Blog: Lydia Besong

The writer granted asylum in the UK on the importance of arts to refugees

Hero image

I am a woman, a writer and value my right to freedom of expression, which is why I had to leave my home country a decade ago. My husband and I left Cameroon after suffering at the hands of a government that we felt compelled and entitled to speak out against. There are few things that shake an authoritarian regime more than when artists, writers, musicians and other expressive individuals begin using their creativity to challenge censorship, communicate with others suffering from oppression and attract supporters. My beliefs and abilities led me to prison and, eventually, to flee Cameroon without knowing what lay around the corner.

After arriving in the UK, we found a general acceptance of our right to tell the truth. It was one positive to be taken from six years of uncertainty as an asylum seeker, a time when we were never given assurances for our safety, the looming threat of deportation hanging over us and periods spent imprisoned without knowing why. At times, it felt as if we’d exchanged one oppressive regime for another but in 2012 we were granted asylum and have now settled just outside Manchester. I study, my husband works and my children are happy and secure in their future.

To have considered taking that journey without writing, experiencing the arts and being supported by organisations that have been the platform for my plays to be seen is unthinkable. It was like oxygen to me. A national tour of my play Down With The Dictator coincided with a difficult time in my asylum journey – is it a coincidence that we were granted asylum shortly after? I don’t know, but we know that the arts are a powerful weapon when you are trying to achieve change. This is why I still work with organisations like Women Asylum Seekers Together to help women sing, shout and write about their fears, frustrations and hopes.

“We are strong and capable women and being able to write and perform helps us push through the bureaucracy.”

Writing and performing your life on stage makes it real rather than having someone else telling your story, which is important to us. Asylum seekers are given advice, forms to fill in, deadlines and assessments, all delivered from higher powers, but we are strong and capable women and being able to write and perform helps us push through the bureaucracy and be seen as something other than a problem or a statistic. Writing and performing is a way of speaking out and raising awareness rather than dying in silence, and feels like a safe way of telling the truth, knowing all the time how vulnerable we are in the asylum system.

Giving a pen or a stage to groups all too frequently perceived as having nothing worthwhile to say – refugees, the homeless and the very young or very old – can’t be overlooked as important to the individual and for society. Telling the truth has set me free and I can see the weight on other people’s shoulders get lighter the more they are allowed express themselves. It’s a freedom that everyone in the UK, Europe and around the world should use and defend with all of their hearts.

Lydia Besong is supporting the director, Magdalen Bartlett and Women Asylum Seekers Together in their production of Still We Rise, opening at STUN Studios at Z-arts, Manchester on Wed 13 April and then touring. For further information and tickets, visit

Interact: Responses to Blog: Lydia Besong

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.