When an “illegal immigrant” has the X Factor
X Factor’s Gamu has finally woken Britain up to the injustice of the immigration system.
By Afua Hirsch
It’s hard to think of a more suprising story than that of Gamu Nhengu. Hers is fairy tale with a modern-day twist; a family fleeing tyranny in Zimbabwe, and a girl who seemed a hair’s breadth from X Factor-style fame and fortune, only to have her dreams cruelly curtailed by the heartless bureaucrats at the Home Office.
Rumour has it that Gamu was not selected for the X Factor finals because of problems with her immigration status. Whether or not this is true, the family’s less modest dream, not of remaining on prime time TV but simply at home in Scotland’s Clackmannashire, is now in jeapordy. The Home Office says that the visa extension application for Gamu’s mother Nokuthula Ngazana was lodged out of time and so has been refused.
Then there is the other story of the nation’s famously anti “illegal immigrant” tabloids rallying behind a family of, to use their own terminology, illegal immigrants. Maybe it takes Cheryl Cole and an ultra glossy talent contest to make Sun readers interested in the systematic unfairness of the UK’s immigration and asylum system. Whatever the motive, at least some popular awareness of the fact that there is something wrong with Home Office decision making represents progress.
Most immigrants facing deportation have never met Simon Cowell, and do not have 250,000 people campaigning for their right to leave to remain on Facebook campaign. But the fact is, Gamu’s story is not as unusual or unrepresentative as it may seem.
For example last year a Zimbabwean woman named Pauline Enagbonma was told that she and her three young children would be returned to Zimbabwe. Like Gamu’s mother, Enagbonma had a student visa which had expired. Part of her claim was that as an albino, she was at risk of rape in Zimbabwe due to the belief by some that intercourse with an albino woman can cure HIV. She also claimed that she had three young children who were essentially British – in the same way as many would consider Gamu having lived and been to school here for almost half of her life. She brought a judicial review, as Gamu’s family said they plan to do, and it failed.
Another case that reminds me of Gamu’s family is the one brought by a Malawian woman earlier this year. She had been in the UK with her daughter for seven years after her husband’s student visa expired, and among the documents she had in support of her case to remain were testimonial letters and school reports concerning her daughter – just like the show of local support for Gamu’s family – these documents showed that the family was well liked and well integrated into the community. In one of the more heartless judgments I have read, the court said the rights of a family such as this “had to be balanced against the maintenance of effective immigration control”.
And in another depressing case, last December a Zimbabwean woman who said she had been raped by police officers who had been looking for her husband, and that she was at risk because of the couple’s political affiliations with the opposition MDC, was told that she could go back anyway. The judge decided she was making it up, and the court of appeal said that the tribunal had been perfectly entitled to that view.
This can’t make easy reading for Gamu and her family. But looking back at these other cases brought by Zimbabweans – who, by the way, have been singled out by civil liberties campaigners as particular victims of injustice by the immigration system – the most unique thing about Gamu’s story is not her talent or how close she came to probable success on the X Factor. It’s the fact that anyone cares.
It just goes to show that once the media gives an “illegal immigrant” the privilege of a personality, neighbours who are willing to testify to their “hardworking” and friendly character, and a little bit of the X Factor, then they are transformed into something new – a human being. Taken from Afua Hirsch’s Law Blog on the Guardian.co.uk