Right under our very doorsteps, on the streets of Greenbank that have such lovely names, there are people who look like the rest of us but live under house arrest because they would not sign documents agreeing to leave this country for somewhere more dangerous. There are people being deported all the time. There are also some broken bin bags at the end of Bellevue Road, containing some of the lost clothes of a small boy who used to go to Bannerman Road Primary School. Up till Wednesday 17th January.
Felipe came home that day and barely had time to settle down after school before a helicopter pulled up outside his house, in the sky. Last time the police had come for them, on December 8th, they had been taken at 6am, out of the blue and in a very traumatic episode, to a detention centre with the idea that they would be deported as soon as a plane was free. But they were not together, the father had left the house just before they had come, and called with his lawyer and they were freed. But this time, this last Thursday they
were finally being taken: their leave of stay had expired. Until the end they didn't know if it was going to be the usual rigmarole of an appeal procedure, with lawyers and court hearings, followed by some tickets and times for departure.
Instead it was a Pakistani immigration officer, shouting at Felipe's mother that she could not say goodbye and she had to get 20 kilos of her belongings and get in
the van. No one was there able to stand up to this woman and her colleagues and just say the few words that could have changed it ("I am their lawyer" seems to work for example, but just anything that could help in breaking through the loss of responsibility for human suffering in such a horrible job). I spoke to their eldest daughter, 19 year old Lizeth, who we just saw pass by from the bus that day, but spoke to for the last time so far, the night before they left. I wish now I'd taken her email address down too. Intelligent and studious, she wanted to be a dentist and study here, but now with the growing idea that they were to be sent back, she
wanted at least to finish her studies, stay these last few months with friends or family so as to get a document that she could stamp at the embassy and qualify to go to university in Bolivia. Without this, she'll have to repeat the whole of her secondary studies, which doesn't seem likely as they go to stay with their grandmother in a poor city now.
She was put, together with her other brother, in a van that went alongside the van with the parents and two younger siblings. A van with no windows.
Treated like criminals, when they were part of this community for years and the parents had made food for many of the school children atBannerman Rd as well as participating in refugee week activities and personally helping many of the Somali or Asian refugees who speak much less English than themselves, but sometimes have no-one to talk to. I don't know them too well and I don't know what the full story is here but the immigration police had no right to treat that family like that.
The children shouldn't be treated like this because you have to see that these are a universal concept - they could be yours. And the adults shouldn't be treated like this because they left Bolivia escaping police persecution, of an extremely violent nature, so this treatment seems to have been given without first examining a medical history and so therefore putting them in medical danger as well. The trauma of being sent back was already noticeable when I went to see them the day before the big raid of Bellevue Rd.
On the couch, they told me of the way their son had scared the police, who told him to put his hands up, because he had a toy gun, and because he wouldn't wake up.
They were shaking him. They didn't let his mother go and wake him, maybe reserve the right to tell him that he was leaving the country or give him some words of strength for the journey.
He was playing when I went there the day before their deportation. He wanted 10 pounds his mother owed him. She wasn't going to give it. We nagged at him that those 10 pounds could buy a lot of meat and rice in Bolivia, or at least a lot more chocolate than what he wanted, but he really didn't understand.
They sent them off leaving their house abandoned, leaving all their Latin American
friends to call each other disgusted and upset at this news, and rushing to their flat to try and gather up and sort out the rest of their belongings, what they hadn't been allowed to take with them. The rest of it is still in the street or collected the next day when the house was emptied and presumably made ready for some new tenants. We took what we could. I have
- some computer speakers
- a mini hifi stereo system
- a DVD drive
- an old cassette tape recorder
- an ink jet printer
- some small toys
- a red rucksack
- A mountain Bike
- A multiple socket plug
And more, and my idea is to sell it, but with the idea that the money is going to go towards them getting their house back - they exchanged it for a loan when they put together the money to come to the UK. They called their sister, who lives in London, an asylum seeker who won leave to remain already I believe, and I'm about to get in touch with them, as I've just found their number at their mother's house in Santa
Cruz. They were coca farmers, a life lived against the state that came before Morales, and before the guy before him, but now I think they have gained only the English language and customs which they learned when they were here. I hope we can still teach them warmth, after failing them like this.
Since this happened, I've been shocked. I've not known what to do, whether to report it or what. And now I think I should get the word out. I've also not known what to do
in terms of my own life - to buy a house here, look for a job, or start making roots somewhere else. I used to live under the illusion that this society was respectful. Now I see how inhuman it really is, and that's disheartening. But I know life is much worse elsewhere, and I really really know why people risk so much in the channel tunnel to get here. This is really a privileged society.