On Monday 7th March at 3pm a pregnant woman called Tracy Koh led a delegation of 70 British Overseas Citizens (BOCs) working with CITIZENS UK to deliver a letter to Nick Clegg at the Cabinet Office, asking him to rescue them from their stateless legal limbo.
Tracy Koh met the now Deputy Prime Minister (picture above) at the CITIZENS UK General Election Assembly (dubbed ‘the fourth debate’) on May 3rd 2010, when she explained to 2,500 people in Methodist Central Hall that she was caught in legal limbo – unable to return to Malaysia (where she grew up) but prevented from settling in the UK, despite having a British Overseas Citizen passport. Mr Clegg was visibly touched and commented, “Everyone here would agree that what Tracy has told us is simply unfair.”
Citizens UK is the national home of Community Organising. Our goal is to build the power of communities who work together for the common good. While our campaigns have won victories such as a living wage for thousands of families, and ending the detention of children for immigration purposes, it is the leaders we develop and the relationships they build that are the real measure of our success.
For a number of years the Strangers Into Citizens campaign has called for a pathway to citizenship for long-term irregular migrants. In this time hundreds of leaders have increased their capacity to act together on the values they share. Many migrant leaders from the institutions who make up our membership came to the UK to seek sanctuary. Having been in a limbo themselves many have now been regularized, but the BOCs remain in limbo and have called on Strangers Into Citizens to help them build the power they need to call for their status to be regularized.
Only 5 weeks ago the leaders of the BOC campaign came together to plan how they could forge a public relationship with someone who had the power to make the changes they needed. Tracy had a public relationship with the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, but was it strong enough to ask him to arrange a meeting with the immigration minister or his officials? The leaders recognised that they needed more power if they were to meet and negotiate with the government; they chose to build their power by acting together publicly and with one voice, a voice that was amplified by the media when journalists from the Independent and The Wall Street Journal called Mr Clegg’s press office to ask for a statement.
After the election Mr Clegg promised to help resolve the issue for Tracy and BOCs, but despite his support the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has refused to take action. Now five months pregnant, and legally unable to return to Malaysia, Tracy and the other BOCs are desperate. On Monday they channeled their desperation into the constructive anger of public action. When sharing their feelings after marching to The Cabinet Office together, Subraj, a BOC leader told the group:
“Now I feel hope. I’m not alone in this. I think together we have the power we need change our situation”.
Having put down roots in communities across the UK most BOCs have renounced their Malaysian citizenship and sought to stay and contribute to society here. They have felt desperate and hopeless as isolated victims of a bureaucratic system, but with support and training from Citizens UK, under the banner of the Strangers Into Citizens campaign, they have come together to act and their power has grown because of it.
The call for regularisation comes in advance of a forthcoming report from the Institute for Public Policy Research which will recommend that the government grants leave to remain for groups like the British Overseas Citizens who have put down roots in the UK and are caught in limbo. Tracy Koh said:
“I have lived in the UK for eight years and have put down roots here. I have never sought benefits from the government; I want only to work legally, and to contribute to British society, to the country that I love. All I have ever dreamed of is to be part of a community, to hold my head up high, and live a normal life. Now I am married and pregnant, and like any expectant mother I want the security of knowing that I can settle in the UK. I know Mr Clegg is a decent man – and I hope that he will help me and my fellow BOCs.”
Neil Jameson, Executive Director of CITIZENS UK, said:
“Tracy’s situation demonstrates how important it is that the government acts to regularise the status of people like Tracy and the British Overseas Citizens. The Deputy Prime Minister has worked with us to fulfil his pledge to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. We hope that he will act to honour his promise to Tracy and sort out the bureaucratic blockage at the UKBA which is causing such misery, and turn Strangers into Citizens.”