possible. Just weeks ago, after months of pressure from groups like Freedom from Torture, One Strong Voice and Survivors Speak Out, the charter airline hired by the government to fly refugees to Rwanda officially withdrew from the scheme. This was a huge victory for people power, showing what we can achieve if we stand united against this government’s hostile environment policies.
Suella Braverman dreams of flying refugees to Rwanda by Christmas, destroying lives and tearing families apart. But we dream of a UK were people fleeing war, torture and persecution are protected and treated with dignity, humanity and compassion. If you share our vision, we urge you to join our movement.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EachOther.