Same story: Children protest back in 2003 against Dungavel House Prison for refugees. The detention estate has since expanded. Photo by Gareth Harper. CC BY-NC 4.0.
I met Evan* around three years ago, through my work at the Unity Centre in Glasgow. Our first conversation was over the phone because he was locked up in an immigration detention centre. Evan was softly spoken, and anxious at the idea that he could be detained indefinitely.
Evan came to the UK in 2001 when he was 15 years old. He studied English, maths and art in college and then went on to work as a painter and decorator in London. In 2007 Evan met and fell in love with Kelly*. They got married and had a daughter, now the family live together just outside London.
Kelly works in a nursery. She has muscular dystrophy, which means she can only work part-time and often needs help with daily tasks such as shopping, cooking and bathing. Evan is an attentive carer and has always looked after Kelly. When her condition flares up he does everything for her and their daughter.
Evan and Kelly’s daughter Rhea* is now nine years old. Her mum says that she loves school and up until recently lived a happy life. Rhea loves doing adventurous things with her dad, like climbing.
But a Home Office policy called Operation Nexus has ruined their family life, and could yet tear them apart.
A hostile environment
Almost 10 years ago, Evan spent six weeks in prison for a non-violent crime. Since then, Evan has only minor convictions for the possession of cannabis. But Evan has been constantly harassed by the police.
Once, he was almost arrested for getting into his own car after work. A police officer thought he was trying to steal it. He has been pulled over while driving under the speed limit. He has been stopped and searched while walking down the street countless times.
Evan’s experiences reflect evidence and research over decades about the over-policing of black, brown and working class communities in the UK. Last year, official statistics revealed that black British people are still eight times more likely to be stopped than white people. Black and brown people are more likely to be prosecuted for minor offences and locked up for longer.
Now Operation Nexus gives the police yet more powers by working with the Home Office to round up and deport foreign nationals.
In 2012 the Home Office launched Operation Nexus in partnership first with the Metropolitan Police and then with police forces across the country. Under Nexus, information about foreign nationals known to the police is shared with immigration enforcement to build a case for their deportation, even if that individual hasn’t committed or been charged with a crime.
To gather this intelligence, immigration officers are posted within police stations to examine all arrests involving foreign nationals. The police may also refer ‘high harm’ cases to immigration enforcement. The Home Office provides this definition of “high harm”:
For the purposes of Operation Nexus, Foreign National Offenders are considered as ‘High Harm’ cases where their conduct incurs significant adverse impact, whether physical, emotional or financial, upon individuals or the wider community.
According to the Home Office, Evan is “high harm”. That decision has been made based on his six-week prison sentence and encounters with the police through stop and search. After being flagged up by Nexus, Evan was arrested and locked up in immigration detention.
Evan spent over a year in immigration detention and is traumatised to this day. I’ve learnt to avoid the topic with him. Re-living the things he saw and the hopelessness he felt being away from his family is too difficult. Evan describes his time in immigration detention as worse than anything he experienced during his six weeks in prison.
Evan’s family has suffered too. Teachers noticed that Rhea was unhappy. I spoke with Kelly, Evan’s sister and his aunt regularly. They spent a vast amount of time, energy and money trying to get him out. At one point, Kelly and Rhea were forced to move in with Kelly’s parents. They couldn’t afford to pay both Evan’s lawyer and their rent.
Evan was finally released on bail last year – with conditions. Once a week he must make a 50-mile round trip into London to report to the Home Office.
The little girl’s fear has become so obvious that every week her primary school give her a day off to go with her dad to the Home Office.
Rhea is terrified that the Home Office will take her dad away again. The little girl’s fear has become so obvious that every week her primary school gives her a day off to go with her dad to the Home Office.
A right to love and family
Evan has a British family and the UK has been his home for more than a decade. His conviction are for non-violent offences. Is there a legal remedy to his plight?
There are exceptions to deportation: if it would be “unduly harsh” to expect Kelly and Rhea to relocate or live in the UK without him for example.
But the Home Office has decided it would be fine for Kelly and Rhea to live in the UK without Evan.
Evan’s family have gathered evidence – letters from teachers, social workers, doctors – to show the impact of his deportation. The health impacts for Kelly, the psychological effects on Rhea.
But the Home Office argue that Kelly and Rhea – both British citizens – should relocate to Jamaica. In a letter to the family, the Home Office note that English is spoken in Jamaica. They say that Rhea can continue primary school there and Kelly’s condition can be managed appropriately there.
The Home Office says that Evan is not “socially and culturally integrated in the UK”, despite having lived here for the last 17 years.
And they question Evan’s right to have fallen in love with Kelly.
When the couple met, Evan had leave to remain. But under immigration rules, little weight can be given to a relationship formed while a migrant’s immigration status is “precarious”.
The Home Office say that Evan and Kelly’s relationship was formed when his status was precarious. Evan and Kelly have been married almost a decade. They have raised their nine year old daughter together. Still the Home Office dismisses their relationship.
Until recently, if foreign ex-offenders wanted to appeal a Home Office decision to deport them, they were deported first and expected to appeal from outside the UK.
The “deport first, appeal later” regime was piloted first on foreign national offenders, a group that does not enjoy much public sympathy. The new laws were unlikely to mobilise much opposition.
Little help to anyone already deported, those exiled under “deport first appeal later” cannot necessarily return to the UK. Untold numbers of people remain stranded in counties they should never have been deported to, separated from their families and the lives they built here in the UK.
An appeal from the author
Evan’s appeal against his pending deportation will soon be heard before a judge. He has fought hard for this in-country appeal. In 2014, legal aid was cut in England and Wales for immigration cases. Evan is paying privately for his lawyer. He is banned from working, so the pressure is on Kelly to cover the legal fees. And she must do this on a part-time wage. The family are currently asking for donations from the public, to contribute to their legal costs.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of Evan’s daughter.Edited by Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for Shine A Light.