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The true story of a refugee in Britain

Reproduced from an article by Carole Angier published in the Independent, 18 June 2007.

I tell you my story, but I don't tell you my name. People say ‘a dog's life'. You can call me Dog.

I never know my father. My mother teach me good things - work hard, don't steal, trust God. But when I was maybe ten years old she die. I don't even know who pay for her grave.

For two years a businessman employ me. One day he say I am a smart kid, he will send me to school, or take me to Europe. I have nothing in my country, so I say: Europe.

I don't know how he fix documents for me, but we come to France.

He take me to a friend, where I stay four years. I sleep on the floor, I clean the place like a servant. After a year or two the businessman stop coming. Then the friend go away. So I leave and never go back. I was about 16.

From now on my life is so hard I don't want to remember it. For years I beg on the streets, in Paris, in Amsterdam, in many cities. I can't wash much, I sleep in bus shelters. But I remember my mother. I never commit crime, I don't touch drugs. I am not that kind of person.

Then one day I think: I need a plan for my life. And I decide it must be England. I like the people, I like the football - the best team in the world is Man United. A friend say there is good work in England too, and he give me an ID. UK Immigration officers check it. They say safe journey, I say thank you. Last friendly chat I have with Immigration. Hah.

When I arrive I don't ask for asylum. I want work, not asylum. Lucky, I meet a guy from Amsterdam. He take me to a house full of people. I have to sleep on a chair, but I'm happy. I get a job straight away. Soon I don't sleep on the chair any more. I rent my own house, and everything in it is for me. I pay all my bills - tax, council tax, rent, utilities. I'm glad to pay, I'm proud to pay. Until one day the police come and arrest me.

From that day I am a criminal. I don't hurt anyone, I work hard and pay my way. But they say it is a crime. OK, I obey.

They sentence me to 12 months in prison, and tell me to seek asylum. I say, ‘This asylum I'm seeking, you won't give it to me, so why waste my time?' But again I obey.

In September 2005 Immigration say they can't get travel document for me. That is more than a year and a half ago, and still they say it will come. It will never come. I leave at twelve, no papers, no school. They say we all lie, but I don't lie. They say they treat each case on its merits. That is the lie. Hah.

After six months, I go to detention centre. No difference. They take everything from you - your photograph, your fingerprint, your DNA, your independence. And some of the officers are worse than prison. The way they talk to you - as if you are an animal. Hah. If you are illegal you are not a human being in Britain.

Every month I get the same report from Immigration - wait for document, wait for document, all they change is the date. I go crazy, we all go crazy. In prison you know - 6 months, ten years, you serve your sentence and go. In detention you don't know.

And then there's the law. My first lawyer ask for £3000. How can I get £3000? Hah. I don't smoke, but that day I smoke three packs of cigarettes. In fact that day I nearly die.

My second lawyer is worse. My friend give me £500 for a barrister, but the barrister don't know my case. The judge write lies about me. You're in detention, then you're deported, what can you do? That's who the criminals are!

OK, no problem. Hah.

When I am on the bottom, God send me friends. They find me a good lawyer, and they make a bail application for me. My friends - I take them as my family now.

But after six months in detention, I get nervous. I join a hunger strike - and bang, they send me to Colnbrook. They take me to the van by force. One officer - he hold my neck, he pull my leg - fuck. He treat me worse than a criminal. I don't forget.

I don't talk about Colnbrook. Not the officers, they're good. But Colnbrook is prison - no air, nothing. If you put a person in a cage you spoil his mind. Hah.

Still the day came I never thought to see: I go to court, my lawyer send a good barrister, and I get released. The guards give me my stuff in a plastic bag made for criminals. But I don't care. I'm free.

That was eleven months ago. Since then I live in a friend's house, I sleep in a soft bed. I take my life now as paradise, compared to before. But sometimes, I tell you - it's hard. I can't work, I can't pay her back, I can't pay anything. Just for a bus ticket, a pint of Guinness - I have to ask her every time.

I say to the Home Office: I didn't come here for benefit, my mission is to work and survive. If that is a crime, I serve my time for it. Hah. Let me work, even one year. I pay back my friend, I hold up my head again.

If you don't listen, I don't know what I do. I pray hard not to betray anyone. No, I know in my mind what I will do. If they detain me again, I won't obey any more. I won't eat, I won't speak. Maybe my life will end like this. It is always in my mind.