Individuals who were relocated to the United Kingdom from conflict-ridden Sudan are concerned about their uncertain future as their six-month visas are set to expire this week. Those who were evacuated and have been residing in hotels or with relatives since April have not received any communication from the Home Office regarding their immigration status going forward.
Azza Ahmed, a former university lecturer in Khartoum, expressed concern about her visa expiring on 26 October. She worries that if it is not extended, she and her son, who currently reside in a London hotel, will become illegal immigrants.
Between April 25th and May 3rd, the United Kingdom safely removed 2,450 citizens from Sudan, including British nationals and others, due to clashes between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces regarding a transition to civilian rule. The ongoing violence has resulted in the deaths of up to 9,000 individuals and displacement of nearly 5.7 million. According to the United Nations, 25 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, described the situation in Sudan as one of the most severe humanitarian crises in recent memory.
Individuals who recently arrived were granted permission to stay in the UK for six months, bypassing the usual immigration regulations, due to extremely compassionate reasons.
Azza Karrar, a faculty member at the University of Khartoum, stated that upon her arrival at Stansted airport, she was informed that the government had not yet made a decision regarding the fate of evacuees after six months. She also mentioned that she has not received any further updates.
Karrar, whose husband is a British citizen, expressed that she currently has nowhere to turn as her parents in Egypt have denied entry to Sudanese individuals. She feels overlooked and wonders why they have not offered assistance as they have done in the past for others.
A family of five, with three children, is currently residing in a hotel in Preston, Lancashire.
According to Katherine Soroya, who supervises immigration cases at Turpin Miller law firm, the evacuees she is assisting were not given information about their status upon arriving in the UK. They were also not informed about how to extend their stay or what benefits they could apply for with their visa.
“Families in this position haven’t got a clear explanation of what they’re entitled to. It’s pretty much been trial and error and lots of people trying different things with not much input from the Home Office,” said Soroya. “It’s completely on those people to try and navigate a completely unnavigable system.”
A representative from the Home Office stated that evacuees have the option to request an extension of their visas. However, Soroya claims that they were not explicitly informed of this, nor were they informed that their visas were granted under exceptional circumstances – crucial information needed to properly submit an application.
Soroya mentioned that the visa application process is lengthy and intricate, particularly since many evacuees would need to request a fee waiver in advance to avoid a potential cost of £3,000, not including legal fees.
Ahmed, who was previously married to a British national, expressed feeling deeply saddened and devalued. From the very beginning, when she first approached the council for assistance, she sensed their reluctance to help her. She is confused as to why the government brought her to this country only to neglect her and her needs. She questions the purpose of bringing her here if they were not willing to provide support.
According to Waleed Abdallah, an immigration consultant from Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support and a native of Sudan, the government should have a structured strategy in place for Sudanese immigrants, similar to the one for Ukrainian immigrants coming to the UK.
According to Abdallah, Ukrainians left their country due to war and Sudanese are also fleeing from war. However, the Ukrainians had obtained visas before leaving their country while the Sudanese did not have that opportunity. The Ukrainians were granted three-year visas upon arrival, providing a sense of stability, unlike the Sudanese who are unsure of their future.
According to him, the evacuees have few choices available to them. Many individuals are unable to obtain spousal visas or visas for family members remaining in Sudan due to the eligibility requirements of having a stable income and a secure place to live.
A representative from the Home Office stated that it is not right to pit the Ukrainian and Sudanese refugees, both of whom are vulnerable groups, against each other. The government currently has no intention of creating a specific resettlement program for Sudan. Their main priority at this time is preventing a humanitarian crisis in Sudan, and they are collaborating with international partners and the United Nations in efforts to end the ongoing conflict.
Selma Bedawi’s story: ‘The pressure comes from every side’
Selma Bedawi has been relocated from Sudan in April and is currently staying at the Travelodge, situated by a bustling street in London and surrounded by warehouses. This marks her fourth accommodation since her evacuation.
She is managing multiple challenges from her two hotel rooms, including seeking assistance from Ealing council to secure housing, finding suitable schools for her four children, and caring for her 76-year-old mother with multiple chronic illnesses.
Bedawi, who is a citizen of Britain, was rescued by helicopter from Sudan after 10 days of intense fighting that caused severe damage to her family’s home. The British government pledged assistance, however, she claims that her life in the country has been uncertain as she has had to overcome challenges in order to secure housing and food.
She expresses being overwhelmed by pressure and constantly facing issues. She questions the usefulness of having a British passport if there are no benefits, as the only help they received was transportation on airplanes.
The Ealing council in west London is hosting the family because the brother resides in a studio flat in the area, which is too small to accommodate everyone. Bedawi’s non-British husband and brothers are still in Sudan.
Bedawi lacks the ability to use a kitchen and instead uses a cooler box to preserve her cheese for sandwich-making. While staying at a previous hotel in Slough, the manager warned her that she would be forced to leave if she continued using a donated microwave in her room.
She is granted universal credit for a family of four. However, her eldest son and mother, Laila Bala, are not qualified. Bala’s permission to stay will expire this week.
Bala, who suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis, spends her day reclining on her side and relies on a walker provided by a charity to move to the bathroom. She shares, “I have lost all my possessions and my family is scattered. I am exhausted.”
Bedawi’s twins, who are 10 years old, are currently not attending school. However, her two older sons, aged 16 and 18, recently began their college education near Slough in September.
“None of us know what will happen next,” says Bedawi. “It affects the children. One day they’re happy, one day they’re sad. It’s not like them. They’re asking more questions, trying to understand what’s happening. They ask me if we’re homeless.”
A representative from Ealing council reports that they are facing difficulties due to a severe lack of housing, along with a significant rise in the demand for emergency B&B accommodations caused by the current cost of living crisis. While the council strives to assist residents in need to the best of their abilities, they are operating within a flawed housing market and are facing immense pressure.