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  • Dickson V. Tarnongo

The Quest For Survival : Chapter 2 - Lessons From Covid 19 & Black Lives Matter

There is nothing more dehumanising and ridiculous than a person reduced to being fed by others who determine the type of food to eat, where to go and where to live. The same can be said for a person who is limited from making life choices, banned from working within the capacity of his/her abilities or restricted from earning the lifestyle they want to live. It is depressing and becomes slavery for someone to lose freedom of choice. During the time of slavery, slave masters determined both the private and public lives of their victims. It was a dark era for slaves whose life and death was determined at the whims and caprices of their captors. History reminds us that the British government was famed for the exported slave enterprise that reign supreme during the pre-colonial era in what was called a triangular trade system. This slave trading system involved the capture of Africans. They were exchanged for manufactured products and used for labour in America to produce goods exported back to Europe. Slavery was, unfortunately, a profitable venture to the British entrepreneurs who traded in human adversities and hopelessness.

The dictum of Lord Mansfield in Summerset v. Stewart (1772)98 ER 499 is very apt in the context of this article today where he stated that: ‘’The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law’’. In other words, men/women must not be arbitrarily held in slavery or treated as objects of charity, except where the law expressly provides. Lord Mansfield dictum re-emerged under Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. The article provides; ‘’All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’’.

Thus, the plights of those who are seeking asylum in the United Kingdom is an issue that raises more questions of political permutations, racism, morality and human rights violations. The answers call for deep reflection among those who make policies and those who implement policies of the government. Asylum seekers in the UK are banned from working until their asylum cases are decided. However, there is no time limit for when the decisions are made. In other words, The time frame to decide the fate of an asylum seeker in the UK is indefinite, which is at the discretion of the Home Office. They are not entitled to the mainstream public benefits and are subjected to survive on £5.59 a day. Yet, they have no rights even to choose where they may want to live and aspire like any other person.

An asylum seeker’s life is grossly limited unnecessarily with a bleak future that is unpredictable. Ban a man from working to earn a living, and I will show you a man who is worse than a slave. Restrict a man from making choices over his life's affairs, and I will show you a man whose life has come to a standstill.

It is no wonder Article 23 (1) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights provides: ‘’Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.’’ Asylum seekers are denied these rights in the UK, but more disturbing is that they are permitted to do voluntary work without pay. The question I want to leave to my audience is: Why should I have the rights to work voluntarily without pay but, have no rights to earn? Meanwhile, Article 23 (3) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights provides; ‘’ Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection’’.

The world is watching, and any attempt to rejuvenate and modernised slavery in any facade will spell doom for humanity. The Rights to work and earn decently is a human right!


By Dickson V. Tarnongo

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