'I just hope God will help me now because there is no other hope'
The pregnant Afghan widow who is facing homelessness in Northampton
By Natalie Bloomer
Arriving in the UK from Afghanistan was bittersweet for Samia*. On the one hand she was finally able to join her husband and prepare to build their life together in the place he had called home for 20 years. On the other, she was forced to leave her two-year-old son behind while waiting for his British passport to be issued.
When she received her spouse visa she was informed that if she didn’t enter the UK within a certain period of time, the family would have to start the whole process again. So she left her son with her brother with the intention of travelling back to Afghanistan to collect him as soon as the paperwork was completed.
She arrived in Northampton in February of this year. It was cold and very different to what she was used to but she was happy to finally be with her husband. However, within weeks he was taken ill with Covid and on April 27 after spending more than a month in hospital, he died.
Samia was in a new country, unable to speak English and grieving.
“I was alone, the only people I had were the Afghan community,” she told NN Journal through an interpreter. “It was even harder because I didn’t have my son with me.”
Within a week of losing her husband, she says Northampton Partnership Homes served her with notice to leave her home in Spring Boroughs because the tenancy was only in her husband’s name.
It was around the same time that Samia discovered she was pregnant. She was terrified about what the future held.
“I was worrying all the time about what would happen and I still am. Every night I worry, there are no words to explain how I feel. I just hope God will help me now because there is no other hope.”
To make things even harder for Samia, she was not entitled to any public funds because she was in the UK on a spouse visa, meaning there was very little support available to her.
The founder of the Northampton Afghan Community group Obaidullah Khushull has been helping her with her immigration status and housing situation.
“She was entitled to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain because she was widowed - this would remove the no recourse to public funds issue. We paid for that and we are trying to challenge the decision to evict her,” he says.
“I made a complaint to West Northants Council because she has been offered no support. She is extremely vulnerable and she has been left to fend for herself.”
While all this was going on, Samia had to watch from afar as her home country of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. Her son’s passport has now been issued but the situation in the country means she can not return to get him.
“My brother is calling me telling me I need to take my son because he is in fear for his life, they are in hiding,” Samia says.
Khushull has spoken to the local MP Andrew Lewer about the issue. But, despite the member of parliament for Northampton South chasing the Foreign Office, Samia has not yet received any information about what help can be given to bring her son here.
She has watched on in confusion as Afghan refugees have been welcomed into Northamptonshire and offered help in recent months.
“It makes me both smile and cry, I do not understand. I am already here and dying for help, they are not helping me and not asking how they can help my son.”
Around 300 Afghan refugees arrived in West Northamptonshire in the late summer as part of the government’s relocation scheme. The local authority worked closely with other agencies and organisations to offer a range of support to the new arrivals.
Samia says the only help she has received is from the local community. The church has provided her with essential baby items like a cot and Moses basket, the councillor for Castle ward Danielle Stone has been teaching her and other local women to speak English, and the Afghan community have supported her with legal issues, translating and taking her to hospital appointments.
She says she would not have survived without this help but she feels embarrassed to ask for it.
“All these people have helped me but I feel like I’m begging. I would feel more proud if I didn’t need to ask for these things.”
Cllr Stone says it makes no sense that some people fleeing Afghanistan receive help while others do not.
“There is a two-tier system of support, people like Samia should be treated in the same way as those arriving through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy. What’s happened to Samia is a tragedy but the community of Spring Boroughs is really trying to help her.”
Samia’s baby is due in January, the same month she expects to hear whether or not she will be kicked out of her home.
“I’m trying to look forward to the birth but every day is different and sometimes loneliness is killing me. I just want my son here with me and to know we have a roof over our heads.”
Nicky McKenzie, assistant director for housing at Northampton Partnership Homes said:
“We’re very sorry for the loss of Samia’s husband, and we understand how distressing this situation must be for her. Unfortunately, she has no legal right to remain in her current address, and so we’re not able to offer her a tenancy. This means the tenancy ended when her husband sadly died.
“We have been in contact with Samia to advise her on where to seek help and support, and we would encourage her again to contact West Northamptonshire Council’s homelessness department or social services who will be able to provide her with more help and assistance.”
West Northants Council was contacted for a comment but has not provided one.
*Name has been changed
You can read more about refugees arriving in Northamptonshire from Afghanistan below: