Migrant in Mourning and Fury: A Narrative

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by RITU MAHENDRU, 05.03.2013 | London

On 24 August 2012, I submitted a Set (O) application form to become Permanent Residence (PR) of Britain on the basis of 10 years lawful residence in the country. Before I applied, I was aware that the decision on my application could take up to 6 months. However, because my case was straight forward, I was hopeful that the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) might respond earlier. It took the Home Office nearly six months to return my passport after a tragic incident that took place in my family. When I applied for PR I knew the impact the waiting time could have on my everyday life, I wasn’t aware of the serious implications it can have on migrants’ lives.

Right to Family and Human Dignity

During the waiting time, I was constantly concerned about my mother in India, who had been suffering from Chronic Liver Disease for over 2.5 years. Her health started to deteriorate and she was admitted into the ICU on 27 January 2013. The doctors had declared that she was critical and may not survive. The doctors also indicated that she was depressed; it could make a huge difference if her children were beside her.

I discovered that my mother had been ill for nearly two months but she had instructed everyone to keep this information away from me. She knew that my passport was with the Home Office and felt that her illness could add to my distressed state of mind. She wanted to be understanding of the situation. She was desperately waiting for the 6 months to pass so that she could inform me about her health and I could travel back to India.

In the early hours of 31 January, my sister rang and said “Mum is gone”. For all the distress that I had endured, my mother had felt equally discombobulated. I had asked her to wait until January and she did. My PR was granted to me on the day my mother died.  My mother was cremated on 31st January and I didn’t get to see her.

‘migrants’ are often framed and maligned in the contexts of neoliberal and contemporary capitalist politics with an underlying tone of racism and sexism […] The understanding of ‘female’ Asian migrants as international mobile consultants in the UK is very limited or non-existent.

I pulled several triggers to obtain my passport while my mother was in the hospital. I tried whatever I could within my control to get my application process expedited and finally I received my passport on 1 February. I am not sure what worked, whether it was my visit to the UKBA office and uncontrollable tears, my contacts in India that led to a telephone conversation with the Indian High Commission (HCI) or was it the fax from my solicitor to the UKBA or MPs fax to the Office of the Minister for Immigration Minister. All I know is that the four days of my life (28-31 January) convincing British and Indian authorities in London to provide me with travel documents were extremely humiliating. It was an incredibly emotional experience.

It seems sanction to decide my future was left completely to the discretion of the immigration officer whom I had met at the UKBA office. Neither do the UKBA nor the HCI have any clear guidelines on how to deal with emergency situations such as mine. If they do, the staffs from both institutions are oblivious of these guidelines, which are also not easily accessible to the public. Moreover, the administrative process and procedures as well as the intended time scale for an applicant receiving reply from the UKBA are quite vague. As a migrant, I was left to do a lot of “guesswork”.

UKBA assigned a case worker to look at my application 30th January late afternoon. It took UKBA less than a day to make decision on my application. I am yet to comprehend why my passport was in the UKBA’s possession for nearly 6 months when they could have made decision within a day? Why it had to take something like this to happen for them to act?

My right to work, right to be equal in dignity, right to travel, right to information, right to health (mental health) and right to see my family were taken away from me, which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I find it completely inexcusable and feel that the UKBA has invariably acquired a sophisticated, systematic and complex array of confiscating and detaining migrants. Why does the UKBA physically hold the passports of the applicants for so long ‘if’ the decision making process is lengthy and complicated? Shouldn’t just the passport copy and details of the applicants be sufficient? I am convinced that this may be one of the ways to dissuade migrants from settling in the UK.

Right to Work and Travel

As someone who has a PhD in Sociology, runs a charity in London, travel internationally, work on Human Rights issues and contributes to the UK’s vision of removing poverty and inequalities in the developing world, I felt unused being prevented from working. I travel extensively and earn my living by providing technical support to different nations. Not having my passport meant putting all my travel and work plans on hold until the UKBA has made its decision.

The British State constitute migrants as fields of neoliberal interests and majority of people equate travelling with privilege and luxury. There is always this stereotypical view that the migrants (especially women) are not entitled or party to such opportunities. There is often an assumption that as migrants we may not need our passport frequently.

The understanding of ‘female’ Asian migrants as international mobile consultants in the UK is very limited or non-existent. It fits into the stereotype of poor and ‘other’ migrants who are only left for semi-skilled or unskilled jobs.

We as ‘migrants’ are often framed and maligned in the contexts of neoliberal and contemporary capitalist politics with an underlying tone of racism and sexism. Hence, asserting a single dimensional understanding of migrants’ lived realities.

I decided to report my experience because what happened to me probably has happened and is happening to many others. My right to work, right to be equal in dignity, right to travel, right to information, right to health (mental health) and right to see my family were taken away from me, which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There are still many unheard stories. I request migrants to come forward collectively and share their stories. Not speaking about our stories legitimise the role the State is playing on issues around migration and citizenship.

I hope the stories of the migrants do not remain unheeded at the hands of policy makers and implementers.

UKBA has invariably acquired a sophisticated, systematic and complex array of confiscating and detaining migrants. Why does the UKBA physically hold the passport of the applicants for so long ‘if’ the decision making process is lengthy and complicated? Shouldn’t just the passport copy and details of the applicants be sufficient? I am convinced that this may be one of the ways to dissuade migrants from settling in the UK.

The whole process costed me nearly £3000 and the life of my mother. My mother’s passing touched a nerve. It has left me broken and has scarred me for life. I did not get to see my mother. The affects of what happened to me cannot be fully fathomed. There is no closure for me. Will there ever be one?

People often console and say it’s fate- but I blame the State.

Ritu tweets as @ritumahendru

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