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HEART newspaper: Heart Publications | August 21, 2018

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Home Office humiliation

After being treated like dogs ourselves, my wife and I can empathise with our West Indian friends

Charles and Linda Gardner in Galilee.

The scandal of bungling Home Office bureaucracy involving Britain’s West Indian community comes just months after my wife and I were subjected to the humiliation of being refused re-entry to the UK because I had no visa in my South African passport.

Our experience clearly mirrors something of what the so-called Windrush1 generation have been suffering, with threats of deportation amid a general immigration crackdown that has apparently misfired and hit many soft targets.

In our case, it meant we could not board our El Al flight to London from Tel Aviv in Israel. It left us in a great dilemma, with possibly nowhere to go (beside expensive hotels).

Apart from three months on a South African newspaper, I have worked my entire career in Britain, paying tax all that time and I even now draw a state pension for my troubles. I also own property (fully paid off) and have lived here for 47 years! As an embassy official admitted to me, the Home Office could easily have made a quick check to verify my credentials. But they deliberately chose instead to make life difficult for me.

Fortunately, we trusted the Lord and he enabled us to cope; in fact, in the end we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we basked in His goodness (even on the beach).

I realised that it was part of a new clampdown on immigration designed to persuade the general public that they were seriously doing something about it. But as Home Secretary Amber Rudd has been forced to admit, the vast labyrinth of bureaucracy diverts focus from the individual.

Because of our dilemma, we were forced to stay an extra 11 days in Israel until neighbours were able to mail my old cancelled passports (duly stamped with indefinite leave to stay here) to Beit Immanuel, the CMJ (Church’s Ministry among the Jewish people) guesthouse kind enough to take us in.

Yes, the Lord blessed us mightily in the end, but it was a scary experience and it did cross my mind that I might well be deported to South Africa, and thus be separated from my beloved (British) wife and family.

It was only thanks to our MP, Dame Rosie Winterton (Labour, Doncaster Central), that we managed to get back at all without having to go through the laborious process of applying for a visa (in Tel Aviv) which we were told could take up to six weeks.

The British Embassy there were not much help, apart from offering us use of a computer and phone for a few brief hours. A minder initially treated us like dogs as he tried to shoo us away. We made a number of calls to the Home Office, but were passed from pillar to post as we went round in circles.

I do hope our lovely West Indian friends get the justice they deserve in this appalling situation which shows how little we care about people these days; to government departments, they are just numbers on a computer register.

In fact, I pray they will experience – as we did – the truth of the Bible promise that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8.28)

During some of our more trying moments as ‘banned’ citizens, I vowed to send the bill for extra expenses incurred to the Home Office, but when I had calmed down and turned my attention back to higher realms, I felt the Lord assuring me that he would both vindicate and compensate us.

When we did finally return home, I discovered that my bank balance was as healthy as it was when we left. God had abundantly provided for us, and met all our needs.

As to vindication, reference the dilemma now faced by the West Indian community. That says it all! Like them, I was a victim of political correctness gone mad.

The case of Sarah O’Connor (Daily Mail, 17 April 2018) is similar in some ways to mine. On recently losing her job, she was denied benefits because she did not have a valid British passport. Like me, she had never got around to applying for one – in her case because she hasn’t left the country in 50-plus years of living here. In my case, I have travelled successfully on a passport issued by my fatherland, of which I am still proud.

As a touching footnote, my half-Jewish grandmother came out to England from Jamaica in 1919; I guess marrying a British officer qualified her for citizenship. So I too have roots in the Caribbean – I used to listen to endless tales of waving palms and beautiful beaches, and of the terrible earthquake my family survived in 1907.

I suppose, compared to that, 11 extra days in sunny Israel was no great hardship!

1The Empire Windrush was the name of the ship that first brought Caribbean immigrants to Britain in 1948.