Barrister says she became legal expert while in Home Office immigration detention
A refugee who has just been called to the bar says she has the Home Office to thank for her career after she became an amateur legal expert while locked up in a detention centre.
Aderonke Apata, 55, from Nigeria, said she was proud to take part in a ceremony last week where she, along with dozens of other newly qualified barristers, were formally called to the bar.
Aderonke was almost forcibly removed from the UK on a Home Office charter flight to Nigeria in January 2013 after her asylum claim, based on the fact that as a lesbian who had been persecuted in Nigeria her life would be in danger if she was returned there, was rejected.
Aderonke had completed a degree in microbiology before fleeing Nigeria and hoped to pursue a career in public health in the UK.
She was detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire, which at the time was used mainly for women, from the end of 2011 until the beginning of 2013, including a week spent in solitary confinement in 2012.
During her time in Yarl’s Wood, more women – who either could not understand English or did not understand what the Home Office had written in refusal letters about their immigration claims – turned to Aderonke for help in explaining what was happening with their legal cases.
“The type of language the Home Office uses is very difficult to understand. But I learned quite a bit about immigration law from reading the other women’s refusal letters during the period of more than a year that I was locked up,” said Aderonke.
She had received poor legal advice about her own case and when she was given removal directions from the Home Office for a flight to Nigeria for 24 January 2013, she decided she had to fight the removal herself.
She downloaded an interim injunction application for the high court and, with time running out, started faxing supporting documents to a member of staff at the charity Medical Justice, which works to support the health of immigration detainees.
The staff member ran to the high court with the documents. But escorts came to take Aderonke to the plane before she had finished faxing documents. She begged other detainees to continue faxing documents for her while she was being taken to the plane.
“An escort told me I would be fine going back to Nigeria but I could not reply. I knew it would not be fine and that returning to Nigeria would mean death for me. Suddenly the escort turned to me and shook my hand. He said: ‘Congratulations, your ticket has been cancelled. You won’t be flying to Nigeria. You must have a very good lawyer.’ I laughed and said that I had lodged the injunction application in the high court myself.”
Aderonke continued to represent herself for part of her case and later was able to secure legal representation, which helped her win her refugee status in 2017.
In 2018, she began her legal training with a law conversion course, before being formally called to the bar on 13 October.
“It didn’t dawn on me until I walked into the hall where the bar ceremony was being held that this was something monumental on my journey. Even if I can just help a few people as a barrister over the next few years I will be satisfied,” she said.
When she won her asylum case in 2017, Aderonke told the Guardian: “I will continue to do my bit in amplifying the voices of people who can only shout so far.”
She is now looking for pupillage and wants to specialise in immigration and human rights work.
“I was always drawn to giving people a helping hand. In Yarl’s Wood we were all in the same boat and we were all drowning. Helping others gave me the energy to carry on myself. When you are faced with a life or death situation that’s where the inner part of yourself comes out,” she said. “I knew I needed to fight because I could not return to Nigeria. If I hadn’t been detained in Yarl’s Wood for so long I probably would have pursued a career in public health. Without what the Home Office did to me I wouldn’t be a barrister today. In a way they trained me.”
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Times Gone By – LGBT History:
Claude Cahun – 25 October 1894 – 8 December 1954
Claude Cahun is mostly known as a surrealist artist, specifically for their photographic work of self-portraits which have been described as presenting a ‘dizzying kaleidoscopic mix of mystery and exuberance’. Cahun is also known for their photo-montages, with whom their / her long-term partner Marcel Moore contributed in the capacity of ‘artist collaborator’. Cahun’s iconic photography has also been described as a ‘dialogue with multiplicity’. In a creative psychological context, it was an ongoing self-exploration of their character / personality through text and imagery. Cahun described it as a ‘hunt’ – presumably for self and identity.
Cahun was also a writer, sculptor, activist, and a propagandist and resistance worker during World War 2. Cahun was gay and if they were alive today may have identified as non-binary or perhaps more specifically genderfluid. Cahun stated: ‘Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me’. In this context Cahun’s photographic self-exploration didn’t just depict a number of theatrical personalities but also explored gender identity and gender expression.
