Bootcamp grads join forces to #KeepKenHome

This month Bootcamp grad Ken had his asylum claim rejected. I spoke to Nadia and Michelle, two of three graduates who met Ken at Bootcamp 15, and decided to organise a protest outside the Home Office.

Ken and his legal team are not making any comments on Ken’s case at present, but shared this statement on the situation.

Tell us a bit more about how you came to know Ken, and met each other?

Michelle: We all met in April this year at Bootcamp 15. None of us knew each other before, but at Bootcamp I was paired with Ken in a ‘buddy pair,’ which meant I was checking in with him throughout the week and got to know him quite well.

Nadia: We recognised that Ken needed us at one of the most important times of his life. We felt like we had to act, but we also wanted to. We all love Ken, and we wanted to do whatever we can to help.

Can you tell me a bit more about the letter Ken received, and why his asylum claim was rejected?

Michelle: Ken came to the UK to study around ten years ago. He had a visa for students so was here legally, and then managed to stay on by getting a work visa. He worked for a while, and started to do things like play rugby with a local team. But once his visa ran out, as a gay man he didn’t want to go back to Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal. He applied for asylum, and since then has been awaiting a decision. This meant that he could not apply for a work visa at the same time, and as a consequence he has been unable to take part in paid work since then.

Last November, he was detained for around two weeks. When this happened, his rugby team spoke out for him and made a lot of noise. His story got the attention of national media, so they decided to release him. Nothing was said on what was happening with his asylum claim, so he has just been in limbo since then – until this month.

Nadia: On the first Monday of June, he was sent a letter telling him that his asylum claim had been rejected, and he was told to report to his local police station, three days later. He was really worried that he would be detained.

When they day came, Ken walked into the police station surrounded by friends, supporters, and his rugby team. Some people had even travelled from London to show their support. He was granted a reprieve, which means that he wasn’t detained, but he still doesn’t know what his status is – so the campaign continues.

What did you do after you heard Ken’s asylum claim was being rejected?

Nadia: I was so shocked, at first I wondered if it could be real. Our Bootcamp cohort still keep in touch via a WhatsApp group, so I posted in there and I asked if the reports were true – as no one had heard from Ken directly about it. We were all really worried.

Michelle: After I had a bit more information, I messaged Ken directly. I just asked him what we could do to support him, and he told me a bit more about what was going on. By the time I heard from him, it was the day before he had to report to his local police station. He said he was really scared and worried.

Who’s idea was it to arrange a demonstration outside of the Home Office?

Nadia: Michelle posted in our WhatsApp group chat saying we should do something to show support for Ken outside of the Home Office. I messaged her saying if you’re down to do this, then I’ll help you make this happen.

We then contacted Ken to check he was okay with it. He said he was really happy that we wanted to arrange it, and that we had his full support. I also got in touch with Kate who I know had been involved in arranging protests before with Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants.

Michelle: Together with Kate, we started to arrange things like the date and time. We reached out to the Bootcamp community for help and got a great response. Josh and Rowan, who facilitated at our Bootcamp, put us in touch with speakers and groups of people to reach out to, to help spread the word. Through Rowan and Josh we ended up getting some amazing speakers from a variety of groups who work on migration issues.

Nadia: We told the group chat that it was happening, posted about it in the Bootcamp Community Group. The Community response was amazing, with so many messages of solidarity and people sharing the petition and crowdfund for his legal fees. Samar, who we also met at Bootcamp, wrote an article about Ken’s story in the Bristol Cable newspaper too.

What was the atmosphere like at the protest?

Nadia: The atmosphere was great – everyone was willing to do what they can to help Ken and wanted to hear what our speakers had to say. I read out an article that Ken had written for the Guardian a few days before. Kate did a really good job of hyping up the crowd, getting people chanting and listening. It was all arranged quite last minute, so we were surprised by how many people turned up.

Michelle: Groups like LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants) brought some beautiful banners, and there was just so much support from so many individuals and different types of groups. Speakers included a young campaigner called Lola from the UK Schools Strike, Satbir from the Joint Committee for Welfare of Immigrants, and Hasib from Labour Against Racism and Fascism. Kate, myself and Nadia all spoke too.

After the demonstration, we sent Ken pictures and videos, and he was so grateful for the solidarity shown. He said thank you so much to everyone who got involved, and was happy to see all the support he’d got from friends and strangers too.

What’s next? What can people do to learn more about Ken and the campaign?

Michelle: Like we said earlier, Ken has been granted a reprieve, but his right to remain in the UK is still in question, which means he could be deported back to Kenya, which means that his life is still under threat. He’s got an amazing lawyer so, Inshallah, we’re all hoping things go well.

Nadia: There are four actions people can take to support Ken:

  1. Sign and share the petition on using the hashtag #KeepKenHome
  2. Donate to the crowdfund for his legal fees (remember that Ken is unable to work, so therefore cannot fund them himself),
  3. Use Twitter, email or write to contact Sajid Javid at the Home Office
  4. Email your local MP to ask them to support Ken’s right to live in the UK

Michelle: Another thing I’d recommend is learning more about the asylum system. We believe that the Home Office and asylum process in this country is not fit for purpose, and this is something we also want to talk about whilst spreading awareness of Ken’s story. It’s a systemic issue which affects the lives of so many people.

Four out of five  asylum claims based on sexuality get refused, which means the UK has rejected and deported thousands of gay asylum seekers. This seems like an especially important thing to talk about in Pride month.

If you want to support Ken that’s great, but this is part of a wider story, and we need to stand by the others facing injustice at the hands of the Home Office, whether they’re LGBTQ+ or not.

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