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Photo Essays

Tom Farmer | A Life Between Brackets

London, UK – November 2006. Waiting for the last train to a friend’s house in South London.
[F]rom 2006-2010 Norbert Mbu Mputu struggled to cope with the stresses and strains of life as a failed asylum seeker. Forced to flee his native Congo he initially lived on the streets in London before being given temporary accommodation and eventually being relocated to Newport, until his asylum application was rejected in early 2006. Dubbed a ‘sofa surfer’ by many he lived a transient life between Newport and London sleeping on friends floors and sofas, sometimes for as little as 3 hours a night, with no home, no income and no right to work and support himself in the UK. Norbert left behind a wife, 3 daughters and a young son all of whom he has not seen since arriving in the UK more than 8 years ago.

He survived these years of uncertainty by sheer determination, ingenuity and not a little luck. A kind and generous man, I hope that these images show a little of the human cost the complex asylum system has on individuals left in limbo for such long periods of time, not only to their physical circumstance but their mental condition as well.

Whilst not always a prominent issue in the media, the issue of asylum in the UK has always created a wealth of opinions and the issue has never really gone away, always lingering under the surface in the vacuum created by complex and chaotic government policy. In this vacuum individual stories are often overlooked and it was my intention with this project to bring attention back to individuals and emphasise the loneliness and sense of isolation felt by a vast number of people living in this situation in the UK today.

Newport, UK – March 2006. Getting ready to leave an asylum house in Newport, Wales.
Newport, UK – June 2008. Eating Dinner after returning to Newport from London.
Newport, UK – April 2006. Watching TV in a friend’s asylum house.
London, UK – July 2008. Resting on Vuvu’s sofa bed in London. Norbert and Vuvu became friends after sleeping on the street together in 2004.
London, UK – June 2008. Visiting friends in Hackney.
Newport, UK – January 2009. Relaxing after moving to a new room in an asylum house.
London, UK – February 2007. Riding the night bus, London. Norbert was often forced to do this when he couldn’t get a bed for the night in a homeless shelter.
Newport, UK – March 2006. At the Sunday car boot sale.
Newport, UK – February 2007. Having a drink before sleeping on the sofa at a friend’s house.
Newport, UK – May 2006. Norbert calling his daughter in Congo on his birthday.
Newport, UK – February 2007. Looking for somewhere to stay.
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