That’s an easy one – the young woman I first met 6 months ago. We’ll call her M. As it happens, I’m due to meet her very soon just so she can tell me her life story.
I already know a few important details but there is so much I don’t know – and so much I know I’m almost afraid to know. She’s not long been an adult, yet has already seen more of the ugly side of humanity than someone in my comfortable, privileged shoes is likely to see in a whole lifetime. I know she comes from a country somewhere between Greece and China. And she left that country because, having become a Christian, she faced the real possibility of severe punishment, or even death.
She escaped – I don’t yet know how, but I know it will have been a difficult journey. And at the end of it, she found herself here in the UK, claiming asylum, longing for safety and a life free of fear. But, for now, she sits in limbo, stateless, a young woman frighteningly far from home, often feeling very alone, and she waits. She waits as patiently as she is able while the asylum process grinds excruciatingly slowly through its gears. At time it seems inhuman – whisking her away to a grim hostel in a city too far away for her to afford to travel back to this place she had begin to call her new home – a place with friends and activity, familiar places and a church family.
Since the move, I sense she is so much more afraid and so much more alone. And now the legal process is clunking into first gear and we will appear in court together soon. She’s dreading it. I hardly dare admit I feel the same. You see, I’ve walked this way before with someone else and, on that journey, I learned there are parts of our legal system that seem not to operate under those sacrosanct words I have always taken for granted: ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
Instead, the reality seems to be more ‘you are a liar, so I cannot believe your story. And your vicar here, who claims you are a genuine Christian, is naive and so you’ve been able to pull the wool over her eyes.’
M shows such courage in the face of her fears. She can be quite animated and enthusiastic in conversation. But now and again the facade cracks open and a chink of what’s really going on inside spills out.
As her command of English improves each day (while I have still only just cracked half the alphabet her language uses), she is able to share so much more. It will be a privilege to have that fireside chat.