Singaporean grandmother fighting deportation from Britain

Mrs Irene Clennell and her husband John in a photo taken last year, after finding out that she was to be deported to Singapore. She is fighting to be allowed to remain in Britain with her family.
Mrs Irene Clennell and her husband John in a photo taken last year, after finding out that she was to be deported to Singapore. She is fighting to be allowed to remain in Britain with her family.PHOTO: NORTH NEWS & PICTURES LTD
Mum of two Irene Clenne lives in Ouston, but is being held in a Scottish detention centre prior to deportation despite being married to a County Durham man for 27 years.
Mum of two Irene Clenne lives in Ouston, but is being held in a Scottish detention centre prior to deportation despite being married to a County Durham man for 27 years.PHOTO: NORTH NEWS & PICTURES LTD

52-year-old married to British man detained after apparently flouting immigration rules

In the past few weeks, Singaporean grandmother Irene Clennell has often cried herself to sleep in a Scottish detention facility, fearing her family in Britain will be torn apart.

The 52-year-old, who has been married to a British man for 27 years, faces the prospect of being deported as she had apparently flouted immigration rules.

"Here, I have my husband and my sons. But they want to send me back and I have nothing in Singapore," said a determined Mrs Clennell, who has been fighting to be with her British family for years.

She was detained on Jan 20, after a routine appointment at an immigration reporting centre in Middlesbrough, England. Her plight was highlighted by British non-governmental organisation Migrant Voices recently, and reported by many news outlets, including the BBC.

Speaking to The Sunday Times from the Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre last week, Mrs Clennell said she has sought legal aid to fight her case. Also, her husband's sister has started a Gofundme page titled "Bring Irene Home" to raise funds for her legal fees.

  • Case in spotlight in British media

  • The British media has cast a spotlight on the case of Singaporean grandmother Irene Clennell and immigration issues in Britain, with British MPs weighing in on the matter.

    Several publications had, in the past two weeks, run reports on how Mrs Clennell, 52, faces deportation for running afoul of immigration rules because she left Britain for many years, after marrying her British husband, to look after her elderly parents.

    BuzzFeed UK reported on Feb 2 that Mrs Clennell was held in a Scottish detention centre "ahead of her forced removal to Singapore". A day later, the BBC published an article on her case, with the headline: "Woman faces deportation after 27 years."

    "Border farce: Immigration officials prepare to throw nan out of the country after 27 years because she spent too long with dying parents", read a headline by The Sun, while The Times went with: "Grandmother fights to halt deportation after decades."

    On Feb 8, BuzzFeed UK reported that British MPs were asking Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd to not have Mrs Clennell deported.

    Mrs Clennell's MP, Mr Kevan Jones, wrote in to Ms Rudd about the matter, while Mr Alistair Carmichael, a spokesman for home affairs for the Liberal Democrats party, said Mrs Clennell's case was a "deeply troubling one".

    "Britain is her home, and there can be no justification for forcing her to leave," he told BuzzFeed UK.

While Mrs Clennell said she is treated well by the officers at Dungavel, and has a proper bedroom, she is desperate not to be deported. "I've gone through so much over the years. I've done all I can and I don't know what else I can do to remain by my husband's side," Mrs Clennell said.

The couple have two adult sons, aged 27 and 25, and a granddaughter, who is less than a year old.

Mrs Clennell, who is forbidden to seek employment in Britain, has been working at the detention facility's laundromat.

Her case is a longstanding one stretching back more than two decades. She was first granted an Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) - which is typically given to foreign spouses of British citizens - when she married Mr John Clennell in 1990, after they met in a London pub. An ILR allows a person to stay in Britain without time restrictions.

ARBITRARY POLICIES

It's yet another example of how arbitrary policies tear apart families and ruin lives. These kind of bureaucratic decisions are a direct result of a relentless drive towards unrealistic migration caps that don't take real lives into account.

MIGRANT VOICES DIRECTOR NAZEK RAMADAN, on Mrs Clennell's case.

But in 1992, Mrs Clennell decided to move back to Singapore with her husband to live and work. Her ILR lapsed due to a clause that said she could not live outside Britain for more than two years.

Mr Clennell and their two sons returned to Britain in 1998, but she remained in Singapore until 1999.

Since then, her applications for another ILR have been rejected multiple times. The applications cost about £500 each time. Said Mrs Clennell: "My mother in Singapore was sick at the time, so I had no choice but to (remain) with her. She passed away in 1999."

She said she did not expect that leaving Britain in 1992 would be the start of her woes. "At that time, I thought it would be easy to apply for another ILR."

The couple lived apart for years until she was finally able to re-enter Britain in 2013, on the basis of making another application within the country. She stayed on even though her subsequent applications failed.

Their situation was made worse when Mr Clennell had health issues. A recent hernia operation and bypass surgery for his femoral artery left him with mobility issues.

Mr Clennell said he quit his job as a gas mains layer last year, and his wife was his sole caregiver.

"I've been speaking to her every day now over the phone and she is coping as best as she can. I feel like we are being deprived of a proper family life," said Mr Clennell.

Britain's Home Office, which is responsible for immigration, told The Sunday Times that Mrs Clennell has no legal basis to remain in the country and that her personal circumstances had been considered. A spokesman said: "As Mrs Clennell has spent the majority of her life, and her married life, living in Singapore, it is deemed she will not face reintegration issues upon her return."

Migrant Voices director Nazek Ramadan said: "Irene Clennell's case is... yet another example of how arbitrary policies tear apart families and ruin lives."

The Clennells have rejected the suggestion that the family move to Singapore. Mrs Clennell, who sold her four-room flat in Yishun in 2008, said: "We don't have much savings left to start another life. It will be hard to afford a home, John's medical fees or find a job."

Both her parents have died, and while she has three sisters in Singapore, she said they had problems of their own.

One of her sisters, financial consultant Lily Anthony, 54, said: "It is not so much about (Mrs Clennell's) financial ability to survive in Singapore, but that her family - her husband, sons, granddaughter and in-laws - is based there. It is unfair to force her to move."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'Singaporean fighting deportation from Britain'. Print Edition | Subscribe