27 August 2020
A statement by a Yemeni citizen currently held in the Brook House detention centre and on hunger strike in protest at their pending deportation to Spain, under the 'Dublin' system of allocating state responsibility for asylum applications.
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Originally published by Detained Voices, here. A number of people who crossed the Channel from France in small boats and now detained in Brook House are on hunger strike in protest at their planned expulsion to other EU states. See: Migrants deported as hunger strike continues at Brooke House (BBC News, link)
Brook House Protest: I’m still on a hunger strike, and I will continue the strike.
I’m from Yemen. I’ve seen war in all of its details, all of its destruction, death, repression, mines, death, everything. My uncle, friends, and relatives, died. I remember those who died, our most beloved. I lived war. I only left after I experienced it. We, young men, are a target. We were targeted by the Houthis because my relatives worked in hospitals and helped the injured. To this day every time I call my family or friends, I receive news that this or that friend died by stepping into a mine, or being hit by shells or missiles.
My whole neighborhood is destroyed. I lived the war in all of its details. When things went really bad, I tried to leave. I did not tell my family that I would leave the country, I only told them that I will go to a relatively safer city in Yemen. I borrowed money from this and that friend, then went to Mauritania. We walked by the border with Mali. We were caught by this gang, and they threatened to take our organs. We were stuck between smugglers and human traffickers. They threatened to take our organs or blackmail our families. My family did not know I left; that would’ve devastated them. We were able to get out of that, and we reached Algeria. We were sleeping in the desert cold; taken from one smuggler to another. From Ain Saleh, for a few months, to Ghardaia, where the Algerian army detained us for 15 days. They took everything from us, and deported us to the Niger desert. I still remember to this day, the soldier told me, “this is the road to Niger, this is the road to death.”
We were accompanied by Palestinians and others. We wandered from one region to another. And we were held in this room on the border with no toilet. We used plastic bags. We were there for a few weeks. Eventually we managed to enter Morocco, but we were caught and deported to Algeria, and they were going to deport us to Niger, but we escaped the Algerian army and returned, without any money. We slept on the streets. We tried to get to Spain, to Melilla. It took us 3 months to enter. After nearly 25 attempts, we did. We were beaten really badly. They treated us like slaves, not like refugees.
We entered Spain. They put us in a building with 600 people from all nationalities. I am short. I was subjected to beatings and sexual harassment. Whenever I tried to file a complaint to the Spanish guards, they would either laugh at me or would not understand what I said. It was 40 days in hell. I wished I could return to Yemen. Sometimes we washed the guards’ clothes so they wouldn’t beat us.
Then they transferred me somewhere else, because I complained a lot. I could barely walk 30 metres. Then they transported us to Valencia, and kicked us out into the streets. I spent three weeks on the streets, knocking the doors of one charitable society after another, but we were only met with rejection. The police treated me like a criminal, and used pepper spray on me, even though I’m a refugee. Even on the streets in Spain, I was sexually harassed. When I realised things are not going to work out in Spain, I decided to migrate, to Belgium.
I’ve seen people scattered on the streets in Belgium. We had our fingerprints taken in Spain, in Germany, and now we’re in Belgium, eating and sleeping on the streets, and being chased on the streets. I was going to request asylum in Belgium, but then I saw the situation of my peers, and some told me that they came over like I did, and were then thrown into the streets. Five years in war, and I thought I was brave among my family, but here I am being subjected to sexual harassment and the like. We moved to France. I contacted my family and told them I’m in France. I asked them for money so I can pay to the smuggler to enter Britain since there we would not face beatings and the like. From Dunkirk, which is filled with smugglers, we had difficulty, since we Arabs are hated by Kurdish smugglers, and so we faced difficulty.
We tried and tried. One day a smuggler told us if he sees us there again, he will kill us. We kept roaming France for a month. We reached Calais, and it’s filled with smugglers. I thought Europe would be a heaven. I developed a skin condition in Spain that they refused to provide treatment for.
The sea was my last hope. I thought to myself, if I don’t reach Britain, at least I will die in the sea, instead of returning to the streets of Europe. I was hoping that if I get to Britain, I will finally be able to live and start a life, and all the bitter days would be over; that it would be a watershed. I wrote my will and handed it to a friend, just in case, so he would tell my family, so they would forgive me. We were in the sea for eight hours. I felt regret. Why did I leave my family, why have them live in war on their own. I thought I’m selfish, because I left them. I should’ve continued to live with them. Not leave them and live on my own. Now when I call my family, they still struggle with what I used to struggle with. When I reached Britain, I thought I reached a safe harbour. You know, one would hope to die in his homeland, in his mother’s arms, to see his family and loved ones.
I reached Britain, and spent 4 months trying to build a new life, until that day. I had a GP. I explained to him my physical and mental health, and he provided me with care, until that day. We were in our place, I was happy, I was optimistic, and then all of a sudden, the police came over and took us. I asked them what crime did I commit, but they just took us to detention. They told me you have a fingerprint in Spain. I told the investigator, and the lawyer, if I was a refugee there why would they have me sleep on the streets? No matter what I said they would not believe. They just told me, ‘this is the law’.
I’m still on a hunger strike, and I will continue the strike. I told them that if I am to be deported to Spain, I will not be deported alive. I will not go back to a life of homelessness, to those who beat us and harassed us. You cannot know how I feel right now, since you’re not in my place. I’m only telling you a small portion of what happened. I can go on forever. I lost my family, my father, my mother, my friends, my city, and they’re all still in war. I thought that Europe would be a heaven on earth, that I will get to live and make something out of myself. Now, I think I lived like a king in my country. My last hope was Britain. I crossed the sea with my kafan on my hand, I either get to the shore or die. We faced gangs and threats, but Britain ruined everything. They want to get us back to point zero.
We’ve been here for two weeks. They lock us in our room from 9PM to 9AM. From day one I went on strike. Here, you’re subject to deportation at any moment. Every night, I can barely sleep. I’d wake up to every passing shadow, to every passing guard. Every time, I tell myself, “this is it”. I can’t even begin to describe it. If you look at my life, from beginning to end, you’d feel bad over all the time you lost, all the years gone. Five years lost to war, a year or so lost in Europe. I will not go back to live through that suffering again. My family calls me, and I tell them, “they put us in schools” and “I am now studying”. I don’t tell them that I am facing deportation. If we are deported, there is nothing but death. They think we came from a paradise. No, we came from the hell of war in Yemen, hell of displacement, hell of smuggling, and now they want to ruin everything.
You don’t even know how it’s like here with the guys and how we’re feeling. As soon as our room is closed, we’re tense and waiting. Where are we going to be deported to? Spain and the streets. To the starting point.
All that I experienced in the war in Yemen does not reach this level of suffering. And here we are waiting, for our execution. They tell us they’re just enforcing the law. I do not envy others, but if this is the law, why is it selectively enforced. I know others who had fingerprints elsewhere who were granted asylum. We are waiting for the 27 of August, the day we die. They either leave us here, or deport us. If I knew this was what I was going to face, I would’ve preferred to die in my homeland. At least there I’d see my family. I’m full of regret. I am selfish. I left my family. I would rather die close to my mother than on their streets. They sentenced us to death.
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