Friday, 16 August 2013

'Neither here nor there' with UKBA

I have decided to write my story, I do not know why, I do not know to whom. All I know is I have to tell it. Maybe for people who are in similar situation as me, and who can now think they are not alone in this, or maybe it’s simply a cry for help. It may not sound horrible to you, it may not even sound important to you, but it is my reality every day for almost the past two years, and it is ever so daunting to me as it was two years back.
I come from a very beautiful country, I had a happy childhood, loving parents and siblings and a supportive extended family. My biggest lost in life was my dad at the age of 16 and I thought probably that was going to be my worst nightmare but nothing prepared me for what laid ahead.
Freshly graduated from high school, I was ambitious; I wanted to do something remarkably for myself, for my dad who always believed in me and for anybody who needed support out there. I always had a soft corner for people I though as ‘vulnerable’. And today I find myself to be vulnerable. I got a scholarship to a prestigious UK university. I knew it was to going to be easy, that I would have to make my way through. My dad had saved enough for me to start somewhere before he passed away. He was the type of person to invest his whole wealth into others without asking anything in return. I knew though considering the cost of living in the UK it was not going to be enough, and I would need to support myself. I started University at the end of September, and by November I already had a part-time job to help me pay for other expenses such as food and accommodation. I was not worried about working and studying at the same time, I had the confidence I could pull it off. I always worked under 20 hours during term time, and during holidays I would work non-stop to help me save enough money to pay some of my fees for the next academic year. While everyone else would go home for holidays, I made sure that I stayed here and worked as hard as I could. I did not want to rely on anyone’s favour, I wanted to do it all on my own like a big girl. And, I did it after three years of hard work; I graduated with a BA in Linguistics.

As a new graduate, there were so many things I wanted to do, during my undergraduate studies I came across studies of lowly educated people, especially immigrants and how they were struggling to get a job as a lack of education. I wanted to invest in this sector, I did not just want to work, I wanted to deliver a service that was meaningful to at least some people. It was hard to get a job, there was recession. So, I decided maybe I would be better armed if I study for a Masters. I applied for my Masters. About the same time, a young man approached me and we decided to get married. He was not very much educated; he did not have a good job. But for me all this did not matter, as far as I was concerned, all that mattered was I liked him. We decided to get together and had a small religious marriage. Some people in my family were not happy about this, cos the boy was from a different background and race. I started my Masters degree and was newly married (at least where religion is concerned).  It was all rosy at the beginning, probably I was in love or I liked the idea of thinking somebody loved me. I am not too sure what it was, and to be honest I do not even think about it now.
Anyway, I was still doing my part-time job to support us as he had lost his job. We were relying mainly on me, and there was more pressure on me. But, I did not mind it, I knew he would eventually get a job, and a month or so later he did.  About three months later, I started to find that we were not having such a wonderful married life, the honeymoon period was over. He was not spending time with me and I started to resent that. I requested him to spend him to spend more time with me. I did not know that my request would have such an impact on him. He started to get physical and aggressive for no reason. He acted violently towards me and threatened to kill me and ‘feed me to the pigs’. I was scared as he had a knife in his hand and I was not sure it is the same man I knew anymore. He had taken my phone so I could not contact anyone. He wore gloves and grabbed a kitchen knife, and put it to my throat and forced me to put my finger prints on the knife. He also repeatedly raped me and beat me. I tried to call him down, and then he told me if I were to report this or leave him, he would hurt himself and I would get done for this as there was my fingerprints on the knife. I guess I was not as intelligent as I thought I was. I was scared and did not know what to do. So, I just kept quiet and waited until things had calmed down and tried to tell him that I would not do any such thing as  leaving him cos I love him and so on. I don’t think I did that out of love, I just wanted him to calm down, and I was not quite sure what to do so I just played along. After that he apologised for his behaviour and told me he had no idea what happened and he is so sorry, it’s not like etc etc. I was still in shock, and I did not know what to do much. Here I was, with this guy I wanted to be with and even fought people that I loved and cared for to be with him. Can I just drop everything now? I was confused and did not know what to make of it much. I managed to get my phone and texted my then mother- in- law who I though as a woman and his mother would deal better with this and asked her for help. All she did was ring her son, and asked if he beat me, and he denied it saying we just had an argument. And she was OK with that response, and there was no follow up, nobody ever asked about me or contacted me. I decided to think about what I should do in the next few days. I took photos of my bruises but did not report them to the police. A few days later, I found out I was pregnant. I did not want to be pregnant then cos of my studies, but I wanted the baby even though it was not planned. I told my partner about it and he was over the moon. Everybody in town knew I was expecting as soon as I told him, it was like he published it in the newspaper. And I thought, well I am having his baby and he is so happy and it was a one-off incident, for the sake of all of us, I should put the incident aside.

