An immigration caseworker has drawn on her experience of working with refugees and asylum seekers to pen their often “heart-breaking” and “spirit-sapping” tales in a new poetry collection.
Caroline Smith, who has carried out the role in Wembley for 15 years in her MP-husband Barry Gardiner’s constituency office, reveals the struggles of those seeking asylum in the UK in The
Her poems feature stories from families fleeing persecution, including a Sri Lankan man whose wife and child tragically died in a shipping container, and a carpet seller from Kampala oppressed
by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda.
Smith, who has had her work set to music and broadcast on the BBC, told Eastern Eye: “Often the starting point is the fragment of a story which is woven into poetry in different forms.
“It’s called The Immigration Handbook because it comes at the issue of immigration from different people’s perspectives, whether it’s the immigration judge, the asylum seeker or a lawyer.
“I hear so many different stories and meet so many different characters, and these people have made their way into my poems. It’s also their struggle to navigate the bureaucracy of the Home Office, where people languish for years and years waiting for decisions.”
Smith has been recognised at the Troubadour Poetry competition twice and is the author of a musical play The Bedseller’s Tale, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The artist, who originally trained as a sculptor at Goldsmith’s College, explained she had assisted people who
had “been in limbo” for up to 17 years, waiting for a decision on whether they could remain in the country.
“It’s heart-breaking and spirit-sapping. The theme which comes through many of my poems is delay– waiting to get started.
There are young people who are bright and keen to get started with their lives and they can’t begin,” Smith said.
She documents the stories of violence, detention raids, tragedy and resilience of those living in the shadows of society who have a much “heavier burden than most of us have to bear.”
Smith believes the government is creating a hostile environment for people without documents even if they have been left waiting because the Home Office has lost their file, and was
worried about the hostility which was being whipped up post-Brexit.
During her time as a case worker, she has seen some of the citizens she has tried to help being deported back to the country they arrived from.
“Some are deported and that is both heart-wrenching but understandable – it’s what happens under the immigration system. That’s something you come to terms with in the job.”
What is needed is long-term help for refugees according to Smith, “they need people to find pathways through law.”
The Immigration Handbook published by Seren is out now.