From the desk of the Hackney Preacher
A photograph of Comfort Asiamah, top left, with members of her family in London.
Comfort and her family are members of the church, though I first spoke properly with her one evening on the bus. We were both heading towards the City of London. My wife and I were going out for supper. Comfort was beginning her night shift as a cleaner in one of the offices. Over the last few years I have heard more of her story and below she tells it in her own words.
She arrived in the UK twenty years ago this week, leaving her two young children in Ghana. Though continuing to support them financially, through monthly transfers, she has not seen them since. And her case is stuck in the Home Office – so she remains in limbo, neither a citizen nor even a statistic, unable to travel.
I spoke to her this week on the twentieth anniversary of her arrival at Heathrow.
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My name is Mrs Comfort Asiamah
I was born in Ghana on 20th June 1956. I was married when I was twenty years to Mr Moses Kwaku Duffour, and I had my first-born son, Navis, when I was twenty-one. My last two children are Richard and then Georgina and they were born in 1990 and 1991.
I have five children in all. I have two in Ghana and three in London.
I left Georgina when she was two and a half years old and Richard when he was three and a half to come to London. That was in 1993. I arrived in London on 20 November 1993. Today I have been here twenty years.
I have not seen Richard and Georgina since I arrived in London.
I came here when I was 37 years old to join my husband, Mr Moses Kwaku Duffour.
My husband came as a refugee, as an asylum seeker in 1991. There was an issue he had with the government.
His friend helped him to this country and then, when he arrived, after two years, his friend helped me to come here to join my husband.
My husband’s friend, he gave me the address for my husband. And then when I arrived in London the Immigration asked me for his address. The Immigration called my husband and my husband came and picked me up from Heathrow.
I was sad because I was leaving my children. At the same time I was happy that I had found my husband and I thought it was easier to bring my children to join me. I didn’t realize.
After I arrived I applied for a working permit and they gave it to me and then I applied for a national insurance and they gave it to me and then they told me to start working and I started working. I have worked for the last twenty years for the company I still work with.
I have always done a cleaning job. Before, when I was doing morning to evening. I was doing more hours. I left home at 4 in the morning and then I started job at 5 in the morning. The job was all over London, here and there. From here to another place and then from there to another place.
I would get home latest at 10 or 10.30 in the evening and then up again the following morning at 4.
In 1994 I also did a factory job for a bit. It was a ‘cut and clean’ factory. I used the scissors. I did the buttons. I ironed the dress. I bagged the dress and then I put it on the rail – checking and making sure everything is OK. I enjoyed the factory job. Then the factory moved from Hackney to Turkey and that was no more.
I heard that if you stay here for fourteen years then you can apply for ‘long stay’. I read it in the newspaper. And I heard it from lots of lawyers.
In 1996 the Immigration told me I should go back to my country. They said they wouldn’t accept my application. They said they didn’t believe Moses’ story.
So Moses and I moved to where Moses friend was living. That was when we disappeared. They didn’t know where I was. By the grace of God there was no problem, no nothing . . .
. . . Then in 2005 my husband and I had been here for fourteen years and so I applied for ‘long stay’. I went to a different Lawyer in South Harrow. Somebody introduced me to them and said they were a good lawyer.
I took a train to get to South Harrow.
The Lawyer said he would write a letter. For each application he collected £335 as a fee for application for Home Office. I gave him a cheque and the Home Office took it out of my account.
The Immigration said that they had received my application and they were going through my case and that they would hear from me very soon.
One day in my flat there arrived a letter from the Immigration to Mr Kwadwo Appiah. That was funny because there was no Mr Kwadwo Appiah in the flat. But I remembered that in the place where we were living back in 1993 there was a man called Mr Kadwo Appiah.
My husband found his number and rang him and said “we’ve got this letter in our flat. Where did you get this address?”
It smelled something fishy.
My husband opened the letter and saw that he had used our details. He had used our reference number but kept his name.
He told my husband he had sworn an affidavit to change his name to my husband’s name and he changed his date of birth too. Why did he do it? Why would he take someone else’s identity?
The lawyer was annoyed. This man needs to be arrested! he said. He said he would write to the Immigration. He said that I should go to the MP and complain.
The lawyer didn’t do anything. Every time I went there the travelling card was £7. It was too much to go there. It was too far. I would always be at late at my job because of the travelling time. The Lawyer was not serious. That’s why I left that place.
Meg Hillier, the MP, wrote to the Immigration and they said we are looking into it and that you will hear from us soon. That was four or five years ago. I went there with Moses.
The MP told us that whenever she heard from the Home Office she would contact me.
Last year, in 2011, I went to a new Lawyer in Tottenham. He has written some letters to the Immigration and says he will help. He says he hasn’t heard anything yet but he’s still waiting.
I have sent everything now to the Immigration. They are looking into my case, they say.
I have knee problem, and a neck and back problem. Last time the doctor told me it was arthritis. Now I’m not doing so much. I’m doing only four hours a day, 20 hours a week, and so now I have less money.
I’m always talking on the phone with my younger one in Ghana but I haven’t seen him for the past twenty years.
If I stay here I can pay the school fees and I can pay other bills. I pay £100 a month.
Now If I go to Ghana I can’t come back. If I go home I don’t have a job, I don’t have anything. Everything has gone. If I go back to Ghana I can’t look after them.
But I can look after them here.
Georgina is studying accounting and business in Kumasi