*A version of this article first appeared at: https://bumithomas.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/bumi-thomas-a-call-for-action-and-support-before-i-face-the-immigration-tribunal/
I am Bumi Thomas, a Glaswegian-born Nigerian with creative sensibilities based in London. I am female, black, single and a conduit for change.
I was born in Rutherglen in Glasgow in 1983. My umbilical cord, my very DNA is embedded in the soil and ties me firmly to the core of Scotland.
My parents Lizzy and Segun Thomas were a pioneering young Nigerian couple who made a positive imprint on the Glaswegian cultural scene, creating a hub called HairLynks for Commonwealth citizens in the Highlands in the 70s and early 80s. My older sister Kemi was born British in December 1981. We have always been inseparable.
When our family moved back to Nigeria in 1986, we had such thick Glaswegian accents that people often asked our parents what was wrong with us. Kemi and I vowed we would come back to England as soon as we were old enough. Adjusting to life in Nigeria was challenging as we were perceived as and treated as foreigners. The move was supposed to be temporary. I constantly dreamt of the day we would return to Britain.
I finally came back to the UK in 2002 when I was 18, shortly after Kemi. I was elated to be back. I was always certain it would happen one day. I was so excited about my life, my dreams, and my education. My parents believed I was British and was returning to my home country. I was keen to make the most of my independence, my crossover into adult life, opportunities to express my individuality and creativity, fall in love, make new friends, be close to my sister and to reconnect with my British roots… I was home and it felt wonderful.
Marginalisation – The Shock
I was first told that I didn’t belong when I was 25. I had finished university and was making plans to go travelling with my friends before joining the working world. It was time to get my British passport and documents in order. Like most people at the time, I had been relying on my birth certificate and driver’s license as proof of my nationality. In the 2011 census 17% of people in the UK reported that they did not have a passport.
First of all, I had to find a lawyer. I made enquiries and spoke to a trainee solicitor at an immigration law firm. She advised me my situation was a straightforward application and that it would cost a small fee to process my application for citizenship.
At first I thought the application was a mere technicality. I paid her £500 so we could start the process in September 2008. She assured me it would all be done correctly and promptly. I took in all my documents documenting my residence in the UK and we completed the application form. She told me she would submit it and keep me updated on all correspondence. After few weeks I contacted her to follow up. At this point, she stopped taking my calls or returning my emails. After a couple of months she confessed that she hadn’t submitted the application and would not be able to refund the fee. I was very disappointed by the betrayal of trust and having to begin the process again. I then entered the world of immigration applications. It has been an ongoing ordeal.
Six months later, I had worked as a market researcher, estate agent and freelance photographer. I was paying tax, volunteering and making my way as a musician. I saved up enough extra money to book a consultation with a leading law firm in 2009. It cost another 500 pounds at £250 per hour. The lawyer I met said that I was technically an overstayer and this would be used against me. They said that meant I had no grounds to make a normal application for citizenship.
It was at this stage I was confronted with my ‘ineligibility’ and told I was technically an overstayer with no claims whatsoever to British identity. I was shocked and very confused!
I didn’t understand how I could be born in Britain, have such a strong sense of British identity but be told that I was not and could not be a citizen.
The third lawyer I saw said my case was unique and complex. I was a ‘Border Native’, and this was a legal grey area that would be covered by an application under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights based on my right to respect for my family and private life. I was given a ballpark figure of £2,000 and an application was submitted in January 2010. It seemed very promising. I gathered supporting witness statements from my family, friends, university and employers.
This application was refused on 5 May 2010 with no right of appeal. It broke me. I was inconsolable, vulnerable, lost, inexperienced and scared.
My lawyer advised me to write to the Home Office asking them to reconsider their decision and sending more supporting evidence of my private and family life. It took a further two years to get a response. During this time I was legally unable to work, rent a home or travel. I became dependent on my partner and went into a deep depression. I was constantly in a state of anxiety. It was a very difficult time.
In June 2012, I was finally granted Discretionary Leave outside of the Immigration Rules for 3 years. I was so relieved and ecstatic. I could start to rebuild my life after 3 years of stagnation.
In November 2015 I applied for renewal/extension of my leave which cost £649 for the application, another £600 for the NHS Immigration Health Surcharge Service which was introduced in 2015 and £1,500 for legal fees. Changes made to immigration policy at this time included the introduction of the Hostile Environment policy, cuts to Legal Aid for immigration cases and a 37% increase in the cost of immigration applications.
After two grants of Discretionary Leave in 2012 and 2015, I made what I thought would be a third and final application for indefinite leave to remain in November 2018. This cost £2,458. This would finally give me the right to stay permanently in the UK.
However, this application was refused in June 2019, partly due to the breakdown of my relationship with my ex-partner. The Home Office claimed that my relationship had been a key consideration in granting my status retrospectively. The change in my circumstances meant I was no longer eligible for settlement via the 6 year route.
What did this mean? How could I reconcile my sense of belonging with this glaring rejection of me? It is the long term uncertainty that has had the power to induce a somewhat paralytic state of which I am not proud. In quiet moments I have felt pangs of rage, hypersensitivity, sadness as well as hope. It is so complex to have the heritage and beliefs of a British Citizen without the formal recognition. Sometimes, it’s hard to maintain energy to fight.
There were numerous inconsistencies in the reasoning in the latest rejection, including needlessly harsh statements. These included their opinion that I was an “unexceptional” person and also basic mathematical calculations which they claimed had been considered extremely carefully even though they were completely wrong. I couldn’t understand how such basic errors of fact could be made by officials after so many years of me submitting documents and assuming that someone on the other side was properly considering the circumstances. The application system is compromised by complexity and undermined by staff cuts and outsourcing. Provisions are not in place to help officials make discretionary decisions with the dominance of the points based system acting against tenets of common decency, morality and indeed basic common sense.
