Margaret OBriens treatment by Home Office shows scandal goes beyond Windrush generation

Margaret O’Brien, 69, moved from Canada to Wolverhampton in 1971, got married, had three children and worked for the local parliament for more than 25 times as a dinner girl, snacks on wheels driver, lollipop lady and cleaner.

A spinal injury a few years ago made she had to give up her responsibility, conducting her to apply for benefits for the first time. In 2015, she was told her disability payments had been suspended because she was an illegal immigrant.

O’Brien received a letter stating:” Home office records indicate that you do not have permission to be in the UK. You should make arrangements to leave without delay .”

The letter informed her” of our intention to remove you from the UK to your own country of nationality if you do not depart willingly. No further notice will be given “.

If she decided to stay, the letter alarmed,” life in the UK will become increasingly difficult “; O’Brien was liable to be arrested, prosecuted and face a possible six-month prison sentence.

Her instance is significant because it shown in the Home Office’s management of longstanding Commonwealth-born UK tenants is not restricted to the Windrush generation, but is likely to extend to beings from other Commonwealth countries.

A expulsion word received by O’Brien, who came to the UK from Canada in 1971, before the Immigration Act. Photograph: Andrew Fox for the Guardian

The letter arrived a few daylights after her son’s marriage.” I tried to call the telephone number afforded, but it was absolutely impossible to been through. My son was on honeymoon in New York. I didn’t know what to do ,” she said. O’Brien try legal advice, but she was told it would cost PS900 for initial cultivate.” I’m a disabled pensioner. I didn’t have that kind of money ,” she said.

Not long afterwards, she was issued with a letter manager” notification to a person who is liable to be detained “. Her photo was above the words:” You are a person without leave who has been served with a notice of liability to removal .”

She reaped a large number of documents as evidence that she had lived in the UK before the 1973 Immigration Act came into force, and was in the country legally. After more than a year of trying to convince officials, she was allowed to meet a Main office decision-maker in person. She was ready to show him her records, but he simply asked if there was anyone in Canada who could house her.

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” I don’t know whether they get brownie points for the number of people they can send back to their own country ,” O’Brien said. She felt the man was looking at her and thinking:” Is this someone I can take in ?”

O’Brien’s history stands out as offending even among the deluge of revealings about Home office behaviour, but she said two years of getting by without disability benefit is nothing compared with legends of detention and pressured exile in Jamaica.” I was humiliated, but there are so many parties in situations much worse than mine ,” she said.

She found the requirement to report every three months at the Home office extremely difficult because of her disability. O’Brien strolls with a chassis and has to be accompanied by someone when she goes out, because she has a health condition that clears her prone to collapsing unexpectedly.

The 25 -mile journey via bus, civilize and tram to the Main office reporting core in Solihull takes about two hours each direction. On one moment, she arrived simply to be told the office was closed for a grooming epoch. On another, she queued for more than two hours before being asked to come back another day.

O’Brien on her bridal daylight. She only had her right to remain supported after a example worker find a passport mold. Photograph: Andrew Fox for the Guardian

The waiting room was like a cattle grocery, she said, crammed with about 200 parties, among them babies- and sometimes adults- crying. People labelled overstayers, illegal immigrants or refused asylum seekers had to hand over all sharp objects, pencils, pencils and keys, as well as mobile phones, at the door. Chairs were clamped to the floor.

” It was very degrading. I’m a disabled dame. Sometimes, I was in a lot of suffering ,” O’Brien said. Travelling to the centre cost about PS40 each time for herself and her grandson or one of their own children.” I thoughts penalty, I will just show my statu. You hope miracles will happen and someone will just listen to you ,” she said.

Her daughter, who was not allowed in and had to wait outside, formerly insured groupings of beings being wrap into a van, probably to be detained. After that, both of them dreaded she might be next. The security guards on the door were always kind to her. She believed they felt sorry for her because she was finding it physically difficult to stir her channel to the office.

” They “ve been told”‘ you shouldn’t be here ‘,” O’Brien said. Inside the building, Home office faculty were less friendly.” To them, it is just a job. Maybe they have to meet numerals, encounter a certain number of parties a date. You’re just treated as a number ,” she said.

O’Brien had firstly been informed that she had a problem with her paperwork when the council pointed out in about 2008 that her Canadian passport had expired, and requested her for an alternative document.

She had never applied for a British passport and was not planning a holiday, so decided to explain to council staff that she had been in the UK for decades and did not need to prove a right to reside. This was several years before the introduction of the “hostile environment” policy, and staff immediately tell the matter drop.

O’Brien at her home in Wolverhampton. She said:’ My care by the Home Office was terrible .’ Photograph: Andrew Fox for the Guardian

She was puzzled by the Home Office’s decision to target her.” I did feel British. When I came to England, Canada was part of the Commonwealth. It was so simple. I went to the jobcentre, was issued with a national insurance and have a job. I was always in act ,” O’Brien said.

By the time she retired, she was juggling three undertakings. When she imagined she are likely to be evicted, she recollected wondering whether she would get a refund of the money “shes had” paid off taxes.

O’Brien’s life savings were dined up during the period that she was without money, and she had to are dependent upon her children.

Her case worker at the Refugee and Migrant Centre, Daniel Ashwell, facilitated her find an indefinite leave to remain stamp in her expired Canadian passport that instantaneously proved she was in the UK legally. “Shes never” noticed it, or realised its significance, and was profoundly grateful for his help.

After the Main office received this evidence, her privilege to be in the UK was confirmed and her benefits were paid.

” My medication by the Main office was terrible. I felt like grime ,” she said.

Ashwell said:” The case of Ms O’Brien is a stark example of the consequences of the hostile environment experienced by many of our clients. The lawsuit substantiates the way in which immigration policy has encouraged Home Office officials to treat those going through the immigration system with mistrust and a lack of human dignity .”

In an emailed statement, the Home office said:” The brand-new dedicated team helping the Windrush generation will be on hand to assist undocumented long-resident Commonwealth citizens .”


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