Winter at Becket House
Date posted: 2 March 2018
Our client Fahima Sahabdeen from Sri Lanka has been reporting fortnightly at Becket House for more than 12 months.
Fahima is an entrepreneur, animal welfare activist and playwright.
Whilst battling with the Home Office to resolve her status through the course of judicial review challenges to certification and a substantive human rights appeal Fahima became well acquainted with the hardships and indignities associated with the signing on arrangements at Becket House.
Fahima has now succeeded in her human rights appeal and wishes to share a poem that she wrote inspired by her experiences at Becket House.
The Becket House reporting arrangements are all part of an intentionally created hostile environment.
We often hear testimony from clients as to the indignities that they have suffered at Becket House, the incompetence with which they have been treated and the inordinate waste of time, expense and stress associated with reporting.
Winter at Beckett House
We took years to learn to dress against the cold,
huddled with our prayers Luhr, Asr, Maghrib
and Esha, clutching each other. By six it was dark
and they had left. We were alone, doors closed.
When it snowed for the first time, the thrill of it,
snowflakes against windowpanes, glass icicles,
sparkling the trees. We have come full circle,
living in the country of those who governed us
once, naming even our roads – Cambridge Place,
Albert Crescent; Teaching us to love cricket,
the English language, Tiny Tim, potted meat
sandwiches without even tasting them.
Before we know it, ten years have passed and we
are in the same place. We greet good morning,
kiss goodbye, pray for the Queen, admire her
swans, and watch Shakespeare in the Globe.
We cannot eat potted meat, we frequent
Indian, Iraqi, Philippine, Lebanese and Thai shops
selling winged beans, ladies fingers, guava; even
durian, frozen to quell the stench. We used to sell it
fresh but a Government official inquired if a cat
had died. Don’t sleep with your husband tonight!
We are told that we must leave, are banned
from working, owning bank accounts, renting.
We live on our tenacity, on leftovers and charity,
oceans between us and those at home –
how we yearn for them, yet don’t want to live
in a place where happiness can be plucked from
a tree but sorrow too, as easily. The homeless sit
on benches in the Square behind Beckett House,
sip beer, and watch us take one step at a time.
We’ve come prepared, dressed in scarves, caps,
coats, overcoats, looking double our sizes. Inside
Beckett House, we divest ourselves of coats, bags,
sent through a machine, we walk through another,
submit papers, uncertain futures in our faces.
A security guard stands over us, crisp, white sleeves
rolled up to show his pale tattoed arms. Legs astride,
he directs us, forbids the use of mobile phones,
holds up our papers and murders the names he
reads aloud. Bakataa…tat… anya, Moh….amad.
We take our places in the queue, talk about the
countries of our birth, their colours, glistening in the
sun. We talk of England, the mist this winter, veiling
the fields, The grass is a faded yellow, dead crops
a wavering brown. Ravens fly overhead and smoky
white birds swim in a stream. The sun is a full moon
at noon, by four it is gone, the horizon an orangey
glow, chimneys and roofs outlined in the radiance.
1st December 2017