There are people alive and thriving in the UK today who might not be in the country were it not for Gina Clayton, who has died aged 66, after a long illness. My friend Gina brought a deep commitment to her work as an asylum academic and campaigner.
She was an indomitable fighter for the right to asylum. To one of those she helped steer through the asylum process, Gina became “my mum, best friend, adviser, and confidante”.
The only child of Lilian (nee Williams), a telephonist, and Charles Clayton, an accounts clerk, Gina was born in Warwick and went to the King’s high school for girls in the city. She grew up as a Christian, developed a love of theatre and dance and went on to study theology at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.
She put her Christianity into practice volunteering in a night shelter, then in the community around St Matthew’s in Brixton, south London, where in 1981 she became project coordinator of Help ’71, the church’s outreach project. Although she was always serious in intent, Gina’s sense of humour shone through when she wrote a panto and dressed up as the good fairy whose gifts could not be opened due to excessive red tape.
Her experiences in London led to Gina training as a solicitor at the College of Law in Chester, and she went on to practise with a firm in Nottingham. In 1994 she was appointed senior lecturer in law at Huddersfield University. While teaching there she wrote what became the undergraduate textbook Immigration and Asylum Law (2004), in which she took care to include the hugely important dynamics of power and privilege, ethics and justice. The ninth edition, written with Georgina Firth, was published earlier this year.
In 2002, settled in Sheffield and now a Buddhist, Gina married Mike Fitter, whose work on social cohesion complemented her own among refugees. Together they supported many people and organisations.
Gina was pivotal in the development of Refugee Action’s Access to Justice work, and central to refugee support in Sheffield. She served on the board of City of Sanctuary, which aims to create a culture of welcome for those fleeing persecution, chaired the destitution charity ASSIST Sheffield, and was a founder of South Yorkshire Refugee Law & Justice, working with people who fall through the cracks in legal aid.
Along with Clare Tudor, Gina had recently developed the Refugee Family Reunion Clinic at Sheffield Hallam University, which supports refugees who need help to bring family members to the UK. Colleagues speak of her huge “generosity of spirit, popularity and respect”. Passionate in her conviction, grounded in wisdom, Gina was an inspiration to those who knew her.
She is survived by Mike.