Martin was deported to the UK after a sentence abroad. Here, he recounts his experience of the deportation process and his arrival in the UK and highlights some of the issues he faced when he returned. This experience is sadly not uncommon and can be incredibly frustrating for those trying to start a new life in an unfamiliar country.

The trip from detention to the airport was pretty uneventful. I was escorted by three security guards and kept in cuffs until we arrived at the airport via a secret back door. Then, I was made to sit in a very small room for about three hours waiting for the flight. An officer from Border Force gave my escorts my temporary passport and tickets – I was not allowed to have them in my possession. Border Force also took my suitcase away, searched it and then put it through check in.

On the plane, I sat by the window and the three escorts sat next to me. They were pleasant enough, but accompanied me to the toilet and made it very obvious to other passengers that I was being escorted, which was unsettling.

When we arrived at Heathrow, we were met at the plane by two police officers. We went through baggage collection and once I got to immigration, the escorts left me and handed my temporary passport to immigration. I then waited in a room for 30 minutes or so before the two police officers came in. I was questioned by them for longer than I expected; it was clear that they had not received all the information they needed about my case and conviction. They then took me to Heathrow Travel Care.

The people there were lovely and treated me like a human being.

They provided me with a SIM card for my phone, took me down to the train station, showed me how to purchase a tube ticket and advised which line to get to the station closest to my hotel. The hotel that was booked by Border Force was basic, to say the least, but I don’t want to sound ungrateful. The room was smaller than my prison cell, but I appreciated it, and it was better than being out on the streets.

I contacted Prisoners Abroad the next day. They were expecting me and I was assigned a case worker. He has been so helpful and supportive in the last five months. The priority for me was to get see a doctor so I could get my prescription medication sorted. I take a blood pressure pill and failure to miss even one dose causes a steep rise in blood pressure so I cannot afford to run out. My caseworker gave me details of a doctor’s surgery that works with Prisoners Abroad all the time. With a referral letter from my caseworker, they booked me an appointment immediately and I was prescribed the medication I needed for a month. I was also provided with my NHS number. I didn’t think I would have one, but I was told that if you are born in the UK then you automatically get assigned a number at birth. That was handy to know.

I had about £900 in cash to last me until I could set up a bank account and transfer money from my Australian account. My caseworker put me in contact with someone at Lloyds bank. I went to see them and the first thing they asked was for a passport. Of course I didn’t have one. I did have a photocopy of the temporary passport, but they said that wasn’t sufficient ID. I provided them with my birth certificate, Australian driver’s license, Medicare card, and copies of Australian bank statements. I also had a letter from Prisoners Abroad stating that my passport was on its way, but they refused to open an account for me without the passport. I mentioned I had an NHS number and the guy said that might do it, so he’d try putting it through and that he would be in touch in three or four days. When I chased it up five days later, he was on holiday and hadn’t even submitted the application. I ended up speaking to the manager and was passed onto a lady who was exceptionally good.

I told her my story about deportation and she said she had dealt with other referrals from Prisoners Abroad before, but all of them had passports. She said, “I will make sure we get you and your account set up somehow.”

I gave her all the same documents, but she came back to me the next day saying their auditors had refused to approve my account without a passport. She told me to come back into the branch to see her and to provide everything I had from Australia that had my name, address, and details on it and she intended to bombard the auditors with paperwork until they approved it. So, we provided bank statements from National Australia Bank, lease agreements, car registration documents, rates notices, phone bills, my NHS number and a few other things.

The next day, she called me and said the auditors wanted to know where I got my money from. I had to explain that this was all personal savings and not the proceeds of crime. I also had to disclose my conviction as evidence of this, which my caseworker said was unusual, but seemed to be the only way to get it done. Finally, they agreed to open an account for me and I was able to transfer my money. The whole process took about three weeks, so if I had not had the £900 in cash I would have been in real trouble.

Next was trying to find somewhere to live. I researched lots of places online, but London prices are ridiculous. I ended up in a place in Portsmouth. It is basically a one room studio and also very expensive, but I didn’t have much choice in the end. Once again, I found that I needed my passport when trying to get estate agents to even return my call. When I explained (briefly) my circumstances (without the criminal elements) they all said the same thing: “Sorry, but we have ten other applicants who all have the right paperwork. Get a passport and come back to us.” I ended up having to pay six months’ rent in advance to be even considered for the flat I ended up getting, and even then they wanted my passport. I had to provide all the documents I showed to the bank to get them to agree, even though I was paying up front. I am not yet sure what I am going to do when the six months is up.

After this, I had to get my National Insurance Number. No surprises here, they wanted to see my passport. I went through the usual story and they told me I would need a face to face interview to prove who I am. So I trekked half way across the country to a little office and sat in front of a man, only for him to tell me I needed my passport before they would issue it. I became a little assertive and explained I was making an eight hour round trip just to do this. I said surely not everyone has a passport. He spoke to his supervisor, and they grilled me on some very specific questions: When did you leave the UK? How did you get to Australia? Name of the ship? Where did it stop? Parents’ full names and dates of birth? Where have you previously travelled to on your UK passport?

I had all the answers and was told I would hear from them in four weeks. Four weeks later, I received my National Insurance Number!

During the five months we were waiting for my passport, my caseworker kept calling and asking for updates, but he got the same answer every time: “It is in progress, we are not waiting on any further information, it will be issued very soon.” In hindsight, it is hard to say whether staying in Australia for another five months waiting for my passport would have been a good decision. I suspect overall not, but every instance of proof of ID in the UK assumes you have a passport. I am going through the process of getting a UK driver’s license now and the first question asks for your passport number – which I am glad to say is not a problem anymore!

Thanks for reading. I hope this provides some idea of potential issues that those deported to the UK may face.

Offering a guiding hand

Prisoners Abroad supports people who return to the UK after prison; we find them somewhere to stay, provide grants for food and travel, and help them take the vital steps to a new life.

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