I am horrified by the lack of communication and trust between the Home Office and the public. In 2019, more than 3 decades after the (1983) British Nationality Act was introduced, I still find that the majority of people I meet are still unaware and shocked to discover that birth in the UK does not translate to citizenship. Back when I was born in 1983, my parents didn’t know they had to fill out additional forms, ring the Home Office etc in order for me to become a citizen. They just went to the registry office like everyone else, in the belief that this was what was required.
The lack of knowledge of the Windrush generation in the 70s and 80s about these changes was no different from the general population at the time. Insufficient efforts were made to help inform and regularise the status of not just the incoming (invited!) generation of of doctors, nurses, transport workers and creatives but also their children, likeme. When families came to the UK they did not believe for a second that their children would inherit these identity problems decades later and that some would have to fight for the right merely to remain with their siblings born months previously.
My slightly older sister who I live with has benefited from automatic citizenship as she was born in 1981 and not in 1983. She is appalled at the arbitrary nature of that difference, which has meant that I have experienced a 10 year rollercoaster merely to try to live as a normal citizen of the United Kingdom.
The day I received that brown envelope with the latest decision from the Home Office I knew my life would change forever, one way or another. I read the words
“Your Claim outside the Rules and human rights claim… …is refused.”
“…If you do not appeal you must leave the country.”
“ You can be removed or banned from Returning to the UK. You have 14 calendar days from the date this decision was sent to appeal.”
My heart started racing, I felt faint and nauseous with no idea of how to deal with this impossible situation. In subsequent days, I rallied and my spirits were raised as friends and relatives at first and then members of the public began to support me in my efforts to fight the decision.
Since then my story has been covered on The Metro, Daily Mail, Clash Music, The Guardian, Glasgow Live and the BBC. Almost 25,000 people have signed a petition started by someone I’d never met: Ian Johnston a dedicated Diversity Officer with the Scottish National Party. I’ve been overwhelmed by messages of support.
The efforts of all who posted on my blogs and sent donations to help pay for my appeal have completely justified my positive view of the British public. Support has been irrespective of race, nationalism, gender. People have posted from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. They have been Remainers and Brexiteers, Conservative, Labour, Liberal. They may be introverts, extroverts, male, female, non gender. They are professors, cleaners, politicians, journalists, carers and students. They are black, they are white and everything in between that is beautiful about humanity and they have taken the time to send messages expressing support. For this I thank you with all my heart. Oh my, it has made a difference! I want those messages to do good for others in the same situation as me so that we empower officials with the mandate to provide the clarity of a fair, compassionate and timely immigration service so justice can prevail for everyone who needs it.
I am still processing and dealing with the trauma of this experience.
The Windrush Generation
I resonate strongly with the Windrush Generation. We’ve started talking a lot about the Windrush Generation, quite rightly. But the painful and unjust citizenship and deportation issues facing Caribbean communities is mirrored in the treatment of people from across the Commonwealth, people who were invited to help the UK recover post-war. It’s broader than Windrush – the scandal extends across the 53 countries joined by their shared histories in the Commonwealth.
My grandfather arrived in the 50s from Lagos to work and study. He was a civil servant with a strong sense of service to the community. My parents were born as British Subjects and arrived from the Commonwealth in the 1970s. They contributed to the life and the culture of the United Kingdom by creating and curating a tangible space for diversity to evolve in the psyche of Scotland, stimulating inclusion within the community. My sister was born in 1981 as a British Citizen. Because of an accident of the timing of my birth I have had a lifetime of fighting for my right to belong.
I am a descendent of a movement that was created to better lives based on a symbiotic agreement between nations, putting their resources together to build a better future.
I marvel at how much we have forgotten about our shared history, the synergy we envisioned as a result of this commonality – this common wealth – and the popular misrepresentations that cause conflict and tension between groups that should be allies. As well as the role that tension plays in suppressing the rights of people who came with goodwill and contributed so much to the wealth, infrastructure, culture and healing of this nation.
I am proud of this ongoing contribution. I am also very aware that the terms of engagement have devolved to a brutal and inhumane treatment in some areas that cannot be normalised or internalised any longer. We need a policy that truly reflects the spirit of solidarity and inclusion.
The 16th of October steadily approaches. On this date I will be presenting my case at the First-Tier Tribunal Immigration Court.
Success would mean reclaiming my birthright, based on my fullness as a Glaswegian born woman of colour who has real roots here and has been shaped by the essence of this land in tangible and intangible ways for over 20 years.
I would be grateful for your support. Even more than that, I need you to help to create more awareness about cases such as mine and to lobby for change.
I would really appreciate it if you could sign + share my petition and campaign #JusticeForBumi https://www.change.org/p/https-www-sajidjavid-com-bumi-thomas-was-born-in-scotland-and-is-scottish-she-been-told-to-leave-her-birth-nation
For anyone who has listened to my music, seen a live show or interacted with my art please send a message with your full name, the piece title and what effect/impact it had on you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and my lawyer Jamie Bell at email@example.com or DM me via any social media platforms.
This will be used as evidence in my appeal hearing.
My hope for the future is to be a voice for my generation. I hope to use this experience, my art and music as a means of creating positive change. I hope to educate the public on the realities of displacement and belonging, on the way that the Windrush Scandal + immigration policy amendments affect people from across the Commonwealth. I hope to and always emphasise the importance of community and love in the wellbeing of self and others.
Thank you so much for your ongoing support.
Photo credit: Tatiana Gorilovsky