Kelechi Chioba: fighting the hostile environment with activism

Look into my eyes.

And look beyond me as a woman of colour, my race, my disability, my sexuality.

And see my struggles. Call me an 'ANGRY BLACK WOMAN'; no problem, as long as my voice is heard in combating state violence.

You will not understand the concept of freedom ‘till you taste bondage.

My journey as an activist

When I was in Nigeria, I was abused and I saw people like me going through the same thing. The government couldn’t have cared less; I didn't have a voice, we didn't have a voice.

When I came to the UK, I saw black international disabled students like me. Coming to a new country with a different culture, we needed help to adjust but we were limited because of the word 'international'. Our voice was silenced.

I spoke with the president of my student union then; who encouraged me to enter activism, which led me to become the disabled representative in my university and a member of the equality and diversity committee. I found my voice in the National Union of Students (UK), who guided me through my activism.

They are my family because I found friends who have been standing by me all through my journey.

Sexuality: faith and black bisexuality

According to statistics from a 2017 national survey, “about 25 percent of LBGTQ teens had attempted suicide at least once compared with roughly 6 percent of heterosexual teens”. This pushed me to become an LGBTQ activist.

Born into an African Christian family, I was dedicated to Christianity and my sexuality was defined then as a girl: who was I to challenge my sexuality? Hence my topic. Having a religion is one thing, having a strong belief in the faith is another thing. I am a strong Christian lady from Nigeria who believes in her faith. I'm bisexual. Some people might say it doesn't make sense, how can you believe in God and be queer. My faith always questions my sexuality, making me believe I have a double life.

But I've come to believe that there's a gap between my faith and sexuality, and to bridge this gap I need to love myself for who I am.

The culture, society, tradition, myth, faith as well as behavioural attitudes are leading us in one direction. But, really, these shouldn't be in the way because we are not going to live all our lives being ashamed of who we are (as Ellen DeGeneres said).

My immigration journey

I was an asylum-seeker and now I have been granted protection. First of all I want to say thank you to NUS, Black Student Campaign and everyone that contributed to my victory not forgetting Leah, Justice For Sanaz; most importantly Jamie Bell who fought my case with a passion.

It was a horrible journey because if you're an immigrant you are either a liar, or a terrorist, a thief and so on. Everything is made difficult for you. I can tell you that surviving on asylum-support, on £31 a week, is not easy. I ended up not eating well, which was bad for my bladder and bowel incontinence. Frustratingly, because of my lack of funds, I couldn't afford to buy the frequent wipes and other stuff to keep myself clean. My mental health and my physical health deteriorated significantly.

And I was forced to stop my studies. They asked me to  provide evidence that I am an asylum-seeker, which I did, and they came back and told me there is nothing they can do for me unless I pay the whole fee from start to beginning which I couldn’t do. I felt helpless, being let down by the state and my university.

When the Home Office initially refused my claim I was scared, I was taken as a liar; knowing what I went through in my country impacted dearly on me. My mother always used to tell me that nobody will believe me - do you know, this kept echoing in my head every second.

The stigma on us by the government has led every aspect of the society (the NHS, education, welfare) to be immigration officers.

These were all my experiences which impacted heavily on my mental health and my physical health, which eventually led me to being put in psychiatric hospitals and on antidepressants. I was threatened to be deported, I was threatened to be detained, I'm a full time wheelchair user but the Home Office didn't care, I was frequently reporting at the home office.

Now tell me if it isn't a hostile environment.

We can change the world

If you want to help fight the hostile environment, then my advice to you is keep on fighting, it is not a smooth road, most times you will feel like giving up but don't. Look for organisations to work with, if you need one then get a reliable solicitor that understands your pain and struggle and most of all HAVE FAITH AND BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. 

As Nelson Mandela said “We can change the world and make it a better place”