'He told me to sign a piece of paper. I never saw him again'

TRUST CAN be a wounding weakness, Bikim Gashi has learned. "They asked me to sign the document," he said. "They said it would help me with my claim. That was 18 months ago and I haven't seen them since."

Bikim Gashi is a Kosovan asylum-seeker, living with 4,000 other refugees in the Dover and Folkestone areas of Kent.

And they have many tales to tell about solicitors and their helpers who offer their services then vanish, or even force them to sign fictitious statements which hinder rather than assist their claims for asylum.

Many of those who come from Kosovo or Slovakia arrive in the backs of lorries after arduous journeys lasting up to 20 days. They land at Dover, tired, bewildered and hungry, to be greeted by "interpreters" who speak their language and offer to help them gain asylum. In such vulnerable circumstances, who would not place their trust in such welcoming figures?

Bikim did trust. "The man came to my hotel," he said. "He told me to sign a piece of paper. I never saw him again and I have no idea what the document said because it was in English. He said it would help me to make a good application to stay here and so of course I was happy to sign it.

"I was pleased because I thought that my claim was now being processed. I can truly say I have absolutely no idea who my solicitor is. I also don't know what is happening with my application and I have never received a single letter from them."

Bikim's bedsit is clean but spartan, and the main wall, covered with a red Kosovan national flag, pays homage to the Kosovo Liberation Army. He also has a small portrait of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. It is a long way from the small town north of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, where Bikim worked in his family's shop. "It was very hard to leave, I have brothers and sisters there but there was really no choice."

Bikim paid pounds 1,800 to a middle-man in Pristina who arranged for him to travel to Britain by lorry. "It was really horrible," he said. "We had little food and it took five days and I never saw daylight. I know we went through Macedonia but after that I don't know where we went."

The groups who organise the lorries to take this human cargo across Europe are almost certainly implicated in the legal aid scam, for the lorries are unerringly met en route by fixers, who contact interpreters to warn them of arrival times.

When refugees are being smuggled into Dover, there is a flurry of activity as the interpreters begin to gather at the arrivals hall, or at the police station where those who are caught are taken.

There, the refugees are delighted to meet what they are assume are friendly faces. A stack of solicitors' business cards is left handily at the immigration office reception desk.

One Kosovan who slipped through this net is Agron Arifi, a waiter from Pristina, who arrived in the United Kingdom last Thursday after a tortuous 20-day journey overland during the coldest weather of the year.

"I hated leaving. I have a brother and a sister there but it's civil war," he said in his ramshackle guesthouse across the road from the port.

"In the first lorry there were 30 of us, but we were later split up to go to different places. There were agents moving us from lorry to lorry.

"I don't know how we came to Britain. I never even knew when we passed borders. For most of the time we didn't have anything to eat or drink. We could only get out at night if the lorry stopped. It was really, really cold and claustrophobic.

"At the end I was in a lorry by myself. When we entered England I banged on the side of the lorry to make it stop. The immigration people gave me some food and fetched a doctor because I had been sick." Agron, 21, declared that he wanted to seek asylum after he entered the country, so he is in urgent need of a reliable solicitor.

"I know I have to get a solicitor," he said. "I don't how the system works and I need help to claim asylum."

Others have been hindered rather than helped by their lawyers. A Kosovan woman, Samije Berisha, signed a statement provided to her by a solicitor the day after she arrived in Britain.

Six months later, when she had picked up a little English, she discovered she had come to Britain ostensibly because her husband had been killed in Kosovo.

"My husband was actually with me in England," said Samije. "I realised the statement was insufficient to put my case across properly. It was just one sheet of paper. I withdrew it and put in a serious statement."

The victims of the legal predators are not confined to Kosovan refugees.

Katerina Valickova, a Romany woman from Slovakia who has claimed asylum, gave birth to a daughter three weeks ago. Last week, news arrived at her bedsit in Folkestone that her mother and brother had been sent back to Slovakia.

When she contacted her solicitors they said there was nothing they could do.

Gordon White, a local pastor who works closely with Slovakian Romanies, was sympathetic. "I don't know the exact circumstances of the case, but you do wonder whether the solicitors could have put up more of a fight," he said.

The Kent Refugee League, a network of volunteers who help refugees with casework and appeals, is also unhappy.

A spokesman said: "I hear about this sort of thing all the time.

"A lot of solicitors do a good job but some give the person something to sign and they never hear from them again.

"All these people want is some reassurance and to know things are okay."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own