Monday morning, I pick up my phone on my way out for the door on the school run. Three missed calls and a text. Our worst fears realised: my friend and her five year old son had been detained. They will shortly be leaving Leeds to a ‘Pre-Departure Accommodation’ (read: high security detention centre) near Gatwick. They will be boarding a flight early Thursday morning out of the UK.
I drop off my sons at school, my four year old daughter is still with me. She is quiet. I am on the phone to Anita, ,saying goodbye. My daughter asks me why I am crying. I wonder if I have gone too far, that this is too much for me and my family.
Frantic phone calls with those of us connected to Anita. Feelings of helplessness, shock, and feeling completely out of our depths to confront the Home Office and Ministry of Immigration especially with the current political climate. Anita’s lawyer was working hard, on what we didn’t understand, and we didn’t want to disturb her. We just had to keep faith in her, and the justice system of our country.
On Monday night, an email is formed, sent to friends, to ask the airline due to take them to refuse them aboard. A sense of pissing in the wind, but at least it was something. A steady stream of emails started to be sent, and forwarded to friends. The network was working, and people really wanted to help. How? We didn’t really know, but at least this was something.
Tuesday late morning, my mum in London emails back, ‘I wish there was more we could do’ I send a short reply, ‘you can look up the place where they are being kept, it’s in Surrey, I know it’s a shlep (long journey) but it would mean the world to her to see a friendly face’. I check my emails an hour later. This is her reply, ‘I’M ON MY WAY’ I start to cry (again).
Tuesday late afternoon someone suggests I contact my MP. I call. voicemail. I’ve missed the opening hours by twenty minutes. Later that night: Brainwave. Call a friend. She is friends with him. Twenty minutes later I’m on the phone to him. There’s not much he can do at this stage, but is fully behind us and offers useful suggestions. We stay in touch via text from then on. Amazed. But still disheartened at the uselessness of our efforts.
Tuesday night I call my mum. Start crying again, as she relays to me her experiences. I am so humbled by what she did. In awe that she dropped everything to go on a five hour round trip, be subjected to prison-like security measures, to spend half an hour with her daughter’s friend whom she has met a handful of times.
Tuesday we get an offer of free help from my brother-in-law who is a barrister. We pass it on to the lawyer. This is superbly helpful because if the legal aid funding is not approved then she has to stop working on the case, so he can be waiting in the wings to pick it up if need be. Feels like we are clutching at straws.
Reluctantly, on Wednesday we start a petition. Anita doesn’t want her name or her story out there, definitely not her son. But we are desperate. The petition starts to take off. 23 signatures. Check again, 51, check again, 57. Check again, 74. I feel buoyed but then sad that this isn’t really going to make a difference. We check in with the lawyer. Terminology we don’t understand but the outcome is it’s not looking good. But the petition is gathering pace. Over 100. Wow. People care. Strangers care. This keeps our spirits up despite knowing it is fruitless.
Wednesday 4.30pm we are getting more desperate. I talk to Anita. She has been told they will be taking her and her son at 1am to Heathrow. They threaten her that if she makes a fuss she will be separated from her son for the journey. I tell her to prepare for the worst, to write down my email and phone numbers so she can make contact when she’s in Albania. That she has to stay safe until we figure out a way for her to be safe somewhere else. Lots of tears. News from lawyer: she’s on her way to the court. We don’t understand why, but it’s obviously not over yet. We pray for a miracle.
5.30pm another call from Anita. We can’t understand, she is crying, something about Leeds. Is she coming back? We can’t believe it. I text to find out from the lawyer. Silence. We wait, stunned, wait. An email comes through. It’s true!!! The lawyer has done it! She has deferred the removal (read: stopped Anita and her son being forced onto a plane) and they will be coming home tomorrow. We are amazed, baffled, elated. More tears. 400+ on the petition. They can stop now! The unimaginable has happened!
Thursday morning, 500+ on the petition. OK you can stop now. Sorry to waste your time. But at least you are ready and waiting to help for the real fight to grant them asylum. I speak with Anita. She is smiling I can tell. So am I. They will be leaving soon to return to Leeds.
5pm Kids in the car and we arrive at their house. We still can’t quite believe it. There they are. Anita’s son’s face lights up when he sees my kids. They start to play, as if nothing ever happened. We hug for a long time. I tell her I don’t want to ever let her go. We are both still in shock.
Tonight we can rest, tomorrow the real fight will begin….