‘People say you’re not legal, go home. But I came here as a child. This is all I know’
A Jamaican woman who has been in the UK since she was a child is facing removal from the country after losing a court battle to secure her immigration status.
Shankea Stewart, whose grandfather was a member of the Windrush generation, said she felt her life had been “robbed”. A judge ruled that she should go back to Jamaica despite the fact her sick father and most other family members live in Britain.
The 29-year-old, who arrived in the country when she was 12 to join her father, was unable to attend her mother’s funeral in the Caribbean last year due to delays in the Home Office processing her application for leave to remain.
Her application was ultimately rejected earlier this year, at which point she was instructed to either appeal or leave the country immediately. A court recently ruled that she could return to live in Jamaica because she would be able to maintain family ties via Skype and social media.
Ms Stewart, who lives in Peterborough, said her father had tried to secure her status when she arrived in 2002, but their solicitors had applied too late – marking the start of many years of fighting to secure her right to remain in the UK.
“I came here as a child. It’s not like I went to the travel agent and booked my ticket. I wasn’t privy to how things worked. I wasn’t responsible for myself. The UK is all I know,” she told The Independent.
“My dad is here, my cousins are here, everyone’s here. But they’re saying that I can maintain contact with them through technology. My dad is a very sick man. He sleeps with an oxygen tent and he doesn’t like flying.”
Ms Stewart first discovered there were issues with her status when she successfully applied to go to university after sitting A-levels in sociology, English literature and critical thinking, but was told she could not attend due to her immigration status.
In the years that followed, she has been unable to work and has instead volunteered as a youth worker mentoring young women, living on just £50 a month and relying on support from her local church and family members.
“It was when I applied to uni that I realised the ramifications of it. I got into all five of my universities but I couldn’t go because of these immigration issues. I wasn’t able to do anything. It feels like my teenage and my twenties were robbed from me,” said Ms Stewart.
“I have never claimed benefits and I wouldn’t want to be on benefits. I want to get my degree. I want to work. But I’ve not worked in my adult life. I’ve never worked or had the chance to pay taxes. Britain educated me – why not benefit from what you’ve poured into somebody?”
A self-proclaimed “fiercely independent” woman, Ms Stewart said she “puts off” going to the doctors when she is unwell because she is afraid people will think she is “scrounging”, or in the worst case, she will be refused treatment.
“I know the NHS is under strain, so I think, should I even go to the doctors? Or should I self-medicate? Being in this situation puts you in that mindset. One of my legs is in pain and I’m wondering if I’ve fractured it or something, but I’m scared I’d have to go to the hospital and have an operation,” she said.
“So I’m walking around with this pain and I’m really scared. I don’t want to have to go to the hospital. I’m scared I might not even be able to get treatment at that level.”
Describing her reaction to the court’s decision, Ms Stewart said through tears: “I was quite confident. We had so much evidence. I’m not a criminal. I’m squeaky clean. Why am I in this situation? It feels like they don’t take anything into consideration.
“My life has been robbed in every aspect: financially, emotionally, personally. They robbed me from getting closure about my mum’s death, from living a normal life, from forming relationships.
“To think my grandad came to the UK in 1967 as a Windrush migrant, and then my dad came here in the Nineties and got his status. I have grand aunts and uncles who came in 1963 who were welcome here – but I’ve been left in limbo.
“People say you’re not legal, go home. But I came here as a child. This is all I know.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All cases are considered on their individuals merits in line with the immigration rules. The decision to refuse Ms Stewart’s application has been upheld by a tribunal.”