I left Malawi because of my family. After my husband died my father wanted me to marry my husband’s brother because he was in business with him. At the end of the day it was like inheriting his brother’s possessions and it suited him that my brother-in- law was taking over my dead husband’s company. They were all putting pressure on me, threatening to disown me, threatening violence. I had one daughter of my own and my brother-in-law was married with four children, so I would have been a second wife. My husband had become a Christian when we got married, but he was from a Muslim family. I felt that nobody was listening to me, I was crying but nobody could understand. Being a woman and being a daughter as well, I had no rights of my own. If they had forced me to do what they wanted me to do it would have been rape.
My cousin who was living here said I could come for a visit and take a break from the pressure. I didn’t know anything about asylum, I just thought in terms of coming here for a time. At the airport they did not believe that I had just come for a holiday, and they put me in detention, to be deported. It was another woman in the detention centre who said I should apply for asylum. I was released and I had a lawyer, but after a while I was refused. Then I was moved to Manchester. (They don’t like you to be at one place for long, they don’t want you to make friends). I had to report to the reporting centre in Salford regularly, in case I just disappeared. I had to go to Dallas Court – that lovely place where when it is raining you can stand there just getting soaked before they let you in. Dallas Court has always been like a punishment.
Then I got in touch with GMIAU and my caseworker put in a fresh claim on my behalf. She was very helpful. I remember seeing her sitting in the office after everyone else had gone home. At GMIAU they work from the heart. I had a campaign group supporting me and that also helped. Instead of just sitting at home thinking about all these difficulties I made a family of my own from the campaign people who were working on my behalf. Also while I was an asylum seeker I helped to set up Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST), a self-help group. GMIAU were very helpful to WAST. Our first meetings were held at the GMIAU. I was chairwoman of WAST for over five years. WAST has grown so big now, surviving on a shoestring, but now it has more than a hundred members. It is to become a charity and I am a Trustee. I feel proud that it has done so well.
When I got my papers it was like – freedom at last! When you are an asylum seeker there are so many things you can’t do; you can’t work, you are in limbo. Now I am trying to make a life of my own. I have been volunteering for many organisations, for my CV. I have been looking for work but jobs are a bit difficult now. I am doing a three year course in Business Studies By the time I turn fifty I will be finishing my studies, then I hope to get a good job. I had my own dress making business in Malawi and at the moment I am still doing some dressmaking. So maybe when I finish my studies I will set up my own shop again. Can’t wait for that!
Manchester is like home for me now. I have got so many friends, we go out for a meal, we go out for salsa- I love dancing. Also my daughter got married in Manchester, my grandchildren were both born in Manchester. I applied for British citizenship and when I look at my British passport I almost forget where I have come from. To get where I am now has taken me eight years. Looking back, I feel that I have achieved a lot.
I remember I used to shed tears when telling people about who I am, but not anymore.