I am Jamima Fagta. I was born in the Philippines and been in England for 15 years. I was recognised as a refugee in 2005. I have not been home eversince. This place has become my solace and my home.
For the first two years in England, I had no choice but to live clandestinely until I was caught and was put into prison for a year for possession of false document. Only then that I came to realise that people like me who were saving their own lives ended up in detention centres or in prisons, and were perceived by policy makers, media and the public as criminals.
When I arrived in the UK, I thought I would be able to easily start a new life but it was the opposite. Instead, I was forced to pay back the people who had arranged for me to come here. They said that I owed them my life and without them, I would’ve been a cold body on a river by now. The repayment was in a form of many errands including sexual errands. If I refused, they will report me to authorities or send me back to Philippines. There were no options I have at that time but to follow their demands.
But in August 2002, these have ended after my perpetrator used me as a bait for their illegal activities in a form of a recruitment agency harbouring migrant Filipinos in the UK. Without my knowledge, they had used me for processing all communications in and out the country which included postal services and administrative purposes for sending and receiving fake passports and documents. The courier alerted the police after finding out that the parcels being sent to and from Philippines were personal documents with different identities. This had roused suspicion that illegal acts were being committed so they called and asked me to report in the courier’s office, then and where I got arrested. During my detention at the police station, I saw a brochure about claiming asylum which I carefully read. I then asked my criminal solicitor to refer me to an immigration solicitor for advise for which he had responded.
I had chosen prison rather than to be in the arms of my trafficker or get deported. I pleaded guilty for the offences which the judge concluded - possession of false passports. For my case, prison became my asylum and sanctuary. I met young women whom I shared similar experiences and we became good friends. Many of us didn’t know that we’re being used by men for their pleasure and gains only after when we’re incarcerated.
Like others, I was educated about about my rights as a woman inside the prison. It was difficult to understand the meaning of rights as these were not available in my past life before. I thought everything that have had happened to me was a normal way of life. In the prison, rights were spoken in each cell. We talk about it everyday even though as detainees, some common rights were restricted as part of our punishment, at least there were rights that we have to exercise. In the Philippines, I’ve heard and read about it but was too young and fragile to understand it.
Like young women in the prison, our rights to live decently as a child wasn’t there. At the age of nine, I was molested and raped by my uncle until I was seventeen. Many books defined it as incest. Until now I am struggling to accept the definition, what would we call this sort of what happened to me other than violence and crime?
At first, I had a bad legal representation for my asylum application whilst in prison but with the help and support of volunteers and workers visiting and working with young women in prison, this was rectified. While I was serving my sentence, I busied myself in assisting other inmates who couldn’t speak English. I speak good Mandarin so helped others from Fujian province to process their asylum applications through translating their statements. I felt my value during these times. All of the girls I met in the prison have their story which I find similar to mine. All of them were victimised, abused and exploited by men - either strangers, friends, brothers, fathers and partners.
Upon my release, I started to work as a volunteer with churches in London - the St Mary Roman Catholic Church in Clapham common and Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Kentish Town that had groups helping the homeless and destituted refugees and migrants.
I became involved with Kanlungan (the only national Filipino charity campaigning for the empowerment of migrant workers) in setting up projects that were predominantly conducted in migrant communities of London. These projects had recruited leaders from the Filipino community to become active in social actions and lead campaigns that addressed their issues. After few more years, I was given a refugee status and a residency. I needed to get more integrated in the society so I took a degree in Intl Politics and Sociology, luckily, I graduated with honours which I think was a very important achievement for people like me who belongs from the diaspora and had been a victim of crime such as trafficking and rape.
There are over 300, 000 Filipino diaspora in the UK, mostly workers in health and social care, hospitality, and other service sectors. We’ve always been affected by constant changes to immigration rules. Many had fallen into irregular/illegal status and became victims of slavery by employers and corrupt lawyers & agencies are cunning to make money out from our miseries. Apart from being criminalised, prolonged separation from families, parents who are away and couldn’t go home have children who are growing up uncertain of their future, as they grow up without their parents care. They end up with drugs alcoholism and with no future.
With this viscious cycle happening with migrants, we had to work alongside migrant and refugee organisations, with the churchworkers, the trade unions, and the local people, whom we’ve manage to find common issues with despite our apparent differences. We recognise that the struggles of british people is also our struggle. We’ve joined and supported each others campaigns and organised protests and joined mobilisations to show cohesion of migrant and british workers. We’ve kept on creating platforms where we could sustain solidarity work amongst them.
For the past 4 decades, the Filipino diaspora had instaled Filipino chaplaincies in catholic and anglican churches. There are over a hundred religious groups across the country.
The church is normally our starting point in setting up community groups because the church is not only a place for us to worship, it is our sanctuary, our second home, our solace. It is where we build awareness about our rights and discuss collective actions to address our issues. It is where we buildnetwork of support and organise events that meet other needs such as health, social and cultural. The church has been a space for training that develop our skills, confidence, and portray our stories through arts. Its actually a space where we build empowerment.
But of course, this empowerment was turned into actions - we’ve campaigned against policies that’s making our lives in peril.