Just about a month and a half later, he would strike again. I had hyperemesis during my pregnancy which meant that I was constantly feeling sick and throwing up. I could not eat or drink, and even when I was not eating and drinking I managed to throw up my saliva or something. Anyways, he used to work night shifts, so one morning after coming back from work he started to verbally aggress me when I was just lying down on bed throwing up nicely as I used to do in those days. He started to accuse me of incest out of nowhere, that the baby was my brother’s etc. I was already very weak then from lack of food, drink and sleep and also form constantly throwing my guts. As he approached, I warned him to back off cos I am not going to be abused again. But, he did not pay head, so I rang 999. The knife incident and the beating came to my mind, and I was not risking my unborn child. After I finished the call, he took a photo of the scan of the baby and tore it apart saying he has nothing to do with this child from now on. The police came and he was taken away. I was physically and now also emotionally and mentally sick. I decided to leave the house and to go to stay at one of my friends. I did not take his calls, did not respond to his texts for the next 2 weeks. I have not even told my family about any of the two incidents yet. I decided to tell my brother part of the second incident, and he assumed I over reacted and said at least he won’t do it again, and I did not bother telling him it was actually the second time, maybe if I did, he would have advise me differently. So, two weeks later, I received this email where he was begging me to take him back, and how much he loves me and the child and bla bla bla. I did not have the courage to tell my family it’s over, so I decided to give him a chance. I thought about how I felt when I lost my dad who was my best friend, and I did not want my child to lose his/hers. So I went back in and this time he proposed to me and say let’s get married legally. So, we had a civil marriage and everything was perfect again. He was the most caring husband, would not let me carry heavy stuff, would give me massages, seriously it was like nothing ever happened before and even I started to forget. He had also lost his job by then again. He was very concerned about not having a job, and out of the blue suggested we moved to the Midlands where I have family support. I was not keen on the idea. I had always relied on myself when I was studying now I felt I was not only imposing myself but also my husband and child. But, he managed to convince to move to the Midlands, and if I do not like it we can always move back to the North. So, I asked university if I could work from home, and they were ok with it, I also took my maternity leave from my part time job.
We started a new life in the Midlands, we soon found a house and moved in. He was not working so again we were relying on my meagre maternity leave and savings to make ends meet. A few days after we moved, my daughter was born at 38 weeks. She was the most beautiful thing ever. It was one of the most memorable days of my life. She was so tiny and weighed only about 4lbs. My mother was also visiting us for 6 months and was giving us a hand with being new parents. Everything was just perfect except for my ex not having a job. One day he came home and told me he wants to go to college as that will help him get a job. I was OK with him studying, I just thought it was not the right time for him to go into full time studies, especially in a field where to me it sounded there is not much jobs going. But he persisted and I kind of felt guilty and did not want him to think I did not want to see him progress. So, I supported him when he kept insisting. My daughter was then about a few weeks old, and he started college. He loved it, and I was happy to see him happy but I was also worried cos he had come off jobseekers and that was helping us a lot, and now we relying completely on my maternity leave which only pay for the rent and not even our basic needs as food. All my savings were gone, and I had a new born child who I needed to cater for as well.
