Joseph's story

Joseph has been destitute for months

Joseph Sesay is 31 and is originally from Sierra Leone. He came to the UK in 2010 after leaving for fear of persecution, and has since entered a system that has left him with no place to live and no way of supporting himself.

‘I came to the UK in June last year [2010]. I was on my way to a church conference and flew into Heathrow. I got picked up to be taken to Gatwick to travel on to the conference, but instead the person who picked me up took me to somewhere in London and held me there without my consent.

‘I was in that house from June to September, while I was there I wasn’t allowed out. Whenever they went out they closed the door after them and kept me locked in. They kept me in a room downstairs, it was a bit like being in a prison. I still don’t know why I was taken.

'They wanted me to join them in doing drugs, and that wasn’t my intention. I finally managed to escape when someone left the front door open, and I made my way to a police station.

Left in a cell with nothing but a mat to lie on

‘When I went to the police station in London I was detained there, they said I had overstayed my visa so they put me in a cell, with no bedding, just a mat to lie on. In the morning they asked if I wanted to talk to a solicitor, I said yes. I talked to somebody online and she said the best thing would be to claim asylum.

‘I told the immigration services I came from a country where I was in danger from persecution in my home village. If I refused to do what I was being asked by the villagers it could cost me my life.

'I told them I’d lived in the city almost all my life and that’s where I was educated and where I worked. What was happening in the village was nothing to do with me, and because I am a Christian I did not believe in what they were doing.

The police in my home country could not protect me

'Part of the reason my claim was refused was that the Home Office said the police in Sierra Leone could protect me from this persecution, but I have evidence that the police are corrupt and could not protect me. I believe the only protection police in Sierra Leone could give me would be to put me in prison.

I knew going back to Sierra Leone would cost me my life

‘I don’t have anybody here in the UK. As I was going through my asylum claim I was moved to Cardiff from September to October, then I was dispersed to Wrexham. Then they told me I needed to report to the nearest police station once a month and the very first day I went to report I was arrested – they said my claim had been refused and I had no right to appeal.

'I knew going back to Sierra Leone would cost me my life, so I told them I would rather die here than they send me back. The sort of people who were threatening me in Sierra Leone are all around the cities since the war ended, and they have lots of ways of killing people. That’s what I’m afraid of.

Sent to Scotland, with no idea where it was

‘At the Wrexham police station, four policemen came, they took me down to a cell, and they stripped me naked. I was left there for eight to ten hours before they took me to a detention centre in Manchester. I was there for two days. Someone came and gave me a note to say they were dispersing me to Scotland – I never knew where Scotland was. They took me up in a Group 4 van.

‘I was in Dungavel for almost two months, and released in December 2010. When I was in Dungavel they called me once and said that I should speak to someone in my embassy; I spoke to them in November but it didn’t help.

'Then one day I was in my room and the Home Office called me from Cardiff. They said they wanted to release me and to give them an address – and they said if I didn’t have an address they wouldn’t be able to release me.

The Home Office didn't fulfil their duty of care

'From the outset I told the Home Office I had no-one and nowhere to stay. The Home Office knew I was depressed, that there was nothing I could do. I didn’t know why they wanted to release me. They never explained. They didn’t fulfil their duty of care.

‘Before I was in detention I was on Facebook and came across someone in Scotland. I got his contact details and that was the only address I knew, so I was released to that address. All they did was give me a train ticket and somebody took me to Hamilton train station, and left me there. At least I knew how to read and write English, so I could work out where I was.

I was at the point of nowhere

‘When I came out of the train station in Glasgow I tried to call the number of the person I’d met on Facebook, but it was no longer working. I was at the point of nowhere and I didn’t know where I was.

First night in Glasgow, homeless and alone

'I had the number for Scottish Detainee Visitors volunteer because she’d visited the day before I’d been released, and she’d just happened to text me to say she was coming back in with some winter clothes for us. So I texted her that I didn’t have anywhere to go.

‘She called me and asked me where I was – they sent a taxi for me. She spoke to Glasgow Street Service and they arranged for me to get a bed in the Eurohostel through Glasgow Street Service – I had £15 on me that I’d saved up. In Dungavel they give you work for £2 a day, and I’d managed to keep some money from when I was getting support before my claim was refused. That paid for the night.

‘Afterwards, I went to Scottish Refugee Council and they gave me an emergency grant for three days in and got me somewhere to stay in a hostel. After three days, I went to Positive Action in Housing who also gave me money for the next three nights – after that Positive Action arranged for me to be taken to a volunteer’s place, that was over the Christmas holidays, up to January 7th.

Nowhere to go, in the middle of winter

'After that, I had nowhere – and everywhere was closed, so I asked if my volunteer could let me stay for another few nights. On the 10th of January I went back to Positive Action but they had no more volunteers.

‘Glasgow Street Service took me to Glasgow City Mission, I was sleeping there for a while. It was terrible, during that time it was the winter and it was so cold. You can’t go there until 10 o’clock at night, and they wake you up at 5.30 or 6am, and you have to leave. There was a group called the Wayside who distribute free food at night, so I went there for food, but during the day I was walking around, I was just moving to keep warm.

I’d come here for protection and then I was left totally on my own

‘I was totally in shock. I’d come here for protection and then I was left totally on my own. I got somewhere to stay on the 17th January, so I was on the streets for about a week.

You sleep with your possessions under your pillow

‘I believe there are people who are going through the same sort of thing as me – it’s not safe at all, you sleep with any possessions you have under your pillow. But I don’t want to go back to Sierra Leone.

‘When you have no support and no permission to work it’s a way of killing you slowly. You’re not allowed to work or engage in any business because if you do it’s an offence. If I could work it would help a lot because nothing is free in this country.

When you can't work it's a way of killing you slowly

'I believe its better to go by the rule of the law, even if I worked illegally to take care of myself I would always be thinking of the consequences. But the law as it is isn’t working for me, I’ve been left on my own. I have to sign in at the Home Office every week but I’ve no transport and no support to get there.

Disappointed with the system

'Some people have said that I should stop signing in but I said no, I’ll keep signing in and if they arrest me, they arrest me. I can’t get Section 4 support because I’m waiting for my solicitor to lodge a judicial review, but she’s still waiting to get legal aid in order to do that.

‘I’m staying with a friend at the moment, and he has just told me that maybe soon I’ll have to leave. He let me stay for a month but it’s been six months now. He never knew me before. If he asks me to leave at any time I will end up again on the street and that will make things worse.

‘I’m definitely disappointed by the system here. When I came I didn’t even know that I could apply for asylum, I went myself to the police station looking for help. While I’m here in the UK, everything is just going backwards. I’m not able to get any healthcare so the minute I fall sick that’s the end.’

Tags: , , , , , , , ,