Cameroon couple win asylum seeker status after long fight

Playwright Lydia Besong and her husband, Bernard Batey, can stay in the north west after their campaign was successful

The news that a Cameroon playwright and her husband have won their asylum case after a long battle has been welcomed by campaigners.

A campaign by leading writers to halt the removal of Lydia Besong and her husband Bernard Batey from the UK has been successful. In January, leading writers and barristers wrote to the home secretary, Theresa May, condemning the UK Border Agency’s decision to deport the couple.

The letter was signed by former children’s laureate, Michael Morpurgo, Monica Ali, Hanif Kureishi, Alan Ayckbourn, Nick Hornby and Helena Kennedy. With hours to go before their scheduled deportation earlier this year, the couple were granted a judicial review.

Besong says she was raped in Cameroon by a uniformed guard when she was in prison and if she and her husband were deported, they would be persecuted for speaking out against the government.

They have both been detained in the UK twice over the last two-and-a-half years, most recently in January as they registered with immigration services in Manchester. Severely traumatised by her ordeal, when I spoke to her following her release, her leg trembled as she talked and she was suffering from glaucoma. She was fearful of what would happened if she was returned to Cameroon once the media spotlight had gone.

Gary McIndoe, their solicitor, of Latitude Law, said: “The tribunal has recognised that Lydia and Bernard’s political and cultural activities will place them at risk if they return to Cameroon. This is a deeply important victory for everyone interested in ensuring the safety of our refugees.”

The couple, who currently live in Bury, have fought a high profile campaign for asylum in the UK. They were forced to free Cameroon more than five years ago after they were both imprisoned, tortured and persecuted for their political activities as members of the SCNC – South Cameroon National Council – a peaceful organisation that campaigns for independence.

Besong said she was very pleased with the decision and hopefully it will be a final decision, as the UKBA still has some time to appeal. She thanked her supporters and said they now feel safe.

Amnesty’s international deputy director for Africa, Tawanda Hondora, said: “Political opposition is not tolerated in Cameroon. Any dissent is suppressed through either violence or abuse of the legal system to silence critics.”

Lydia’s most recent play, Down with the Dictator, performed in Manchester and Bury. It is set in Cameroon and explores themes of power, political corruption and censorship. Her earlier play, How I Became An Asylum Seeker, was performed throughout the UK.

Michael Morpurgo has previously said: “How this country treats asylum seekers is the measure of what kind of a people we are.” He said Besong was extraordinarily brave in her stand against oppression and “that her talents would be of great value to us as a citizen in our society would seem to be obvious.”

But Nkwelle Ekaney, the Cameroon High Commissioner in the UK, rejected the couple’s claims, saying Cameroon respects human rights and the rule of law and international conventions that “respect the integrity and dignity of the human person.” © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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