This was not going to be my main problem though. I was still recovering from giving birth when I got a really bad cold and as I have asthma it did not help. One night I was feeling really ill and slept in the living room of our 1 bedroom flat. I had the baby with me. I woke up a few times during the night to feed her but I could not physically do it the third time. I really wanted to breastfeed, but my daughter was having none of the breast even after weeks of ‘training’ in the hospital. So, I was extracting and putting it in bottles and kept trying her on the breast until she would eventually want it which never happened. So, I called him and asked him to feed her. Before he started college he used to be the one doing all the feeding and nappy changing, he would not even allow me next to my own daughter. She was all HIS. So, I called him in and he came to get her. She was crying and he took her to the bedroom for like a minute then came back into the living room and gave her back to me and told me she’s not stopping and he can’t do it. I managed to calm her down. She woke up again and asked him to get her again. He took her with him and came out a few minutes later, and he chucked her on the bed and told me this ‘fat ugly paki’ is doing my head in. I am not Pakistani, though I could easily pass for one. But, I knew it was an insult, an insult aimed at me or people that looked like me. My baby looked like a white child, exactly like her dad, so I do not even know where he got the ‘paki’ bit from. She was not ‘ugly’, she was beautiful as all babies are. And she was not ‘fat’ she still fitted in tiny baby clothes not even first size. I had enough, I was sick but not sick enough to stand up for my baby. I told him to get out of the house; no one abuses my child. And certainly, I would not take abuse coming from her dad, her own parent. So, I told him, I have had it now, we going our separate ways. He asked me to give him a few days as he has nowhere to go to in Nottingham. So I told him I give him 3 days. In those 3 days, he got a job but as he hasn’t got any salary yet he could not get a house. I had contacted social services when the incident with my daughter happened, I wanted measures to be put in place cos I could not trust him with her anymore. A contract was drawn that he was to stay in the house for a month until he get his own place but my mum was to stay with us and supervise him when baby is around. I needed some time off and had to see my supervisor at uni. So, I, baby and Mum went up north for a week. While I was there, I noticed he had a new facebook  account with photos of his siblings from our wedding albums but no photos of baby or me. His status was also set to single. I got suspicious and decided to confront him when I get back. My Mum felt sick on the way back home and I told her its better she stays at my brothers as I did not want baby to get the bug. So, me and baby went home alone that night. My beloved husband was not expecting us. As soon as I got home, I told him I needed my laptop, I knew he never logs out and he didn’t. I saw on his facebook messages that he was trying to go out with a sixteen year old girl from college. I was furious, our baby was not even 3 months yet and he was trying to find another baby to be her step Mum. I confronted him during which he got aggressive, I told him to leave immediately or I will call for help. A passer-by heard us and called the police. He was arrested and charged with assault by beating. He got away with a fine and 18 months conditional bail.

I thought we were done now. But to my surprise, he actually asked me to forgive him and used our daughter as bait. He knew the effect of losing my dad affected me till date and told me that I would be responsible for breaking up his relationship with her. He told me he needs help and he is ready to get it. For the first time since the first incident, I told him there are issues and he needed to get help. He said he wants to do counselling, marriage counselling and anger management programmes and also work with social services to become a better parent. So, we agreed to work on things but live separately until deemed fit to live with us. All of this was sorted by social services. They were to help with the rent and other expenses until he was ‘cleared’. Meanwhile, my mother had gone back home and my visa was expiring. I had been in the UK since 2007 on a student visa and I have been living here legally. We never bothered applying for a spouse visa (a visa that says you can live in this country as a partner to a UK citizen) as we planned on moving away from UK once I finish my Masters. Well, now we were kind of stuck, so my ex applied for a spouse visa. I used to meet my ex privately sometime just to work on our relationship as suggested by our marriage counsellor and would leave my daughter with somebody I trusted for an hour or so a week. Things seemed to be improving, he even got a 2 bedroom flat for us so that when he is ‘cleared; we can move in with him. Then he showed up one day in our marriage counselling session to say that there is a girl at work interested in him and he does not think this marriage counselling is going anywhere.  That was the last straw for me, I happened to be the one doing him a favour here, forgiving him every time and yet I was dumped! I told him I am filing for divorce; there is no going back now. And this is just what I did. I filed for my divorced.
