A woman who has been subjected to two failed deportation attempts and spent five months in detention has said it is a real blow to be refused UK status despite feeling entirely British.
Opelo Kgari, 28, who has lived in the UK since she was a child, was released from Yarl’s Wood in May. During her time there, she told The Independent of the restrictive and at times “inhumane” regime in the centre.
The Botswanan national and her mother were informed last week by the Home Office that her latest immigration claim had been rejected. They are now pursuing an appeal over the decision.
Speaking to The Independent on Tuesday, Ms Kgari said that although she sees herself as British, she feels unwanted by the UK government.
“I’ve been moulded into the woman I am today through the education system and the people who I hang out with all the time,” she said.
“So for the government to then turn around and say you’re not British, you’re not part of our community, is a real blow.”
The Home Office tried to remove Ms Kgari and her mother from the UK twice while they were in Yarl’s Wood, but on both occasions the removal was thwarted following intervention from MPs and lawyers.
Ms Kgari – who, along with her mother, is now staying with a friend in Stoke-on-Trent and is still unable to work, study or travel – said the experience of detention and the removal attempts had affected her mental health.
“I was made to feel like I’d done something so wrong – to be put in a restraint belt and into a van, separate from my mum, with six escorts around me. It’s ridiculous, really,” she said.
“It was so hard, just not knowing what was happening. It was such a shock, and not knowing what would come next. The possibility of being deported to a place I have not been for such a long time.
“After the injunction was put through I stayed in my room in Yarl’s Wood for a few days. I didn’t speak to many people for a while.“
Ms Kgari was first made aware that there was an issue with her status when she applied to university in 2010 and was rejected due to her immigration status.
Without the right to work, she threw herself into volunteering for charitable causes until she and her mother were detained in Yarl’s Wood last year.
Now out of detention, but still with an unresolved immigration status, Ms Kgari said she was spending her time helping out with a crisis support organisation to “help make a difference to other people’s lives”.
She said: “Getting the news that our claim had been refused last week was difficult, and knowing that with that there’s a chance I could get taken back to the detention centre and possibly worse. I’m living every day as though it’s my last.
“I just hope that anyone who has seen or heard my story and is in a similar situation can rest assured that they are not alone. I hope my story will be able to help someone out there.”