It’s with great sadness that I have to tell you all that our attempts to help Ria in her quest to help women in Bangladesh has failed.
Despite wonderful support from you all last year – raising all the fees we needed so that she could take up a place offered at Lancaster University to take a Business degree and stay with my family while she studied – we were finally laid low by the current government’s immigration policies and typical English bureaucracy.
With everything in place and even the first year’s fees paid up front and in full, we simply awaited the rubber-stamping of Ria’s visa last August. We didn’t expect that Ria’s interviewer at the British embassy in Dhaka would ask her odd questions like ‘how much are the course fees for similar courses in other parts of the UK?’ Why on earth would she know the answer to questions like that? The result was the interviewer didn’t believe she was a bona fide student and refused her visa application.
In true British madness, Ria was permitted to appeal but not allowed to produce any new evidence including explaining why she couldn’t answer some of the questions (she couldn’t say what other universities were offering because she chose the one nearest to my family so she could reside with us – completely normal for a young Bangladeshi village girl who has never left her country before). The appeal was rejected on exactly the same grounds as before.
Lancaster University managed to persuade their person at the Home Office that this interview hadn’t been correctly undertaken and over December the visa was reassessed again. A third and final time it was rejected – again, no new evidence permitted so the exercise was completely pointless. Although Ria could apply all over again next year, so much time has been lost that her heart isn’t in it any longer and I don’t blame her.
My family and I were terribly upset and I am angry at the obduracy of civil servants and the British Government’s immigration policies which make it all but impossible for foreigners with genuine intentions to work or study to enter the country. We have other friends from Bangladesh who have gone through similar processes to work here and had a nightmare every single time. Indeed it seems almost the only way in is through illegal means which does nothing to curb the population’s paranoid xenophobia.
I have often written and spoken on the evils of the growing right-wing movements in Europe since the depression six years ago. In the UK, UKIP are now serious contenders politically having grown from the lunatic fringes into a trusted party. Like frogs in a pan slowing boiling to death none of us seem able or willing to do much to stop Nigel Farage and his cronies from marching on. That the Government is listening to him and making things harder for immigrants, despite the huge economic benefits the UK gets from immigration, is most concerning of all. Ria couldn’t have been any more perfect – great English, good A level grades, used to a British system, financially supported, set up to live in an emotionally safe environment where she can be both Bangladeshi and enjoy British life – it was all there and yet she couldn’t prove she was ‘a genuine student’.
Ria was devastated but has had to move on. Having put her education on hold for over a year so she could study here (ironically consider another reason she wasn’t genuine) she’s now begun her Business degree in Dhaka. This is far from ideal and something we’d hoped to avoid. Dhaka is one of the worst capital cities in the world and though my family used to enjoy breaks away from LAMB there from time to time, it wasn’t because we found the city safe and attractive! For a peaceful country, Dhaka is dangerous – especially from young women.
Our big concern now is that Ria’s parents may feel the need to leave LAMB to come and support her in the city. There may be nothing we can do about that but if we can ease the financial burden a little to make things easier then we will.
For this reason, my family and I will continue to support Ria and we would love to encourage you to do the same. Sonali continues to sell and I’m bringing a new version out in Bengali and English as soon as I’ve finished my collection of short stories. Money raised from the book, from the GoFundMe site or donations via the ‘Donate’ button on this page will continue to go to help Ria and her family through the next few years of her education. If you donated through the GoFundMe page I will be in touch soon to ask you if you want your donation returned or if you want it to go to her education in Dhaka.
What hasn’t been stopped is Ria’s determination to get a Business degree and do her part to raise the status of women in Bangladesh. I’ve known her for nearly ten years now and know her heart to be a good one (as are her parents). I’ll do what I can to help her succeed – I hope you will too.