Bella Saltiel meets St James Street solicitor Arona Sarwar – and her client, Cecile, a Windrush scandal victim initially denied British citizenship
The Windrush scandal’s victims “lost their voice”, says Arona Sarwar, an immigration solicitor at Arona St James Street.
Her client, Cecile, is an example of someone unfairly denied access to British citizenship. Cecile is a local, living in Leytonstone, but was told she was ‘no longer on the system’ when she applied for a passport. The lack of passport only became an issue over recent years, when she wanted to confirm a new role as a carer.
A woman who has spent her life in England, Cecile arrived in the UK from St Lucia in 1957, on a baby passport that has since been lost. For Arona, taking on Cecile’s case meant quickly discovering that many Caribbean people were expected to hold on to this documentation for decades – a clear example of discrimination.
At first, Cecile attempted to apply for citizenship through the Windrush Scheme, but says she had “no joy”. It was Arona, she says, who “helped me marvellous”, completing the process within three months.
Before having access to a solicitor, Cecile found the system slow to respond and difficult to navigate. An experience which revealed the ways that immigration bureaucracy can be hostile to individuals without legal knowledge. “If you don’t have nobody [to represent your needs] you don’t get nowhere in life,” she says now.
Waltham Forest has been Cecile’s home for most of her life. She works locally and has had four children here. Her eldest, Davina, was born in 1983 and was also denied citizenship. During this tumultuous period, Cecile recalls her daughter became depressed.
But now, the family are ecstatic that they finally have a passport. Cecile recalls the moment she received the document, how she was jumping for joy.
Arona is keen to use the law to represent the marginalised. Growing up in a first-generation Pakistani migrant family, she has an understanding of what it means to live on the seam of two identities.
But her desire to help is largely due to her mother’s diagnosis with mental health issues. She says she has lived experience of the ways “people can suffer hardships in their lifetime.”
It means Arona doesn’t shy away from more “complex cases”. Instead, she represents those who have fallen on the wrong side of an immigration system that has “moved from a hostile to a toxic environment” by using divisive language to score political points.
Arona shares that feels fortunate to be able to provide this service to the most vulnerable – which “makes every day that we step into our office rewarding for us all”.
For more information on the legal services provided by Arona St James, visit the official website