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With the vote around the corner, two TBS writers stay in touch to chart the personal effect of the Brexit on their families.
Dutch-born Jacqueline de Gier has lived in London for 35 years. She has worked there as a journalist and raised two sons. Although the boys are British citizens, Jacqueline is not. Seven years ago she married Ridha, a refugee from Iraq. Everything seemed to go well with visas and other paperwork, but now, with the Brexit looming, the future is more opaque. On the other side of the world, Ingeborg van Teeseling is keeping track of the developments. Ingeborg migrated to Australia in 2006 and became a citizen. Jacqueline and Ingeborg have been friends for 30 years ever since Ingeborg came to interview Jacqueline about her father, a famous war photographer. They remain in email contact.
This morning Ridha had a black out. I heard a loud thump upstairs in the bathroom, stuff crashing – mirrors, bottles, bits – and then a slow gurgle. I went upstairs and found him on the floor, looking dazed. He did not respond. He looked like he had been shot. I know what that looks like, because I have seen it in real life. On top of that I have been shot and they showed me pictures of myself. It is frozen horror. There was blood coming from his mouth.
I am a crisis manager by nature, but so is he. This is not supposed to happen. Men like Ridha do not collapse. I tried to help him up. You know the size of the guy. He is a master stonemason by trade. He did not choose that job, it chose him. During the UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein, it was the obvious job for a strong lad. So his muscles fed his family and saved his life. He entered Britain hanging underneath a truck through the sheer strength of his arms. He told me that he sometimes has nightmares about this and that he would not dare to do that now. One bump in the road and you are dead. The bodies of refugees are now washing up on the holiday beaches of the Mediterranean, but back then they were dotted on the motorway from the White Cliffs of Dover.
So it was like trying to lift a London bus. I got him into bed. I gave him some apple juice, to top up his blood sugar levels. He looked at me stunned, in shock. All I saw was pure fear. After a few hours sleep he told me he could not remember anything – not the fainting, not me, nothing. He said he thought he was dying. I think the system was shutting down.
As I am writing this I am trying to work out what triggered this. His mother was killed recently, but he could not of course go back to Iraq. He started complaining about chest pain and breathlessness. I knew it was tension, and that sense of being powerless, that was dragging him down. But the cherry on top is the constant hounding by the Home Office. He is perfectly legal here, but we had to renew his residence visa. You would say that is a routine matter. You send in the right paperwork, the 80 page form (!!!!) all original documents, and that gets checked and voila. But no. What most advanced countries do in a week or so, takes six months. The rules keep changing, the number of amendments is dizzying. You will, almost by default, make a mistake. Even if you do not believe in conspiracies, there is always that sense tripping you up. Of course, like all organisations, there is the business of out sourcing, and in the case of the Home Office it is an outfit called Capita. They are the stooges, the bouncers of the system. They make ugly phone calls, send menacing emails and threaten to freeze bank accounts and deport you. The problem is that all of that is against the law, but they simply don’t care about that. I just had a stern conversation with a lady, who turned rather meek. All they needed was a tracking number from the post. Something that was sent ages ago.
I said, “Do you ever read your emails?”
“That is a different department.”
“Does that other department ever read them?”
The woman: “It depends on how busy they are.”
So there we are. And for that unlawful bullying and making threats, superman is now floored. Who needs war when you’ve got bureaucracy?
Christ almighty! How is he doing now? And how are you after a shock like that? Do you know what is going to happen? Is he at serious risk of being deported? I don’t know what is going on in Britain at the moment. I read in one of the papers here that they are getting ready, for example, to expel an Australian family. They arrived in Scotland five years ago, attracted by a scheme that was aimed to prop up the shrinking population in the rural North. Their young son learnt Gaelic in school, they both have jobs. But now the scheme is cancelled and they are going to throw them out. I am always worried when they do that to white, middle-class families from a friendly nation. Because if they are at the receiving end of actions like that, God only knows what is happening to non-white people who don’t have access to the media to tell their stories. Talking about that: do you know what will happen to you if the Brexit becomes reality? Please let me know, and keep me posted on Ridha. Love, Ingeborg