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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

My struggle for ‘settled status’ caused a media storm. A year on, I’m still in limbo | Dahaba Ali Hussen

It has been nearly a whole year since I was refused my settled status to live in Britain. Not many people know this, and you certainly wouldn’t be able to tell from my crisp British accent, but I’m a Dutch citizen.

My mother fled to the Netherlands during the Somali civil war in the early 1990s, and then, when I was 10 years old, we moved to the UK. I grew up around various council estates in north London. Aged 18, I was offered a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge. Now I’m a journalist living and working in London.

One spring day in 2020, just after returning from a run, I checked my emails and nothing has been quite the same since. I saw a note from the Home Office telling me that a decision had been made on my application for settled status. “Oh great,” I remember thinking. “Glad this is all sorted now.”

It had never crossed my mind that I would be refused, I was always more concerned for my mother’s status, as she was a former refugee and I was born a Dutch citizen. I opened the attachment without paying much attention, running the shower at the same time. I skimmed the words and took a sharp breath. I stood in the bathroom of my flat staring at the words on my phone.

Dahaba Ali Hussen
‘Even renting is becoming an issue, with landlords asking questions about my immigration status.’

There were a million thoughts racing through my mind. Having campaigned with organisations including the3million, an organisation that gives a voice to EU citizens in the UK, and written extensively on the EU settlement scheme, I knew what this could mean.

Not being granted my settled status meant that I might not be able to work, access public funds or services such as the NHS, and it could mean deportation back to the Netherlands.

I took to social media and explained my situation. After a Twitter storm and a lot of media coverage, the Home Office got in touch with me, but that was just the start of my immigration nightmare.

I received a direct message from the Home Office on Twitter, and I took a call from a representative within 24 hours of my original tweet.

The representative told me that, while they couldn’t overrule the decision, I could apply again. I was given a direct mobile number and reassured that, once I applied again, I could call the number and have my application pushed through.

I felt relief wash over me, I was very grateful for the platform given to me by my job as a journalist and the subsequent media coverage. It took a while to reapply, I needed to gather my evidence and I could barely summon the mental energy to go through another refusal. I was refused my settled status very close to the original deadline, which meant that my second application went in late. I was asked to give a “sufficient reason” as to why I was reapplying late.

After my reapplication, I rang the number I was given but there was no answer. I tried not to worry but time passed. One week passed, then one month and now, one whole year later, my right to remain in the UK is still not protected.

I can’t make any long-term plans, such as buying a house. Even renting is becoming an issue, with landlords asking questions about my immigration status. At the moment, there are more than 300,000 EU nationals living in the UK who are in a similar position to myself. We are all living in limbo, unable to continue with our lives because our status is yet to be determined. The knowledge that the country you made your home, and you love, may not be your country for much longer cuts deep.

As we neared the various Brexit deadlines, we all became preoccupied with trade deals and the effects on the economy. What everyone forgot about was the real human cost of the referendum result. The Home Office should recruit and resource the EU settlement scheme properly to clear the backlog; it also needs to consider the impact on people who for no fault of their own have been left in limbo.

I didn’t choose to be born in the Netherlands, nor did I choose to move to the UK when I was a child. I did, however, choose to make the UK my home, to build a life and a career for myself in the capital, and now all of that hangs in the balance. The UK is my home, and I have a right to remain.

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