When the prime minister announced plans for a UK-wide lockdown he promised that the Government would do whatever it could to help people make ends meet and put food on the table.
But his rallying call for unity and sweeping promise of support didn’t quite apply to everyone.
Those with insecure immigration status do not have access to any of the financial support, safe accommodation and healthcare provision the Government has promised.
People like me have fallen through the cracks.
I was one of the students caught up in the Home Office student scandal in 2014, when 34,000 international students in the UK had their visas revoked after wrongly being accused of cheating in English language tests.
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I came to the UK from India in 2011 to study at the University of London and with hopes of eventually starting my own business.
The cheating scandal meant I lost my student visa, was kicked out of university and found myself with no access to financial support, healthcare or accommodation.
My name, like so many others, was cleared after a National Audit Office investigation, a report by the Public Accounts Committee, and the launch of a scathing report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Test of English for International Communication.
It’s been almost six years since I was first falsely accused. I won my case in 2016 but the Home Office appealed the decision. It was only this year my case was resolved and accepted by the Home Office and I was given six months to apply for a new student visa.
Yet, I was told that I had to go back to the exact same course I was on before – a course that is no longer available to international students. I’ve looked for other courses but several universities have since said they won’t accept me because of my immigration history – and most are not accepting applications since the UK went into lockdown.
Now, I feel like I’m at a dead end, I’ve spent so long and so much money fighting for justice and have been left with nothing.
I was 23 when I came to the UK and am now 32; it’s cost me my career. I am in limbo.
Before lockdown I helped out in my local temple by cleaning and with social activities. It was a safe space that provided a community of support, food and some income.
The price and scarcity of food and essentials during the pandemic has hit me hard
But the temple closed last month and since then everything has fallen apart for me.
I had been living in a small bungalow in West London with 10 other people and I was lucky enough to have my own room. Still, isolation and social distancing were nearly impossible in those circumstances and my daily walk outside became my lifeline.
Since losing the little income I had, I couldn’t afford to pay rent. In March, with no notice, my landlord kicked me out and I came home to find my belongings scattered outside on the street at midnight – suddenly, I was homeless.
Thankfully I was offered a temporary room by a woman I had met through the temple. But her house is crowded and I long to have my own place to call home – somewhere I can be safe and secure during this crisis, and beyond.
The price and scarcity of food and essentials during the pandemic has also hit me hard.
I’ve had to make impossible decisions between eating and paying for my prescription. I rely on leftover food from a friend or will go to Lidl and get a tin of baked beans for 30p.
I now eat just one meal a day and try to deal with the hunger by drinking tea to keep me full.
I feel broken, angry and sad – there is no way I can continue to financially support myself. I’ve had to beg for money from friends and rely on the kindness of strangers and people from my community.
If lockdown continues for much longer, I don’t know how I am going to survive.
The Government has set out several packages of financial support to help vulnerable people during the pandemic. But for those of us who have fallen through the system there is no humanity shown.
It is because of the Home Office’s failure in its handling of the cheating scandal that I have suffered. And now once again they have left me behind.
I have proven my innocence yet my immigration status is still insecure. The Home Office should be granting those who it falsely accused a longer period of leave to remain, of at least 30 months, and offering support for the financial hardship we have all suffered as a result.
This should have happened a long time ago, but is all the more vital now during a national emergency in which the Government is supposed to be keeping us safe and healthy.
I’m working with Amnesty and Migrant Voice to call on Boris Johnson and his ministers to protect the most vulnerable during the pandemic.
We want those in charge to do all that is needed to ensure everyone in the UK can stay safe, healthy and adhere to official guidance. This means providing adequate financial support, secure accommodation and access to healthcare for this with underlying conditions.
A petition calling for support has reached almost 25,000 signatures. Please add your voice and sign.
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