María, a 25-year-old young woman from Valencia, decided to fly to London on May 3 in search of new job opportunities. Throughout 2019 I had already been working for a few months in the UK. And taking advantage of the fact that her sister lived on British soil, she decided to pack her bags again. What she did not expect is that upon her arrival at Gatwick airport they were going to take her to a Foreign Detention Center as she had become an illegal immigrant because she had not properly completed the necessary post-Brexit-era paperwork.
His case reveals the “hostile environment” against foreigners that prevails in the United Kingdom since the entry into force, already for practical purposes, of the divorce with the EU on January 1. If it is for tourism, a stay of up to six months is allowed without giving further explanations. But for those who want to “try to find a job” there is no longer freedom of movement. The rules have completely changed, although there is still a lot of ignorance among citizens.
Maria’s (fictitious name to preserve her identity) is not an isolated case. The Home Office (UK Home Office) has not published official data on the number of community members detained since the beginning of the year. But the British media talk about some thirty cases involving Germans, Greeks, Italians, Romanians and Spaniards.
There are other citizens who have at least been allowed to catch the first flight back to their country. This is the case of Clara (also not her real name), a 24-year-old young woman from the Basque Country who also arrived at Gatwick last Monday. “My intention was to spend a month to see my boyfriend and try to look for work. I even had a return ticket bought. But they did not allow me to enter the country. I was at the airport 24 hours. They took my fingerprints and even took a photo of me from the front and profile. I wouldn’t stop crying. It has been one of the worst experiences of my life by far ”, he relates.
Once the UK has left the bloc, community residents must register as settled or pre-settled (if they have been for less than five years) to preserve all their rights, including access to public health. Anyone who was living in the country before December 31 of last year, still has until June 30 to complete the procedures.
For a long time, organizations that watch over the rights of community residents have been warning that anyone who does not regularize their status will be in an illegal situation, no matter how long she had been in the country or even if she had married a Briton.
For their part, those who are now traveling again are subject to the new immigration law based on the Australian points system, one of the strictest in the world, by which anyone who wants to enter the Kingdom from January 1 Kingdom must have previously a job offer, earn an average of 30,000 euros per year and speak English.
Maria arrived at London Gatwick Airport at 4:00 p.m. Upon exiting the plane, the border agents asked him for the usual documentation: passport, negative PCR and the reasons for his entry. But when María explained her intentions to look for work, they informed her that her entry was illegal, so she had to be detained until her case was resolved. I didn’t even have the “Settlement status” nor is it a job offer.
According to Oriol Arnedo, a friend of María, the border agents took her to a room with a group of seven or eight other passengers also in an irregular situation and “They seized their mobiles to avoid making calls.” “They informed her that she would be transferred to a detention center until her situation was resolved, without specifying to which of them. María proposed to buy the first flight back to Spain to leave, but the agents explained that it was not possible and that, in the event of deportation, they would be in charge of organizing it ”, she clarifies.
The agents provided the telephone number of Gatwick’s room to a relative, but when calling, according to Oriol, “a Canarian boy, also arrested with a job interview for the next day, said that María and other girls had been there until two in the morning, but they had already been taken, although I didn’t know where ”,
After calling several centers, the relatives were finally able to locate her in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, located on the outskirts of Bedford, about two hours drive from London, whose record of malpractice includes allegations of sexual abuse by staff in the past, according to human rights organizations.
Until Wednesday night, Maria’s relatives did not hear from her again. His sister and best friend (you loved UK residents) came to visit him, but when they were already in the center they had to leave because the entire section of detainees was in isolation due to covid, after one of the inmates tested positive.
On Friday she was finally allowed to quarantine at her sister’s home. But, as of press time, his case was not closed and the Bedford center still held his passport. The girl’s friend admitted that they do not know the reasons for this decision, although it points to “media or diplomatic pressure.”
“In the center he did not have access to his belongings or his mobile. They only allowed her to have two changes. It is a degrading treatment. Now at least he is in a much better and safer environment. Even if We still don’t know how your case is going to develop ”, he assures.
Diplomatic sources consulted by this newspaper indicate that since the London Consulate was aware of this case, the young woman is being offered consular assistance and legal help to verify that she is well and that her rights are being respected. Spanish authorities are in contact with the British and They hope that the situation will be solved as soon as possible.
The young woman has also received advice from the British association The 3 Million, which is responsible for ensuring the rights of community members after Brexit. From the organization they assure that “it is not the first case and that unfortunately they do not believe that it will be the last”.