Before moving into freelance journalism three years ago, I was a diplomat, posted to Beirut, Istanbul and Brussels. I decided to leave the civil service while on a secondment to the Home Office, where I worked on the immigration desk during the rollout of David Cameron and Theresa May’s hostile environment legislation.
This experience has informed my reporting for The Guardian over the last year, which has focused largely on the UK immigration system and, more specifically, on asylum accommodation.
I have highlighted the plight of asylum seekers and refugees who were evicted and forced into street homelessness, despite Home Office assurances this would not happen during the pandemic. I have also written about far-right attacks on asylum seekers temporarily accommodated in hotels; recognised trafficking victims housed in insecure and inappropriate asylum accommodation, rather than safe houses; and a successful challenge brought by law firm Duncan Lewis, which included the story of one man who was verbally abused for requesting the increased cash support he is legally entitled to.
Alongside my journalism, I regularly volunteer for a charity which supports new and expectant mothers and their children. Most have fled persecution and are undocumented migrants, living in precarious environments: some on the streets, some in night shelters or hostels and others in rented accommodation.
On one occasion, I met a woman with a four-month-old baby who had had her belongings taken away on arrival at Serco-run, Home Office-funded accommodation and been left with one baby grow and no mattress. Another lady had requested help from a housing manager when she felt unusual pains in her third trimester, but had been refused medical support, resulting in a miscarriage in the reception of her asylum accommodation at 32 weeks pregnant.
I feel an immense sense of responsibility, on hearing these stories, to raise public awareness about the issues in asylum accommodation and the ways in which migrants are treated in the UK immigration system.
I am hugely passionate about reporting and am profoundly grateful to mentors and editors who have supported my work throughout 2020. Amelia Gentleman, in particular, has read my copy, offered advice and championed me on social media and within the organisation. I believe this line of work is where I am of most use and look forward to telling the stories of those most vulnerable in the future.
The report I am most proud of explored the case of one woman: an NHS consultant anaesthetist whose South African husband was refused a visa to settle in the UK because the Home Office deemed he was not from a majority English-speaking country. My enquiries to the Home Office and reporting resulted in a U-turn, with an apology from the government and an immediate reunion of the family. A Twitter thread I posted received over 1,000 retweets in under 24 hours.
The publication of a second piece for The Guardian on spousal visas highlighted the cases of three families with one British national and a non-EU spouse who had been separated due to the UK’s minimum income requirement policy. This full-page piece was followed by the reopening of nineteen overseas visa centres and a change in UKVI online guidance for applicants.