A foreign trip to meet her family turned into a harrowing experience of human rights violation for a housewife from Gujarat. 33-year-old Radha Naran Patel was bullied, coerced, illegally detained and imprisoned, turning what was ‘intended to be a family visit of a lifetime… into a nightmare of unimagined proportions’.
Radha was flagged down by an immigration officer who believed that she had to come to UK to work. Representation pic/Getty Images
Radha, who lives with her in-laws in Godpar with her two children, had planned a five-month visit to meet her parents and siblings, who have been living in UK since 2003. Her parents and sister are British citizens, and her brother was on an indefinite leave in the UK. Radha’s husband works in Seychelles.
Radha’s trip was sponsored by her sister, who works as a seamstress and lives with the family in Harrow, London. With her six-month visa, Radha landed at Heathrow, excited to meet her family. However, she was flagged down during her interview by an immigration officer (IO) who believed that her intention to come to UK was to work for her sister. The 33-year-old was then taken to the questioning chamber, where she was grilled for several hours and subsequently placed in detention.
A long torture
Radha’s alleged intention to work with her sister formed the basis of further interrogation and harassment. Radha, who did not understand much of English or Hindi, was not provided a Gujarati translator during her preliminary interview. Being a simple housewife, she was not aware about the jargon that the IO used during the interviews.
The notes scribbled at the back of her landing card reads, “Would help her sister sew curtains at home. (She) will get paid, not sure how much.” However, the scribbles didn’t name the officer who interviewed her. During her trial, Justice Anthony Thornton said that the scribbled notes “did not explain the nature of help or the payment she may receive, or if there was any direct link between the two.” The judge noted that the fact that she was being sponsored by her sister could be the reason for Radha to help her out.
While she was detained at 5.30 pm, the first official record of her interview is at 10:30 pm. During the time, Radha alleged she was interrogated several times in a ‘hostile environment’ and a ‘bullying manner’. Radha’s brother, who had come to pick her up, was unaware until midnight, when he was also briefly interviewed in an ‘aggressive and hostile manner’. He was then informed that his sister would be placed in detention. “The experience was scary, as I did not know why my sister was being held,” said her brother. He decided to hire an immigration lawyer.
“The law allows broad powers to IOs. However, the issue was how the legal powers were used against my client,” informs Urvi Shah, an Ahmedabad-born immigration lawyer who took Radha’s case. Between May 23 and May 29, Radha was placed behind bars, first in Colnbrook detention centre and then in Yarl’s Wood. The judge noted: “She was transferred without warning, and kept on permanent fright.”
While Radha had planned her UK visit for five months, she could not return to India for ten months, as her passport was impounded. “My young children were without their mother, and my aged in-laws had to take care of them,” recalled Radha. After her return, she pursued the case, which took over two years to come to the High Court in London on October 2013.
Calling the case “a monstrous series of miscarriages of justice” and “a precautionary tale”, Justice Thornton awarded Radha £110,000 in damages and £15,000 in exemplary damages (approx. R1.25 crore). While justice has been served, the Home Office has planned to appeal again, and Radha will not be paid any compensation till then.
Radha Patel, who was detained by immigration officers
They kept telling me that it was my intention to work. The whole process was scary; I was bullied and shouted at, whenever I would oppose their statements. I almost felt like giving up and going back.
Justice Anthony Thornton, presiding judge in Radha’s case
For 10 months, she faced a series of deliberate ploys, and unlawful attempts to prevent her succeeding in showing that the refusal of entry and the consequent detention had been unlawful.