On the 10th July 2015, I, along with around 50 other activists, received a Facebook message from a member of the NUS Black Students’ campaign. The message told us that Kelechi (the disabled representative on the campaign) had had her appeal for asylum rejected. This was the first time I had heard of Kelechi, and the first I had heard about her asylum appeal.
Since then Kelechi has become a good friend. I ended up leading her campaign which included organising fundraisers for her, advocating for her, and most importantly checking up on her on her lowest days. Together, we fought to stop her from being detained, and helped her secure legal and financial support.
Two and a half years later and I came out of a meeting to see a missed call and a voice message from Kelechi. I could hardly understand her, she was talking so fast and excitedly. “Jamie told me I got asylum”. I had to get a colleague to listen to double check I wasn’t imagining it. The work that so many of us – in particular, myself and my friend Hajera – had put in, had finally come to fruition.
Kelechi, an openly queer, disabled, wheelchair-user of Nigerian descent, came to the UK in 2011 as she feared for her life in Nigeria. She experienced poor mental health and Polio, and because of this was labelled as cursed, abused by her family, and sexually assaulted by co-workers. Kelechi, who had secretly had affairs with women whilst in Nigeria, was able to live as her true, authentic, self when she came to the UK; a bisexual woman, and an activist who has dedicated herself to fighting for the freedom and liberation of others.
Kelechi’s determination to live and exist as herself, despite the danger it put her in, and the disapproval she faced from members of her faith communities, was always an inspiration to me. The UK is far from perfect. Homophobia is still rife in Britain, and in fact on the rise post Brexit, but in Nigeria, there are anti-gay laws which mean that queer individuals can face fourteen years in prison, and death by stoning. The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, carries penalties for all organisations and individuals that support the LGBTQI+ community.
This win means Kelechi can now be safe. She has spent her time in the UK campaigning and fighting for the rights of so many through her time on NUS International, Disabled students, Black students and LGBT campaigns. For her to finally be provided asylum, was a win for us all.
Unfortunately the last few years have not been easy. Kelechi’s health has deteriorated significantly and her road to recovery will probably be a long one. Her financial position is still precarious and we are continuing to raise funds for her to pay towards her living costs.
This win meant everything to us. But there are many women like Kelechi who’s stories are not known. Many are currently on a hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre notorious for its terrible conditions, and which Kelechi was lucky enough to avoid. We hope that our win can help shine some light on, and garner some support for, the horrible situation these women are still in. We hope that it can help to remind the public that, behind the scaremongering of numbers, and immigration figures, there are people, with stories like Kelechi’s, who came to the UK for a better life, and deserve the chance to live it.
We are holding a party to celebrate this win and to fundraise to support Kelechi’s living costs, as well as to support other asylum seekers in similar situations to Kelechi. More information can be found here.