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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.


Fahima Sahabdeen

1st December 2017