I do not know yet whether the abusive relationship was the worst part of my life or what was to come after. My ex-husband told me he has contacted the Home Office to get me deported with what he called ‘our’ child. My social worker advised me to see a solicitor to sort out my immigration issues. I met a solicitor who assured me everything would be fine and I should be granted leave to remain as I have a child who is a British citizen. I was not bothered about going to my country, my only worry was there was nowhere for me to go back home. My mother lived with relatives who did not approve of my marriage, and certainly now they would not take me in after I went against their wishes, it was like I dug my own grave. There is no welfare system where I come from, you have no food or place to live, the Government does not care. I could not risk putting my child inn such a situation. I was ready to work and look for jobs, but I had to pay childcare, all my expenses, bills, rent, council tax and I was not eligible for benefits. Unlike what a lot of people think, most people on a visa here depend entirely on themselves and are not eligible for even a penny from the State.  I just could not afford all of that, I did not want to leave my daughter with a stranger at such a young age, and to be raised in a nursery but I did not mind doing it if it would help getting her fed and clothed. There was no way though I was going to make enough money for all this.
I applied for Leave to Remain at the discretion of the Home Office. Meanwhile my ex had cut all contact with me and my daughter except for the occasional abusive text messages or phone calls, which I tried to ignore. I also found out I was expecting his second child, this made it impossible for me to actually even get a job as no one in their right mind would employ someone going on maternity leave. Social services were not sure how long they will be paying for our maintenance, we were given a basic amount to survive on weekly, and the rent was being paid by them even though I was in arrears and they could not pay for that. I was given notice to leave a few times as I occasionally the rent was not matching up and I was too much in arrears. I lost count of the number of times I packed my stuff to leave as asked to and at the last minute was given another chance. We did not what the future will hold. I remember holding on my last £5 note and looking at it with tears in my eyes and looking at my baby. That was all I had left, and we had run out of milk and as she was allergic to cow milk I had to get her special milk and that cost about £8. I was sat by the river and I remember wishing someone would come and take her away to give her a better life. Even when writing this now I am still crying, it was like somebody had cut my heart out. I was ready to let her go then, I thought keeping her would be selfish and I was just going to bring more suffering on her. A stranger passing by saw me crying and asked me what the matter was, and I told her, she generously handed me over £60 and told me that’s all she had on her. I cannot forget that moment and pray that God gives her a thousand times more money than what she gave me that day. I had won the jackpot.  My ex he was not even paying child maintenance, and to be honest I had enough of chasing him for money even though we had set up an agreement through CSA ( Child Support Agency).
So, life continued for us, every week was the same, we were waiting to hear about whether we getting money for food or our rent will be paid. It did not matter to anyone that my daughter might die, not to this country, not to my country, not to the law and certainly not to her father.  Unlike what you think it didn’t even matter she was a British citizen. No, I could get nothing cos I am not allowed ‘recourse to public funds’ and I was her main carer neither was she allowed any funds. My due date was getting closer, social services had told me that they are stopping all payments next month and that was the final decision. I would be on my own, and so would be my kids. I had friends and family but nobody knew about my personal problems, what they could even do if they found out. I never even told my family I was pregnant again. They were already worried enough about me being a single parent, now if they knew I had no money as well, and I was stressed to death, they would be worried to and there’s nothing they can do. My mum already suffered from heart problems following my broken marriage. So, here I was in hospital giving birth, not knowing what the future holds, I was given notice again to live the house, social services had given me the last bit of money for my expenses and I have not had my visa being granted yet. I was hoping as told by my solicitor that the Home Office would allow me ‘recourse to public funds’ knowing that I was heavily pregnant. Two hours after I had given birth to my second daughter I had a phone call from my solicitor saying I had been granted leave to remain. I was so happy, my second child has brought such good tidings. Unfortunately, it was not going to last long, I was already worried about my eldest child as I left her with friends overnight for the first time and because of some complications with my second child I was not allowed to go home yet. So, after a few days in hospital, I came home and dropped by my solicitors to get my visa. I was then shocked to see it says NO recourse to public funds. I had just given birth a few days ago, I found myself with a one year old child and a newborn and needing to immediately find a job. My solicitor was in a hurry, and told me just to apply for benefits I would probably get it cos of a ‘Zambrano case’. So, I applied for Housing benefit and Income Support and was initially granted.  I had no clue what a ‘Zambrano’ carer is but basically it’s based on EU law where parents were granted benefits on the grounds that their children are European citizens and the parents leaving the country would mean the children will have to do so to. In the case the children leave it is a breach to their rights as citizens, and in case the parents leave and they are left behind it is a breach of their rights to a family life. Anyway, I applied in October 2012 for the benefits, just two weeks after my second child was born. In November 2012 a UK law was passed that people who qualified as Zambrano carer do not anymore qualify for mainstream benefits such as Housing Benefit and Income Support. I was back to where I was about 1 year ago. My claims for benefits were refused and they stated to me it was a mistake in the first place as they did not realise I had Leave to Remain through the ’10 year settlement route’( 10 years visa) and not Indefinite Leave to remain. Anyway, since then it’s a battle I am living everyday. I have appealed against the decision made for my benefits, and till now the cases are still going on. Everytime, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel it seems like it’s only a spot light and I am sinking further in. Again social services are helping us on a weekly basis. The rent is being paid by them for how long I do not know. How long are they going to give us money to buy food and pay our bills, I do not know. We go from one panel meeting to another where strangers decide about our faiths, whether we have the right to live respectfully or not. And as beggars, we cannot be choosers.

