Our Sanctuary; This Week the Asylum Row Was Inflamed by the Absurd Accusation of Racism. but the Three Cases Here, out of Thousands, Prove That Britain Does Give a Home to Genuine Refugees

Daily Mail (London), April 13, 2000 | Go to article overview

Our Sanctuary; This Week the Asylum Row Was Inflamed by the Absurd Accusation of Racism. but the Three Cases Here, out of Thousands, Prove That Britain Does Give a Home to Genuine Refugees


Byline: PAUL HARRIS;REBECCA ENGLISH

THERE can be no denying that the issue of bogus asylum seekers is of enormous significance. Faced with an ever growing tide, politicians are, quite rightly, trying to get to grips with the problem.

Yet this week, playing the worst kind of party politics, the Liberal Democrats sought to make a chaotic situation worse by claiming that those trying to get a public discussion of the issues were guilty of racism.

There can be no better repudiation of this absurd charge than those refugees from terror who have already found a new life in Britain over recent years.

This country has a proud reputation of offering sanctuary to those fleeing persecution.

Over the years we have given a home to countless thousands.

They, in turn, have become proud new citizens, contributing vastly to the fabric of our multicultural society. This is an opportunity that those genuine cases now following in their footsteps may be denied as they are lost in a sea of bogus asylum seekers.

Over the past few days the Mail has spoken to dozens of such genuine cases.

Here, we tell just three of their stories. . .

THERE'S an unmistakable pride in Mohamed Koker's voice when he talks about his medical career. How he watched his mother healing children with potions made from leaves in their village in Sierra Leone.

How he became the only nurse from the Class of '83 at Freetown's leading hospital to qualify as a doctor. How he learned to speak Russian so he could attend medical school in the Ukraine.

And how, with luck, he will put that knowledge to use in seeking to prevent some of the world's deadly diseases.

But pride is an emotion that Dr Koker has had to swallow.

He was the only doctor at Queen Mary's Hospital in South-West London, for example, to be mopping floors for [pounds sterling]3.75 an hour; the only auxiliary nurse at another London hospital who believed he might know more about a patient's illness than the junior doctor.

Perhaps he was also one of those asylum-seekers about whom we seldom hear in Britain: someone who has been prepared to work anywhere, doing menial tasks, to finance his ambitions; someone who, ultimately, wants to return to his own country.

Mohamed Koker's story of how he got off the dole queue to train for requalification as a doctor in Britain is one of tenacity and determination.

Dr Koker, 40, was born in Sierra Leone before the wars and coups brought turmoil to that country.

The options available to a farmer's son from a Third World country are few.

But, in 1984, he won a scholarship to a medical institution near Kiev and studied there for seven years.

He had to learn Russian and was awarded a medical diploma similar to that in the UK, recognised by the World Health Organisation and the General Medical Council.

But in 1991 it became too dangerous in Sierra Leone for Mohamed to return.

Doctors and teachers had been rounded up and murdered by rebel forces. He travelled through Poland and Germany en route for the UK, arriving in September 1991. He chose Britain because he spoke English. 'I hoped I'd be sympathetically treated. I didn't intend to stay. I claimed asylum and waited for things to get better back home. But, even now, it is difficult for me to return.' In almost matter-of-fact tones, he says he lost five brothers in Sierra Leone - and that he has not seen or heard of his son, now 18, or any of his family, since the day he left.

Dr Koker was allowed to stay in Britain while his application was processed.

And it is here that one gets a glimpse of the bureaucratic inertia that grips the asylum system.

The Home Office wrote to Dr Koker in April 1992 saying that because he had been here for the statutory period of six months, he was entitled to seek work instead of relying on unemployment and housing benefit. …

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