A refugee’s joy and pain

The abandonment of one’s country to settle in another can be very
daunting, especially for those traumatised by war or persecution.
The only way their suffering can be assuaged is through social
services. When I arrived in the UK two and a half years ago I
needed support and care.

My first contact with this country’s social services was a joy but
also a pain. As most so-called third world refugees find out on
arrival in the UK, social amenities and services are a bit more
advanced than in their countries of origin. If you are phoning for
a service, you are greeted by a mellifluous voice on the other end:
“Hi, social security, how can I help?” The worker is at your

Yet behind this apparently benign social parade lurks a wave of
discrimination, contempt and ineptitude.

A few xenophobic elements make services in the UK a nightmare for
asylum seekers. Once I was kept waiting at an office for a long
time. I heard one woman whisper to another: “He is probably from
Africa.” My colour meant that I had to wait longer and that the
service I needed was a privilege, not a right. My background became
the yardstick for access to public services and I left the office

Social care services would be much improved for people like me once
those offering them wake up to the notion that seeking refuge in a
country confers – besides duties – rights and privileges to the
refugees involved.

Article 13 of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to refugees
provides that: “The contracting states shall accord to a refugee
treatment as favourable as possible and in any event, not less
favourable than that accorded aliens generally in the same
circumstance, as regards the acquisition of movable and immovable
property and other rights pertaining thereto.” Therefore the right
to see a social worker, therapist, doctor or solicitor is

A Briton in India would not be denied social services. A Briton in
Malawi would be welcome at any hospital. The same ought to apply
here. The UK would be a far better place if people from overseas
were made to feel at home and if access to services and amenities
were not tailored to cultural or racial background.

Xenophobic newspapers and political parties are crying foul over
“free” accommodation, “free” health care and “free” education for
refugees. It must be impressed on the British psyche that these
facilities are an inalienable right. The British politician Lord
Ellenborough, referring to the need for refugee support, once
stated: “The Law of Humanity, which is anterior to all positive
laws, obliges us to afford [asylum seekers] relief, to save them
from starving”. And one might add, from illness, suffering and
death. Britain must live up to its name and provide a social
umbrella for the men and women fleeing persecution.

Gordon Doh Fondo is a refugee from Cameroon.

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