Cahun has been described as having ‘protested gender and sexual norms’ with their name change and as such they have attracted an increasing following amongst feminists and people within the LGBT community, and on an intellectual level the interest of art historians. Cahun in fact, was multi-talented as they were also a poet, critic, translator and essayist. However, it was through fully embracing their gender identity / fluidity that they are considered a groundbreaking artist.
Claude Cahun’s original name was Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob born on 25 October 1894 into an intellectual Jewish family in Nantes. Their great uncle David Leon Cahun had been an orientalist, whilst their uncle Marcel Shwob was an avant-garde writer. Their mother Mary Antoinette Courebaisse was taken into a psychiatric facility because of her mental illness. As a teenager, Cahun also struggled with mental illness, including ‘suicidal thoughts’, bulimia and ‘crippling sadness’.
Cahun’s early education included the Parson’s Mead School in Surrey which was a private school. This was after they had unfortunately experienced anti-semitism at high school in Nantes. Cahun also studied at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. It was at the age of just 18 in 1912 that they made their first initial experimental photographic self-portraits. Their image making expression continued throughout the 1930s.
In about 1915 they had their hair cut very short and continued working on their photographic self- exploration at the same time. These photographs have been described as ‘cross-dressing experiments’ as they could be dressed as a ‘sportsman, sailor or dandy’.
Cahun adopted the pseudonym – Claude Cahun, as this was more gender neutral. They had previously used the names Claude Courlis after Curlew, and Daniel Douglas apparently taking inspiration from Lord Alfred Douglas.
Cahun creatively explored gender identity and the subconscious mind through surrealist photography. Their self-portraits featured outfits that defied conventional identification of feminine or masculine, and today would perhaps be described as gender neutral or fluid. Cahun in reference to their self-exploration famously stated, ‘Under this mask, another mask’ and ‘I will never be finished removing all these faces’. Taking this into consideration, Cahun’s work has generated interest beyond the history of photography, for example and significantly in Gender Studies.
Suzanne Malherbe, who also changed her / their name to Marcel Moore, became Cahun’s lifelong partner after they both settled in Paris in the early 1920s. It was after Cahun had moved to Paris that they became involved with the surrealist Parisian art scene – it was then that Cahun went on to collaborate with the famous Man Ray. Cahun and Moore, as well as being partners also collaborated on many creative projects. These included photomontages, sculptures and written works. Surprisingly, Cahun and their partner also became ‘step-siblings’ as Cahun’s divorced father married Moore’s widowed mother.
Cahun and Moore, after relocating in Paris, slowly became involved in the small Parisian avant-garde circle, who coincidentally were also exploring aspects of identity. Probably one of the most famous artists at the time ‘playing’ with gender was Marcel Duchamp who introduced Rose Selavy, his artistic character and female alter ego. Cahun and Moore in fact welcomed avant-garde artists and writers to the parties that they organised at their house around 1922.
Cahun and their partner also met the head of experimental theatre ‘Le Plateau’ – Pierre Albert Birot. Here, both again collaborated with Moore designing stage sets and costumes – Cahun concentrating on performance skills.
In this connection it is interesting to note that Cahun’s self-portraits incorporated elements of theatre and the aesthetics of surrealism. They also significantly ‘blurred’ gender indicators, partly through often showing only head and shoulders. In some pictures, Cahun’s head is shaved looking directly at the viewer; this together with the varying gender representations was apparently a way of undermining the ‘patriarchal gaze’.
Cahun had some of their writings published. These included ‘Heroines’ in 1925 which featured a ‘series of monologues’ based on female fairy tale characters. These were ‘intertwined’ with images of modern contemporary women as a means of making witty comparisons.
Cahun became involved with the ‘Association des Ecrivains et Artistes Revolutionnaires’ in 1932. They took part in certain surrealist exhibitions which included the London International Surrealist Exhibition and in Paris (1936) ‘Exposition Surrealiste d’Objets’.
Finally, as a surrealist artist, Cahun had mostly been written out of art history until their photographic work was included in an exhibition in 1986. Only then, Claude Cahun was recognised as a significant artist and gained an increasing following.