L E A V E TO R E M A I N
Leave to Remain is the legal term which grants foreign born
nationals the right to permanently reside in the United Kingdom.
Commissioned by BCA Gallery and Comic Relief I photographed
and interviewed 60 people over a period of several years
who had left their homeland and entered into the United Kingdom
Intrinsic in the phrase Leave to Remain is the notion of loss. One must leave somewhere, and more often than not, someone,
in order to remain. I chose this name for the exhibition tour
to convey not only what those seeking asylum gain by coming to the UK, but also, what they have left behind.
Migration and assimilation have been constant themes in
the press and electoral campaigns, however, rarely are the
individual histories, thoughts, and dreams of migrants made known
to the general public. For this national touring exhibition it was important to me that each individual had a voice, particularly in the wake of negative rhetoric surrounding the issue of immigration.
Each of the participants chose where they would be photographed. I always interviewed them first and we often sat for hours coming up with an edited version of their testimony that they felt comfortable with. I was surprised to find how often the phrase "please tell them this," came up in our conversations. By the end of the project 40 people chose to continue and be part of the exhibition.
“They used a whip made out of plastic tubing, the kind
that is used to connect gas to a cooker. There were
different widths of piping and each width hurt differently.
Finally they let me go and a woman carried me to a place
where I slept. I was very happy because they didn’t get
anything out of me. It was the most important moment of
my life. They were powerful but not powerful enough. They
couldn’t get what they wanted. This is a feeling people cannot
understand and I hope they never have to. I hope no one ever
“After one week in the camps your mind has changed.
All day and all night they give speeches about what America
is doing and what the West is doing. They bring evidence
and they are very articulate. Twenty four hours a day they
give these speeches, so after a few days you are not
thinking about your family or your home or your country.
You are only thinking, this is right, and I am wrong, and
every thing my family says is wrong. They say, ‘this is your
religion and you must fight for your religion.’
But what they told us is not Islam. Islam does not say to
fight against the human being, or to kill the girl, or to kill
innocent people. They come to our country because they
do not need to train us. They only need to brainwash us.
Kalashnikov. Rocket launcher. Every boy since he is five knows
these things and they are in every home. But it is our people
who are dying, Afghani peoplewho are dying,
not the foreign leaders who call for Jihad.”
"I fell in love with a girl. Her father saw
us together in the market holding hands.
He assumed we had made love so he
took her to the doctor. When the doctor
told him that his daughter was not a
virgin, he came to our house and
told my father 'Either this boy leaves
the country or I am going to kill him.'
He was a high-ranking member of
the PKK and my father believed he
would have me killed. The girl loved
me and I loved her, but I regret
loving her. Because of that love
I had to leave my family and my country."
"I think for the English it is very difficult. Maybe in
ten years, or just a couple of years, so many
other people will be here that the English will find
it difficult to find there own culture. I think this
is why they are so shy and removed. They
need to create a distance from us to keep what
is their own. They ask 'Why have you come here" I
don't think they do not want to understand. I
think they can't understand. This is a peaceful
country. There is no war here.
There are countries where people must leave. It is
difficult to leave your own country, but some -
times you need to live in another country because you
are not safe and you must forget what happened before.
In Croatia I heard from friends that England is the best
country for asylum seekers, that you could get a house
and benefits and then a job. I had benefits for almost
a year. I studied English and the government gave me
a house. Then I got my work permit. Now I work six days
a week. I pay for my own house, my bills, my taxes,
everything, just like you."
“My dream is to become a policeman. I have had a dream
for a long time to be a policeman, but I cancelled that dream,
because in my country policemen are not nice to people.They
beat people and they hurt people. But here a policeman is
nice and you can ask him any question and he answers
you with respect. This is my dream, to become a policeman
like that, here in this country, and to treat people with respect.”
Vincent de Paul
“I feel ashamed of what my country is and I feel ashamed
because I no longer have my mother. I pray to my God
that someday my country will be like England but I
have no hope. They killed my mum, and I saw them in
front of my eyes kill her. The soldiers came to my
village and my mum she tried to hide me. We went into a
small room and they knocked on the front door and
when we didn’t go to open the door they broke it.
They came yelling for us to come out. So my mum
she said to me, ‘let me go out, and I will come back.
But you don’t come out. No matter what you don’t
come out and you stay here.’ And then my mum,
she just went out, and then I hear the sound of the gun.
They shoot my mum. I want to go out, but my
mum, because she told me don’t go out, I don’t go.
A long time I stay there, and when I go out I find my mum.
I can’t understand the words she is saying
and there she dies.”
"I worked as a journalist. Seventeen times I had a gun to my
head in Somalia. Seventeen times someone said to me 'run, run,'
and I lived. I feel for people everywhere who live in fear, who
are intimidated, even the young children who are bullied in school.
