'I slept rough in London while seven months pregnant'

By Winnie Agbonlahor
BBC News, London

Sarah and sonImage source, Sarah Kamati
Image caption,
Sarah - not her real name - gave birth to her son in Britain

Sarah faced a tough choice: stay in her native Namibia and continue to be raped and tortured, or run and leave her 10-year-old daughter behind.

The then 29-year-old decided to flee. Once she was safe, she would send for her daughter.

Sarah, who was seven months pregnant, arrived at Heathrow Airport with her partner on the morning of 12 December 2018. But what started out as a smooth asylum claim ended up in a misunderstanding that rendered the couple homeless.

Here, in her own words, she reflects on her experiences.

'We had two hours to vacate the room'

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Sarah with a traditional Herero doll, which represent the Herero tribe

When we arrived at Heathrow Airport, we claimed asylum. Everyone was so helpful, caring, and supportive.

We were sent to a hotel in Croydon where we settled nicely. It felt so safe and everything from food to toiletries was provided for us.

But one day, after about two weeks, the hotel manager came into our room and said he had received a letter from the Home Office stating we had "more than enough" money to pay for our stay, and therefore had to leave.

I didn't know how that could be. We had £600 to our name when we arrived, but by that point had spent most of it on food, clothes - it was very cold - and a new phone.

We tried to explain that to him, but to no avail. Our application for asylum had been rejected.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Sarah and her partner sought help at Lunar House after their asylum claim was rejected

He gave us two hours to vacate the room and said he would drop us off at Lunar House - the headquarters of UK Visas and Immigration.

It was almost Christmas, so he wasn't sure if anyone would even be available to help us, but driving us there was all he could do.

My whole world came crashing down. We did not have anywhere to go.

'We slept under bridges and in stations'

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Sarah wearing traditional Herero clothing in Namibia

Lunar House was closed. We sat down on a bench outside the building in complete disbelief. We stayed there for hours, simply not knowing what to do. We were in shock.

I covered myself in a throw, but it was very cold. I was worried I would lose my baby.

A few hours later, a passerby told us there was a bridge nearby. It was a three-mile walk.

The next few nights, we spent our last money on food and drink, sleeping under bridges and in stations.

I never imagined I would end up homeless or sleeping on the streets of Britain. I didn't know stuff like that could happen.

I had fled Namibia because I feared for my life. I ran to get away from a life of rape and torture from the age of nine.

And now I was worried I might die in the freezing cold, worried I might lose my baby and it would have all been for nothing.

'I was rushed to hospital'

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Hospital staff helped to get Sarah off the streets

After five nights sleeping rough, my midwife - who I'd been allocated in my first two weeks in the country - put us in touch with homeless charity Crisis.

They provided us with various temporary places to sleep until early January and helped us get our application to the Home Office back on track.

Then, one day, I could not feel my baby, so I was rushed to hospital.

An examination concluded the baby and I were fine, and but the hospital staff would not discharge me until they knew I had somewhere safe to go.

They helped us chase the Home Office about our application, and, on the third day of my hospital stay, the Home Office finally approved our request for asylum and sent us to a home in Thornton Heath.

The previous rejection had been due to an error in the application.

It was such a big relief.

'I feel like I have failed my daughter'

Image source, Handout
Image caption,
Sarah's son is a healthy little boy

I gave birth in February 2019 to my son and in March we were put up in a house in east London.

Life finally started to move forward again.

I made some new friends, and I started going to Magpie - a charity which supports mums and young children in temporary or insecure accommodation - where I was able to go with my baby, get nappies, socialise with other mums and do a lot of activities.

But then coronavirus hit, and everything stopped.

Magpie connected me with another charity called Beam, which is now raising money for a high chair and tablet with educational apps for my son and a laptop so I can improve my English and hopefully get a job as soon as my status is granted.

Image source, Sarah
Image caption,
Sarah enjoyed going to the Magpie Project before it was closed temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic

A laptop would be good to get out of this isolation hole.

With nothing else to do, I get more and more anxious every day, worrying about my daughter Beverley.

I feel like I failed her as a mother, that I am not protecting her, that I have been selfish.

I wish my case was decided soon, because only then can I make a claim for family reunion so my daughter can join us.

I wish she was here with us, so my life could finally start.

The Home Office said it was "committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered in a timely way" and that all decision were made "based on available evidence at the time".

As told to Winnie Agbonlahor

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