Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Christmas Angels | British man fights for Jamaican asylum seekers

Published:Sunday | December 24, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue

John Catley does his giving all year round, but there is a special feeling at Christmas for the many persons, especially women, whom he has helped to get asylum in the United Kingdom.

"Twelve or 13 years ago, I was working as company secretary to an engineering company in Birmingham. Until that time, I was a typical Englishman. I had met black people in church, at college, or at work, but I never got to know them.

"I passed the time of day with them or had short conversations. To be brutally honest, they frightened me. They were so loud and boisterous, exactly opposite to my typical English, reserved upbringing," Catley told The Sunday Gleaner.

One day, a Jamaican cleaning lady arrived to clean his office and he looked up saw what he described as a "horrid scarring of her left eye".

Although curious, Catley was too reserved to find out how she came to suffer the injury, but he found the courage to chit-chat as she cleaned.

Over the following weeks, he began to enjoy the talks. It was then that he heard about her dreadful life in a Kingston ghetto, her family, the scarring, and the British asylum system. He learnt that the woman fled Jamaica, after a close shave with death at the hands of criminals in Kingston.




"I got to meet some of her Jamaican friends and came to realise what my upbringing had isolated me from. Everyone I met was friendly, still boisterous, but friendly. Then I was confronted with the UK's horrible asylum system.

"I just could not sit by and see such a lovely lady locked up for months, knowing that she had not committed a crime or had a trial. She was an innocent lady deprived of her liberty," said Catley.

He told our news team that the woman sought asylum in the UK, but the British Home Office was not interested in her freedom or liberty, and told her she would be deported.

With the woman in custody and worried for her children in Jamaica, Catley flew to Jamaica to see her relatives.

"Not only did I spend time in her relatives' homes, but I met such wonderful, Christ-filled people. I was invited to their homes and met their families and friends.

"What a wonderful people! Jamaicans are friendly and helpful. Most are religious. I just can't understand why such wonderful people insist on killing each other," he said.

Catley returned to the UK, assured the woman that her children were well, and decided to take on the British Government over her. He rallied his wife Monica, members of his church, using his own money, hired barristers, and took on the British Government in a battle to win her stay in the country.

"After a seven-year fight to help my friend, I did manage, with much help, to get her to stay in the UK," said Catley.

He has now helped five Jamaicans, plus women from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Malawi, Nigeria, Congo, and Eritrea. He also serves as secretary of the Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary, a non-profit organisation which helps asylum seekers.

The now 76-year-old told our news team that he intends to keep working until he can't stand anymore.

"People have said that, 'These ladies you help must be very grateful'. The truthful answer I give is that they are, but I want nothing in return. I get my reward from seeing their joy when we get them their right-to-remain documents.

"They can then start to recover from the horrors they have witnessed and plan for a peaceful life ahead. But I do get a reward. I now love jerk chicken and am getting more used to reggae music," said Catley.