Grandmother Married to British Man for 27 Years Deported
Arrested without warning, denied a degree, told to live a lie. This is what deportation looks like.
A woman who has been married to a British man for 27 years has been deported back to Singapore with £12 in her pocket.
Irene Clennell, 52, lives in County Durham with her husband, John, and their two pet dogs. She has two British sons and one granddaughter, who will soon be celebrating her first birthday.
The BBC reports that Mrs. Clennell arrived in the UK from Sinapore in 1988, and married Mr. Clennell, a gas engineer, two years later. They spent five years living abroad together in Singapore, before Mr. Clennell returned to the UK with their children. Mrs. Clennell remained in Singapore to look after her mother, who had cancer. Both of her parents have now passed away.
The time Mrs. Clennell spent as a carer for her dying parents consequently affected her visa status, as British immigration laws indicate that a new resident must remain in the UK uninterrupted for two years.
According to her husband, the couple spent all their savings on six unsuccessful visa applications. Mrs. Clennell is presently her husband’s full time carer, after he underwent a vascular bypass operation, treatment for a hernia, and experienced bouts of depression.
After attending a routine meeting concerning her immigration status, she was taken to Dungavel Detention Center at the beginning of February. She remained there until February 26, when, without any prior warning, she was put in a van and taken to the airport without any contact with a lawyer. The BBC states that she wasn’t even allowed to pick up clothes from her home, and didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her husband of nearly three decades in person.
Speaking with Buzzfeed News after touching down in Singapore, Mrs. Clennell said that officials treated her “like a terrorist”. Security guards recorded every time she went to the toilet, and waited outside to ensure she did not escape. On arrival, she had no idea where she was going to stay, and had only £12 in her pocket.
The couple have written to their local North Durham MP Kevan Jones and Prime Minister Theresa May, as of yet to no avail. Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, released a statement backing Mrs. Clennell, insisting that the case “illustrates everything that is brutal and unfair about this government’s immigration policy”.
The Home Office has repeatedly come under fire recently. New official guidelines on deporting gay Afghan asylum seekers has suggested that they should just “pretend to be straight” when they are forced to return home. Homosexuality is illegal in Afghanistan. Paul Twocock, from LGBT rights charity Stonewall, said that this directly contradicts the United Nations, which states that refugees should not have to conceal their identity to avoid persecution.
At the same time, an engineering student who has lived in the UK since the age of 12 is due to be deported to Sri Lanka this week with just three months left of her degree at Bangor University. Shiromini Satkunarajah, an “exceptionally able” student, first came to the country to escape the Sri Lankan Civil War, along with her father who has since died. Like Mrs. Clennell, the young girl was arrested and sent to a cell in a detention center. She was predicted to achieve First Class Honours at Bangor.
When contacted about Satkunarajah and the new rules concerning gay Afghan asylum seekers, the Home Office gave the same answer as when asked about Mrs. Clennell’s situation: that they would not comment on individual cases.
“Covertly forcing a grandmother – who has lived, worked and raised a family here for decades – out of the country goes against any British sense of decency and should never have happened,” said Nazek Ramadan, Director of charity Migrant Voice. “This case marks a new low for our out-of-touch system. Irene has British children and grandchildren, cares for her sick British husband, and has contributed more here than her country of birth.”
A campaign to bring Mrs. Clennell back to Britain is being led by her family with Migrant Voice. A Go Fund Me page has already raised over £36,000 to help with legal costs.
Meanwhile, a petition addressed to Amber Rudd to protect Satkunarajah from deportation has reached 136,000 signatures at time of writing. The human cost of both cases has captured the attention of hundreds of thousands who are baying for a state response and hoping for more compassion from the country's immigration system.