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 

illegally. 


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.  

 

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“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 

experiences it.”  



Nazrin

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“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.”    


Mazr

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"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."


Tashin


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"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."


Samir

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“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  

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“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.”  


Abu Bakr

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"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."


Anonymous


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"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."


Jorge

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“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.”


Rodrigue


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“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. “  



Fezjize

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“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.”  


Avtar

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"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."


Huwa 


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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.


Ben


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"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."


Dr. Chiereka


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"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." 


Golana


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"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."


Luka


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"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

be here."




Muskat

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"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." 



Dashmira

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"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."


Shiva


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“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.”  



Sarbaz

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"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.”


Anonymous 


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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."


Hotham


Exhibitions

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.


Publications

Source, Irish Journal of Photography.

Guardian Review. 


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. 


Specifications: 

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:


Diana Matar

d.m.matar@gmail.com




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