I am a refused asylum-seeker. I am 33 years old and originally from Cameroon. I have lived in the UK for the last nine years of my life. I am married with two young children. I met my wife in the UK and my son and daughter were both born here. This country is all they know. It is their home, and where they belong.
As I write I am in the office of the Cameroon Support Network – a group which I set up to provide advice and support to my fellow Cameroonians. All of us were very happy to read in this newspaper yesterday that the four leading mayoral candidates have agreed to back the campaign for an amnesty at the London Citizens' Mayoral Accountability Assembly. I feel a massive sense of relief – at last there is some good news. There is nothing more that I could hope for from the mayoral candidates than for them to help create a pathway to citizenship, so that I and others like me can escape from the limbo and insecurity in which we are currently living.
People sometimes suggest that asylum-seekers are somehow just trying to get something for nothing and deceive taxpayers. That is not the case. I would love to be able to put my skills to good use in the UK, and be officially part of a community I already contribute to.
In Cameroon, I was a member of the Social Democratic Front and active in local politics. We acted to oppose corruption and to bring democracy to our country. The government thought we were their enemies. I was arrested, detained, tortured and shot. The danger eventually became too much and I fled the country. During the nine years I have been living in the UK, I have spoken out against the Cameroonian government. I am known by the embassy and have appeared in the press in Cameroon. If I were to return to Cameroon, my life would be in great danger.
When I put in my asylum claim, my case was weak. I did not understand the law and was not given any proper advice. The Home Office took several years to process my case. During that time, I trained as a nurse. After my case was refused, I worked illegally as an agency nurse. The work was not regular and the pay was bad, but at least I could support my wife and children and make use of my nursing training. I am not working any more. My employer asked for copies of my permission to work in the UK, which I could not provide. My family was evicted from our house, and we are now sleeping in friends' sitting rooms. I feel as if my life is ruined. It is terrifying to be homeless with two children but my family has no rights in this country.
In spite of the difficulties I have had, there have been many good things about the time I have lived in the UK. Training as a nurse allowed me to meet many interesting people and my graduation was a very proud moment for me. It frustrates me that I now cannot work legally as a nurse and contribute to the country that I consider my home.
Although I cannot work, I try to do as much as I can to help my community and the people around me. I set up the Cameroon Support Network so that I and other migrants with many years experience of life in the UK could offer support and advice to people who are newly-arrived from Cameroon. We also visit Cameroonians who are being held in detention centres and campaign for their release.
I have been involved in the Strangers Into Citizens campaign for more than a year. The campaign is calling for a pathway to citizenship for irregular migrants like me who have been in the UK for more than four years, speak good English, and want to work and contribute to society. I was one of the 15,000 people that marched from Westminster Cathedral to Trafalgar Square on 7 May last year. It was wonderful to have the support of so many people – faith leaders, trade union leaders and ordinary Londoners. It is good to feel that there are people who care.
Last night, 2,500 people packed the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster in the largest public event of the mayoral election campaign. They belong to more than 100 London citizens member groups – schools, trade unions, faith and community groups. They chose Strangers Into Citizens as one of the four issues that matter most to them, and asked the four leading mayoral candidates to become a champion for the campaign if they are elected.
I was there with the Cameroon Support Network, listening out for a clear "yes" to this proposal from all the candidates. With the support of the next mayor, I believe we will be able to persuade the Government to adopt the Strangers Into Citizens proposal which will give me the chance to work legally. I hope that the day will come when my family can be part of society, and my life will return to normal.