Migrants, Refugees and Covid-19 in Portsmouth: Tell Us Your Stories

S&C has recently launched a new project to capture the impact of Covid-19 on different communities and sectors in Portsmouth. Here Covid-19 Community Reporter Paris Ali-Pilling explains how experiencing the immigration system firsthand made him want to report on the impact of the pandemic on asylum seekers, refugees and migrants living in Portsmouth.

Thanks to funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund and the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund, I am delighted to be a Covid-19 Community Co-Reporter on asylum seekers, refugees and migrant communities, working alongside Dianna Djokey, who will also be reporting on the impact of the pandemic on People of Colour (POC) in Portsmouth.

While I am not a migrant, my husband is. We met while we were both studying at university and he is from a country where it is illegal to be gay. Our relationship was entirely unplanned. In fact, my husband was planning to move to Canada when he graduated. However, we fell in love and at the end of the year, we married in a small ceremony with our close family and friends.

We then had to make a decision: we could leave the UK and try to get residency in another country or we could try to get his visa here. I felt ready to leave the country. Although the changes in law in the UK meant we could marry, I was angered by the immigration system that asked us to ‘prove’ we were a legitimate couple, and by the strict financial requirements of the system. In the end we decided to stay, but getting my husband’s visa was not an easy process, and it came with heavy costs, both financial and emotional.

We hired a lawyer who specialised in immigration law. She advised that on my salary as a nursery worker I was just below the Minimum Income Requirement (MIR), and that my husband would probably be placed on a 10-year plan, where every two and a half years we would have to reapply for a visa extension; at the end of the 10 years he could apply for British citizenship.

The process was nerve-racking: worrying whether my husband would be able to stay in the country, asking friends and family to write letters of support for the Home Office to ‘prove’ we were a real couple, and having to gather photographic evidence.

In March 2019, we received a letter from the Home Office. The government was satisfied we were a real couple and my husband was granted 30 months ‘limited leave to remain’, on the condition that he had no recourse to public funds, and ‘In addition your sponsor is not entitled to claim or receive public funds on your behalf.’

We’ve been very fortunate in being able to keep our head above water financially during the lockdown. But I know it hasn’t been so easy for other migrants, or those with non-permanent visa status.

That’s why I wanted to report on the impact of Covid-19 for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Portsmouth. We’ve already seen national news reports on how the plight of migrants, and of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK is worsening as a result of the pandemic. As Portsmouth is such a multicultural city, I want to play a part in making sure the voices of our migrant communities, who are often unseen and unheard in our city, are better represented and more widely understood.

Want to get involved?

I would like to interview local migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Portsmouth and the organisations and groups who support them. If you would like to share your experiences, or represent a group or organisation like this, please get in touch with me at: promotion@starandcrescent.org.uk

S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:

  • voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
  • small businesses and self-employed people
  • BAME communities

We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences in any of these areas, get in touch with us over on Facebook and Twitter, or email us at submissions@starandcrescent.org.uk 

Image by Sarah Cheverton.

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