 I try to engage my children as much as I can in having a social life which makes for all the things I cannot do for them. I tried looking for jobs, but I have two children under the age of 3, so I have to pay nursery for them which comes to about £250 a week which I cannot afford. On top of that I have to pay my rent. We never moved from the 1 bedroom 1st floor flat as we never afforded to and still cannot afford to. I have converted my living room into the bedroom where all 3 of us stay. The bedroom is used as a store room as we have no space. So, all our clothes and other stuff are kept there to avoid cluttering the living room, now the bedroom. We have only beds and a cot as furniture so we can have space to move around a bit in the room. Considering some people do not even have that, we consider ourselves lucky. I try to keep them out of the house as much as I can, cos it is too stuffy and it reminds me of what I cannot do for them. Unfortunately we do not have a garden and there is a parking lot right outside our door so my children are not allowed to sit outside the house and enjoy the sunny days as they keep running into the parking lot.
A number of times we have tried to explain to the council that this house is not appropriate for us three. I do not mind it being cluttered or just 1 bedroom for 3 people. My problem is its upstairs and I have to actually leave my kids outside and get them one by one upstairs and it is dangerous. Whenever we go out it’s a battle to get the pushchair out. Then get one child, and by the time I get the second one, I am always worried in case something happens to the other child as she is alone on the street in the pushchair. And, if I have any shopping then it takes me so many ups and downs and I am always worried about the kids. My social worker and healthcare visitor have even said this is not an appropriate house for us, but no one cares. In an even of a fire I am trapped in with my two children as I have a double pushchair downstairs which blocks my door and staircase. All said though, I am grateful that at least at the moment I actually have sort of shelter which can be taken away at any time.
I started to write this in the middle of the night as I could not sleep and now its morning time and both my kids are awake. I have to shorten a lot of stuff cos I need to look after them. Probably a lot of people do not understand cos they have never been there. I am not scared for myself. I am not scared of being destitute or going without food. I am scared of leaving my kids to live in a state of destitution. I always saw myself as a fighter, a person who waves his path through and somebody who fights till the end. I am starting to lose my strength. My kids keep me going yet I do not know for how long. They are the reason I am fighting, but I am losing, every day I am losing more. And, I am scared, I am scared of leaving them to die. The questions on my mind are always what if tomorrow we have no money, what am I going to do with them? Am I ready to see them go through that suffering? Do I want them to be saved? How do I save them? Am I of any good or use to them? Would they be better or worse without me? I do not know, and I am not sure whether I want to know and how I will find out any of the answers. All I know are those questions are on mind on 24/7. I had two years of it and I am not sure how much more I can wait. It’s the mother in me in that is scared probably terrified. I am in agony, I am in pain, not a physical pain…it is slowly killing me.  I do not know what I expect from writing this, maybe I want to sensitise people to the issue. If there are others out there like me, please tell me what to do, tell me what you are doing. If anybody can change anything for me and my children or people in our situation please help us.  I do not know where to look for help, all doors are closing on us. And, I do not know what the future holds for us. All I hope for it is good enough for my kids, who one I day hopefully will read this and understand that I was not always weak. I wanted them to be proud of me and I hope one day they are.  I want them to know though I am very proud of them and I always kept a record of their developments especially their language and communications skills cos I always thought maybe one day I will find something in child language development which would make them famous as a case study. I want to work and make something of myself, but I cannot afford at the moment. I want them to look at me and say this is my Mum and I am proud of her.