After his father and friend were killed and his life threatened, Pride Mbi Agbor, 35, was forced to leave his native country of Cameroon. He came to Sheffield to seek asylum, where he has been for the past five years.
Agbor was born in Beua in Southern Cameroon, a region which was colonised by the British and the French in 1922. For the past few decades Cameroon has been divided by language, tensions have been high between the English-speaking South and the French-speaking government of Paul Biya. This has led to protesters being attacked, police brutality and the French language being imposed on societies in the regions that oppose the Government, all in order to unify the country under one language.
Just last November teachers and lawyers organised a strike against the French language being used in English speaking schools and courts, only to be arrested by police forces.
Agbor explains: “It’s a very painful thing to see that people are oppressed when they go out to demonstrate.” To stand up against these attacks Agbor joined his father, Teacher Mbi, at the Southern Cameroon National Council (a non-violent organisation fighting for the rights of English-speaking Cameroonians). Both Agbor and his father raised awareness of the group by handing out flyers and demonstrating peacefully.
Tragically, this demonstration resulted in Agbor’s friend Ngu Herbet being shot and killed. “That remained on my conscience for a long time because I had been asking him for ages to join and on his first day he was shot,” Agbor said.
Agbor was repeatedly harassed and threatened as the Government outlawed the Southern Cameroon National Council and sought to arrest every member it could find. He began to fear for his life and fled to England. Just after arriving however, he learned his father had been killed by police in Cameroon; shortly after this he applied for asylum.
“I had been asking him for ages to join and on his first day he was shot.”
Understandably, this was a difficult decision for Agbor, as he explained: “When my dad died it took me a while before I claimed asylum because I really asked myself if I wanted to go through with this – you have to come to terms with yourself.”
Agbor, like many other migrants, entered into an interviewing process with the Home Office, where the Government department begins to review your application. This starts with a one hour screening interview and if successful leads to another. However the second interview is extremely difficult and can take multiple hours to complete as the Home Office decides whether or not the applicant can take refuge in the UK.
This process has been hard for Agbor and he has had multiple applications refused over the past five years, with the most recent rejection coming in February of this year. He now has to reapply or risk being sent back to Cameroon.
The Home Office has advised British citizens against travelling to regions of Cameroon due to protests and presence of the terrorist group Boko Haram.
“I feel at times it is harsh and the judgement that they give is not always fair but I don’t blame them for it, it is their job.”
Life isn’t easy for Agbor and other migrants. They are accommodated for, but given just £36.95 a week to live on and are forbidden to work in the UK. This means that Agbor cannot use his diploma in Computer Engineering which he earned in Cameroon. He believes the Government should make use of the skills migrants bring.
“I’ve met a lot of asylum seekers who were professors and doctors and nurses and to me it’s a waste, especially where there is lack of staff. The Government should try and use them.”
To fill the free time, Agbor volunteers at local charities within Sheffield such as Assist which provides housing to deprived asylum seekers, and The City of Sanctuary which aims to create a safe haven for migrants.
Being so heavily invested in the migrant community, Agbor has developed fears that weren’t helped by President Trump’s travel ban. “My fear is that one day a law will be passed in England that forces all asylum seekers and refugees to go back to their own country.”
However Agbor was happy to see the people of Sheffield protest against the newly elected president’s ban. “It was a relief to see there is people who will stand up, I was happy to see people protesting, it was reassuring.”
When asked how asylum seekers and refugees could feel more welcome and safe in Sheffield, Agbor simply responded: “Smiling or being kind to an asylum seeker means a lot. You will find out that they, too, are lovely people.”