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City vigil for couple in deportation fight

11:40am Thursday 20th January 2011

SUPPORTERS of a couple fighting for the right to stay in the country held a vigil outside a hearing to decide their future.

More than 25 people gathered outside the asylum and immigration tribunal offices in Manchester last Thursday to back Lydia Besong and Bernard Batey.

The couple, of Kestrel Drive, Bury, fled Cameroon in 2006 and are appealing a decision to send them back to the African country.

They allege they were persecuted for their involvement with political pressure group Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) which campaigns for the rights of the country’s English-speaking minority.

Among their supporters are members of community groups and organisations, including Women Asylum Seekers Together, Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research and St Ann’s Church in Rochdale, which they attended while living in the town.

Outside the hearing, messages of support were read from actress Juliet Stevenson, Guardian journalist Natasha Walter, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, and members of International PEN and English PEN, which support persecuted writers.

Mrs Besong, aged 39, said: “It was really nice to have everyone outside the building holding a vigil during the hearing.

“It was good to have their support.”

The couple are fighting to stay in the UK because they fear for their safety if they are deported to Cameroon.

They say they were beaten, tortured and imprisoned due to their involvement with the SCNC, and that Mrs Besong was raped by a uniformed prison guard.

The couple’s original claim for asylum was turned down by the UK Border Agency in 2009 and Mrs Besong was sent to a detention centre.

She was just 72 hours away from deportation when a High Court judge granted an injunction to stop it until new evidence had been considered.

Her experiences inspired Mrs Besong to write a play, called How I Became An Asylum Seeker, which has been performed in London during the appeal process.

The couple expect a result from the immigration appeal hearing within the next two weeks.


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