A baby whose legal guardian is a UK resident has been blocked from entering the country, leaving her and her soon-to-be adoptive mother “stranded” in Pakistan.
The Home Office has been accused of “trampling” on the rights of families after it repeatedly refused to grant entry clearance to Sofia Saleh, now aged seven months, despite the fact her sole carer has been settled in Britain for 20 years.
Nina Saleh, a Norwegian national who lives in London and holds permanent UK residency, travelled to Pakistan in November 2018 after she was approved for adoption as a single parent by the British authorities. She was matched with her baby, Pakistani national Sofia, after 10 days when Sofia was less than a month old.
The 44-year-old, who works in compliance consultancy, obtained guardianship, which she described as a “smooth” process, of Sofia through the Pakistani authorities in February 2019. She then immediately applied for a visa for Sofia so she could return with her to the UK where she would be able to finish the adoption process.
But Ms Saleh received a letter from the Home Office in March stating that Sofia’s application had been refused on the grounds that “adoptions that have taken place in Pakistan cannot be legally recognised in the UK” – despite the fact she has not yet adopted the child.
The Norweigian national has since reapplied numerous times but received the same response. On 17 May she received a letter from the director general of UK Visas and Immigration stating that her case was being reconsidered, but she is still waiting.
With no family in Pakistan, Ms Saleh is renting a room in Karachi where, fearful of being targeted as a single woman with a baby, she said she feels they are being “held hostage”. “I have nowhere to go. I don’t even know anyone. Where do I take myself and my baby? I’m at home all day. I know it sounds dramatic but I feel like we’ve been kidnapped and we’re in a room all day long,” said Ms Saleh.
“I don’t feel safe taking my child out. The country is progressive in some ways but it’s still a very male-dominated society, so if you do step out you have to either go with a male or be with a group of females. So me going alone outside with Sofia, they would know straight away I was a foreigner because it’s not the done thing here.”
For a British resident to adopt a child from overseas they must be approved by the UK adoption authorities and obtain a certificate of eligibility from the Department for Education, and then complete the necessary legal requirements in the country of the child’s origin, before formalising the adoption in Britain.
Ms Saleh has obtained the relevant requirements in the UK and has been granted a guardianship order by the family court in Pakistan, but the Home Office is not permitting her to return to complete the adoption process.
“I explained to the Home Office that the adoption has not been finalised yet, I only hold guardianship for my child, so their reason for refusing me makes no sense. It’s the not knowing that’s really difficult. They aren’t telling me what they need,” said Ms Saleh. “I never thought I’d be here for this long. The biggest irony is all Sofia’s legal documents, her birth certificate, everything that had to do with Pakistan, it was all done so quickly. The delay is all due to the UK.”
The Norweigian national described the conditions they are living in as “unbearable” with electricity that disappears for two hours at a time, meaning surviving without a fan in temperatures that can exceed 40 degrees.
“She’s seven months old, being confined to a room is not exactly the life I envisaged for her,” added Ms Saleh. “I feel isolated, I’m anxious that something may happen. I have insomnia. I feel like I’m going to lose my mind at times. I’m covered in eczema, I’ve had headaches, I’ve lost so much hair I have bald patches in places.
“Sofia has missed out on so much crucial development because we’ve been stuck here. How can I make her feel comfortable in an environment that is alien to me? What am I supposed to do? Where do I go?
“She’s my first child, and I’m without family friends and a network in a foreign country. This is supposed to be the most joyous time of my life, with my baby, showing her precious moments to my family. Instead I’m alone and stressed beyond belief.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the case was “yet another shocking product of this government’s hostile environment policy”. “The rights of families are being trampled on,” she added. ”The Tory leadership candidates’ silence on this is deafening – all of them have supported these cruel policies.”
It is not the first time a baby with British resident parents has been denied UK status. In April, The Independent reported that a child born in the UK to two British-resident parents was refused the right to live in the country, in a case lawyers described as “shameful” and “potentially unlawful”.
A Home Office spokesperson said the department was in touch with Ms Saleh and exploring the options available to her and her daughter.