"After what I have seen and what I have lived through, when
I am alone and all by myself, I still wonder, why don't we
understand each other."
"I have a degree in Philosophy. My education gave me the
tools to become critical of what was happening in my country
and because of my education I began questioning the policies
of the Colombian government. I was in a trade union made up of
very well educated people. Every time we made accusations
against the government we had legal proof, which made us
very dangerous to them. As a consequence each time we made an
accusation our homes were searched and the government
imprisoned us. I was in and out of prison ten times. When I started
speaking out about the assassinations and disappearances of people
by groups financed and organised by the government, I was placed on
a government list of people who must be 'disappeared.' Everyone
knows about this list. It is official. It is the government's way of
telling people 'you are going to be next.'
Colombians come here broken. We have difficulties trying to learn
a new language, a new culture, get used to the food, the people
even the weather. And because of what we have experienced
back home most of us are emotionally defeated before we even arrive.
We come here with degrees and experience and end up cleaning toilets.
But when you come from somewhere like Columbia just being
alive is an act of resistance."
“I was forced to leave my home quickly. No one explained
where I was going or what would happen to me. They only
said, ‘you are in danger. Your father has made problems with
the government.’ When I got to England I was taken to
a family I didn’t know. A week later the police arrested
them and took me. They put me jail for three days, and
then took me to a detention centre. They asked me,
‘how old are you?’ I told them, ‘I am sixteen,’ and they said,
‘you cannot be here you are too young.’
“Two men picked me up in the middle of the night. They
took me in a van to the airport. They tried to put me on the
plane but I refused to go. I told them ‘I cannot go back.’ They
were angry that they had to take me back. They hand cuffed
me and took me to a closed corridor and beat me. They put me
in a small prison inside the airport and they kept me there
late in the night. Then they took me back to the detention centre.”
“My uncle Azm Ghalita was a Kosovan freedom fighter
in the 1920’s. He fought against the Austrians, Hungarians
and Serbs. He is famous in our country and he was so
loved by his troops that when he was killed they each took
his last name to honor him in death. Now there are Kosovan’s
with his name all over the world.
The entire identity of my family has been the Kosovan
resistance. When we were children it was fed to us like our milk,
so you can imagine how hard it was for me to leave my country.
Now I want nothing to do with that country. I lost two sons for Kosovo.
I will never go back. We are Muslim, but the foreign Muslims
will not let us live there because our daughter is married to a Catholic.
They will not let us live there, and even if we go back dead,
they will not let us be buried on our own land. “
“The home office accepted my claim. They agreed that
I had been imprisoned and tortured by the Indian
Police, and that I had been placed on a government
list of political dissidents. I have taken no benefits
since I arrived to this country. I pay my taxes, I
have a house and a business and I have done
nothing wrong here. But still I am not free. Every
week for ten years I have been required to go to my
local police station. I must sign my name and let
them know where I am just like a common criminal.”
"It is common for us girls from Somalia. We work in Kuwait
and the Emirates and we are safe from the war and militias.
But often the families we work for threaten us. They ask us
to do things that are not nice, and then they threaten to
send us back. So we try to get to a safe country where there
is no war and where no one will threaten us or ask us to do bad things."
One night my father and I came home. Our house was torn up,
there was blood on the floor and they had taken my parent’s
friends away. My father’s name was put on a list of those who
practice Fulan Gong, (an outlawed martial art) and he lost
his job. He is a physicist so he went south where no one would
know him and easily got another job. But soon they found he
was on the list and he lost that job too. One day he came to
me and said, ‘We are going to visit your mother,’ who was here
doing a master’s degree. When we left China I thought we would
be going back. I didn’t know we could never go back again.
"The British government is treating black and white Zimbabweans
differently. They are only detaining and deporting those who are
black. They recognize that there is a problem in Zimbabwe,
but the problem is for all of us. Not just the whites. The
ruling party in Zimbabwe is against, violently against, all
opposition, regardless of colour. White or Black, Mugabe will
threaten you, and he can do anything to you. There is a
problem in Zimbabwe, but it is a short-term problem. We
are saying to the British government please help us until that time."
"One day my son came home and asked me if he could change
the colour of his hair. ‘Of course not,’ I told him, ‘You are a boy.’
But he was scared and didn’t want to go to school.
A week later his teacher came and told me he had been raped
by a group of teenagers and was still being threatened.
I told my husband, ‘We are going to loose our son if we stay here.’
"In 1999 the Russian army invaded Azerbaijan to aid the Armenians.
They killed many civilians. Russian families who were still living
in Azerbaijan were warned to leave, but no one warned the Azerbaijani
people. Afterwards there were many retaliations against Russians.
