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Giving immigrants a helping hand

PROVIDING HOPE: Neasha Clarke

In the final installment of a three-part series on immigration, The Voice profiles an organisation that gives practical and emotional support as immigrants battle deportation

FOR MANY men facing deportation the prospect of returning home can be frightening.

Many have little family there or face a life of hopelessness without resources or a support network and must live with the stigma of being a ‘deportee’.

Two weeks ago, The Voice highlighted the plight of tragic Rilwanu Balogan, 21, who hanged himself at a UK detention centre and died in hospital a week later. He had lived in the British care system since the age of seven and had no recollection of his birthplace, Nigeria.

The Diaspora Support Network is trying to change that hopelessness. It offers men a lifeline through its website and advice service from Carnegie Library, in Herne Hill, south London. As part of its outreach work, it also provides support to detainees predominantly of Jamaican or Nigerian descent in a bid to prevent them turning to a life of crime.

“There are more men than women in this situation,” said founder Neasha Clarke who works in partnership with charities, churches and organisations in Nigeria, Jamaica and the UK.

Many have no family, a drug addiction, HIV, are homeless or diagnosed with mental health problems.

She added: “When we go into prisons, we encourage the men. There is hope. You can do something with your life. We encourage the men to plan going home. Don’t just turn up. Plan what you are going to do.”

She added “We can say this is another road you can go down. We are giving opportunities to get help to look for work, get free education, start a business, find somewhere to live or contribute money towards housing. We are giving people another way out.”

STATISTICS

Statistics published in March reveal there are 2,276 African men and 1,069 Caribbean men in prisons in England and Wales. Around 645 were Nigerian and 895 were Jamaican.

It is unclear how many are on track for deportation.

The UK Border Agency told The Voice it provides illegal immigrants with tickets and arranges travel to the birth countries.

It also offers assistance to failed asylum seekers who voluntarily decide to leave the UK with housing, training, job placements and even cash.

But Clarke said many would be left without a lifeline without her organisation’s help, unaware of the services they can access.

“In my experience, Nigerians are quicker to accept help. For example, if they are offered money to leave earlier, Nigerians are more likely to take it. Jamaicans will refuse and often end up in prison longer because you get time off if you sign up to certain [Government] schemes. Ultimately, they will get deported with nothing,” she lamented.

“We are getting men rolling up at the Norman Manley International Airport, in Kingston, Jamaica and hanging around outside because they have nowhere to go. A lot more people are being deported who don’t know Jamaica.”

Most of those deported have either overstayed their visas or had their permanent residence revoked because they have been imprisoned for more than 12 months.

The Diaspora Network is in constant need for community help in terms of donations, volunteers and business people who can act as mentors to deportees.

It is hosting a fundraising event called Business Breakout August 13 in Windrush Square, Brixton, south London, with guest speakers such as Tim Campbell and Levi Roots who is sponsoring the event.

Clarke added: “We want to talk more about what we are doing. We are also looking for people who want to perform. If any businesspeople want to rent out a stall to promote their businesses or services for the day, they should get in touch.”

For more information visit hwww.diasporasupportnetwork.com

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