True Stories from the hostile environment – Christmas 2021

And a baby is welcomed into the world.

This is a true story, a modern-day tale of refugees, set in Wakefield, in the UK ‘hostile’ environment. The additional reality is that the pandemic is hitting the fourth wave and the Christmas holidays are approaching.

Just before Christmas, a healthy baby was born by caesarean in Pinderfields Hospital to a mother whose only, and temporary, home is a hotel room with two beds, a kettle and two cups. It would be wonderful to say that this Mum, her Daughter, Sister and new Baby were safe and well, but in parallel to the original Christmas story based on a refugee family, the reality is that the future for them is very uncertain, and this family may also be forced to flee the country.

The story for WDCoS starts when this family were referred to the Asylum Seekers Support Fund. The woman we can call Mum, her small child and her sister, had been forced to leave the marital home. They were all weary, traumatized and abandoned by the person who they should have been able to trust. WDCoS offered support; food, a small amount of cash and friendship. As Mum is no longer a ‘wife’, she has no independent legal right to be in this country. So she is in the situation known as “NRPF” – no recourse to public funds. That is, she is not entitled to any support or welfare from the state.

With a little girl, a baby soon to be here and a 17 year old sister she is protecting from domestic servitude, Mum had accepted accommodation with an Aunty who needed help around the house. In early December, she told the volunteers at the Food Store that Aunty could no longer keep them all; Aunty had given her a month’s notice.

Facing eviction, Mum was desperate to find a safe place for them all to live before the baby was born.

The Homeless Team of Wakefield Council had not assisted her because of her NRPF status. They did refer her to Social Services and a Social Worker has been helpful by contacting Mum’s solicitor. Mum has been sending emails and making calls herself for over a year to be told the Home Office has not responded. Now it transpires that is because the solicitor has never submitted the application for asylum to the Home Office. Legal aid cases are not a priority for some law firms.

In mid-December, the story becomes more difficult as Mum is told that in order to avoid health complications for her and the baby, she will have to have the baby early. On the date Aunty has given for them to leave, Mum, Daughter and Sister have no choice but to report as street homeless. The Homeless Team tell them there is little that they can do, and they should go and wait in a seated area in the shopping center while they look at potential options. From 10am till 5.30pm they wait at the shopping center. Then they are told there are no places for them – the Social Worker rings Aunty and pleads with her to take them back for one night. So having spent the day sitting with suitcases Mum, Daughter, and Sister return to Aunty.

The next day they wait for Social Services to ring. Mum has a hospital appointment at 4pm. Aunty expected them to leave the house at 10am and took the door key when she went to work. If they leave the house, they cannot get back in. Aunty has told the Social Worker they must be gone before she returns at 5pm. Anxiously they wait. At 3pm, despite feeling ill, Mum alters the hospital appointment.

At 4.50pm, a taxi calls to take them to a hotel in town – they have a double room for five nights provided by the Council.

In the morning Mum visits the hospital and is told that she will have to have the baby by caesarean in seven days’ time. Mum is given a plan of covid tests and hospital visits. There followers four days of frantic negotiations with the Homeless Team and Social Services. After the fifth night Mum, Daughter and Sister are told they will have to leave the hotel by 10am. They pack and wait to be evicted onto the street.

Desperate for help, Mum makes many phone calls. One of the people dealing with the situation says that Mum should make arrangements to return to the family home and Daughter’s father, then make arrangements to return to her country of origin with or without the children. Frantic to keep Daughter and Sister safe, she explains that to return to her country would mean that Daughter would have to suffer FGM and if Sister stays at the family home she too is at risk of domestic servitude and violence. Without help there is nowhere in the world that is safe for the family.

At 3pm they are told that they can stay at the hotel till the 6th January. Hastily, WDCoS makes arrangements to get a Moses basket, bedding, and baby clothes to the hotel. A small microwave, some crockery, a toaster, food, and extra funds are also taken to the hotel. The following morning Mum goes into hospital to have the caesarean operation. Despite the stress and anxiety of the previous days a healthy baby is brought into the world.

Mum and Baby stay in hospital for the next two days and then return to the hotel. Regardless of the trauma surrounding the birth, Baby is calm and contented and loved by Daughter, Sister and Mum.

The story so far is that as the days tick by, the City of Sanctuary Asylum Seekers Support Fund offers practical support – no one knows what will happen next. All we can do is hope and pray that come the 6th of January the powers that be offer the small family a home and safety.

At this point no hospital fee has been mentioned; however, Mum has not been discharged from hospital care yet – there could yet be another hostile surprise.

To be continued………

26th December 2021.

Volunteer

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