Although I am Russian I am dark, and my husband and daughter look very
Azerbaijani, but my son has blue eyes and blond hair. He was the
only one in his class, and the other children wanted him to
pay for they had lost during the invasion."
"Most of the asylum seekers where I live are either Kurdish or from
Afghanistan, they blend in ok with the white people. But a guy like
me, a big black guy, I stick out and they can see me from a
long way off. One time, some kids smashed my windows. The police
came and were really nice to me. They fixed the windows and the
doors. They changed the locks and everything. They told me,
anytime I have a problem to call them. I felt safe, under protection.
"We are running away from our country, doctors, engineers, educated
people. We shouldn't be sitting here, running, we should be working
for the future of our country. But now it is impossible for us.
I want to thank the British government for housing us and giving
us protection. But I believe they can do more. It would be
better to force out Mugabe's government, who is oppressing us.
Then, the British government wouldn't have to support us here in England."
"In every country there is a god. And this god,
who is called this name or that name, always
says man must be tolerant, and if man is not
tolerant then he does not have god. I did not
want to leave my country but this is a good country
and the English people are tolerant. Maybe some
people think differently but I think god must
"The people of this country have been so good to us
and I have many friends here now. My children are in school
and we don’t talk about going back ever. We talk about
their grandfather, their cousins, and memories of the animals
and the land, but wenever ever talk about going back.
They are afraid, and my husband and I are afraid, and I
do not know what we will do if we are sent back. Our claim
has been denied and we are all afraid.
But we never speak of going back."
"My body is not strong. When I was young I was in prison for six months
for demonstrating against the government. When they took me this
time I couldn’t keep it up. I knew how long the torture could go on.
It didn’t take them long. They beat me, and beat me again, and finally
I just said, ‘yes whatever you say I did it, this is too much for me to take.’
"At my home office hearing the immigration officer told me I
was lying. ‘Why would you confess if you knew you would be stoned,
that is the law in your country. Why did you disobey the law if
you knew the consequences. ’I couldn’t explain my situation to him.
I tried to but I don’t think he could understand. He is a man in a safe
country. He is relaxed. He has laws in writing that are on his side.
I am a woman, an Iranian woman. There are no such laws for me.
He cannot understand how, if many years ago you are tortured,
you cannot bear it again."
“When I was a little child, seven years old, my father
killed a man from another tribe. That tribe didn't know
about me because I was staying at my uncle's home in
another village. But when I grew older they found out about
me and started to look for me so they could kill me. I am
my father's only son. I am the one who has to be killed. When
they came to our house to kill me I was again at my uncle's house;
the same uncle I had been staying with when I was seven
years old.My family sent someone to warn him that they were
looking for me. The same day he paid someone to take me away
to a safe country. Two times this uncle saved my life.”
"In Iran, every school has people who work for the government
for no pay. They are like spies and can do anything they
want in the name of religion. But Islam never says you can
enter another person’s house without their permission.
Privacy is very sacred in Islam. A person can do and think
what he wants in his own home. When I was in high school
one of these spies searched my books. He found papers that
a girl I liked had given me. He took me to the secret police.
They knew I wasn’t part of this group but they wanted to
make an example of me. I spent two years in prison. They
broke my ribs and beat my head. You can see the marks
where my hair does not grow. They did these things because
they could. I kept thinking what has happened to these people.
They want power, not justice. I wish my English was better.
I could tell you everything because here it is free to speak but
I don’t even have the words to do so.”
I used to come to this country as a tourist and I loved it.
I never knew I would end up settling here, that I would have
to leave my country. We left Iraq because my husband was
working for a foreign oil company and Saddam wanted
everyone beside him. My husband refused to tell Saddam what
he knew and so it became too dangerous for us to stay there.
When we first arrived to England we had been through very
bad things. I don't like to remember them now. But the
English people were kind and helped us with everything.
"I have become used to the way English people do things,
their culture, their politics and religion. I watch the news, I read
the paper every day and I work with English people. But
when I came here I was not a girl I was a grown woman so
I brought my values with me. I have become used to their
culture but I still keep my values. I respect their values and
I think they also respect mine."
BCA Gallery, Bedford, UK.
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, UK.
Lincoln Museum, Usher Gallery, UK.
Space Four, Peterborough Museum, UK.
Lighthouse Gallery, Wolverhampton, UK.
Ghandi Museum, London, UK.
Upper Waiting Hall, Houses of Parliament, London UK.
Source, Irish Journal of Photography.
Leave To Remain exists as an exhibition of 40 black and white, and colour, prints with accompanying testimonies. The exhibition may be shown in its' entirety, or as a selection to fit large or small venues.
Fifteen 40" x 40" prints
Twentyfive 20" x 20" prints.
Testimonies mounted on board
For educational and non profit institutitions the project may also be shown as a slide show with an accompanying lecture by the artist.
For more information please contact the artist: