Last updated: 17/11/2020
We are sharing Sadatu’s story as part of a series of stories from black single mothers with experience of the immigration and asylum system. Each of the women featured in these stories are supported through One Parent Families Scotland’s Glasgow and Lanarkshire services.
We hope that sharing their experiences, which are similar to those of many parents we work with, will help shine a light on the structural inequality and racism which exists in Scotland today, and support conversations on how this can be changed. Look out for the other stories and the upcoming blog by our director Satwat Rehman which will reflect on these points.
Sadatu is a single mum who lives in Glasgow with her 15-year-old son and 13- and 11-year-old daughters.
Sadatu first came to Scotland from Nigeria in 2009 and returned after briefly leaving in 2010, with her children and her then husband who was studying here. Since her husband left in January 2016, she has struggled through the Home Office applications process to secure her right to remain in the country.
Last summer, Sadatu came to One Parent Families Scotland for support and joined our peer support group for single parents in Lanarkshire.
The following answers are in Sadatu’s own words, transcribed and lightly edited from an interview about her experiences as a single parent, dealing with the immigration system and facing racism in Scotland – as well as her thoughts on what could make things better in future.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience of the immigration system as a single parent?
My husband came to study his master’s and I gave birth to my daughter here. When we moved back home for months, we couldn’t cope due to some family issues over there, so we came back for his PhD. I left my university studies over there when I was almost through with it and came here just to support him, and after his PhD he left.
He couldn’t get work here and he just told me he had to go, and he would be back, I had no idea. We had entered an application [to the Home Office], so we waited for them to send the appeal for us and when the appeal came they said I had to enter a new application. They had my information as his dependent, but they said I had to start all over again; that was the first trouble.
So, we entered a new application and it took another year for them to say they didn’t believe me, so we had to make an appeal, we had to go to court, just for me to show that I am here with the kids and this is what’s happening. It took over two and a half years just for them to approve it.
At the moment that he left, I had nothing else to fall back on, because I wasn’t allowed to look for work or anything else, I was just at home taking care of the kids, so it was a new beginning for me. It’s something I’ve never experienced before; I was with someone who was always there to help and now I’m left with three kids and not knowing what to do.
I had no idea about the system, nothing, like where to go for help, no information. That’s the challenge: you have no one to talk to and no idea what’s happening, and they’re asking you to look for work to support yourself and you have younger kids. I had to beg people to keep the kids and I couldn’t work during the day because they were in primary school so I had to work night shift, so the kids wouldn’t see me at all because when they came in from school I was getting ready to go back to work, so it was kind of a rough situation then.
Along the way the Home Office said I could not work anymore when I had to make a new application, so they gave us the house to look into our case. In a situation where you are a single parent, how do you survive with three kids? I don’t want to recall it because I could not sleep for three months thinking, “how do my kids eat?” I had nothing to look towards. And they kept sending letters saying they are going to kick us out of the house.
My lawyer sent me to Red Cross and I met a nice lady who helped me go through it, she had to apply for social security for me to get £40 every week. And neighbours, some I had never met, knew a little bit of my situation. This lady listened to my story and because I’m a Muslim she went to their mosque and told them about my situation. They gave me some money to pay off the debt for fuel and rent and bought me some food to last me until Red Cross helped me get accommodation from the Home Office. At that time, it was like a grace.
If only [the Home Office] hadn’t taken so long to find the facts, it would have really made things easier. And I have another application coming up because they said they wouldn’t give me indefinite stay, so I need to reapply because my visa will be expiring, so it’s still an ongoing process.
It really affected [my children] because before we lived in Aberdeen with their dad, then we moved back to Glasgow, and then with the problem with the Home Office we moved from [one part of Glasgow to another and then another]. My son and my daughter went to six primary schools. Right now, they do not want to change their secondary school and I understand where they’re coming from. I’d rather they keep going there even though it’s not where we stay, because I don’t want to change again and let it affect them.
There should be more awareness because there are a lot of cases that are so genuine that it’s easier to spare someone going through that ordeal. I had the papers they were asking for, I had proof, I had done everything they wanted but they kept on dragging it out. I can’t say there is a fault in the system because for some you might find it’s easier while for some it’s not nice at all.
When I was at the Red Cross, I volunteered as a peer researcher for almost two years. It really opened my eyes to a lot of scenarios. I came across a lot of other people because it had to do with asylum seekers, refugees, what they went through, what they are still going through, how they are coping with it and how they can move forward.
Can you tell us about any experiences of racism you have had in Scotland? What do you think could be done to address racism in Scotland?
I think more awareness and more opportunities are needed for minorities, because there is a stigma around minorities as soon as somebody sees you. I’ve encountered racism when I was working in [a fast food restaurant]; one that I can remember was when the security guard had to bundle him out of the store. That was not a nice experience and I had to keep working till the morning.
I’ve experienced racism before on the bus with my kids or in the park, where people will look at you and say mean words in front of your kids or say something and laugh at you because of the way you are dressed. But I’ve met so many nice people; the first time I came to this country my neighbour was a very nice man and he and his girlfriend made me feel like a person. That is why, when I do encounter racism, I don’t say “oh Glaswegians are this way”, because there’s so many people I’ve encountered who had never met me who’ve treated me nicer than I expected.
If people were made more aware and didn’t think “oh they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our benefits”, that would make a difference. I’ve been here in this country since 2008 till 2009 then came back 2010, and I’ve never known anything about benefits until I was in that situation after my husband left.
My husband did his Masters and PhD here but the Home Office was telling him he has to look for work to get the right to stay and he got an offer from a university, but they were saying [only if] he has the right to stay the offer is his. So in between he had to resort to doing security jobs. There are less opportunities in jobs that people really want to do because a lot of people come with their qualifications but there’s no opportunity for them to experience that. The only thing left is to go to clean, it’s the menial jobs. That’s the only type of job you feel is available for you.
If minorities are given opportunities it would give them more strength to integrate more, because for me if I just clean and at the same time encounter a lot of racism, you can imagine someone not wanting to go out. I experienced that after the incident [at the fast food restaurant]; every single time I’m coming home in the morning I just keep turning back thinking somebody is going to attack me. I’m a lady, I’m a Muslim and I’m walking late in the morning where there’s no people around. Sometimes I just don’t want to go out, thinking I might meet somebody on the bus who will look at me and say something.
I want to do more of this kind of job you’re doing. I went once to [another charity] looking for help and the lady there was saying “oh you should come and apply here, you can volunteer here”. But I had that fear – a lot of people are going to come in here and look at me weirdly, because I looked around and I saw there was no black people there, and I just thought “no”. So, it’s putting a barrier there for us.
Based on what I’ve experienced, this kind of job that you are doing makes me feel that is the place I won’t feel racism because I’m helping other minorities. I will feel like “okay, I can work there, and some of them do look like me, or have experienced something I’ve experienced”.
How do you help your children deal with experiences of racism?
With my kids I try to show them that whatever they’ve seen there, it’s just him, it’s not everybody. My son’s friends are mostly white, and he blends in easily. My two girls take their time and are more reserved, but I try to show them that they shouldn’t say “oh, I have to get a black friend”, or “I have to get an Asian friend”. No, everybody is equal.
They should be aware of their colour as well, they should be aware of a lot of things, but at the same time they shouldn’t be the ones to judge and say “these are the type of people that I know like me and this set of people don’t like me”. We go through life saying every person that you come across is on his own. If you encounter racism from this sort of person, don’t think they’re all the same.
I feel we do try to teach them, or show them, how to differentiate the fact that yes, you should be proud of being black but at the same time not to be the ones to say “these white people don’t like us”.
What support have you had from One Parent Families Scotland?
After moving to where I am, I met my neighbour who is a single parent as well. She told me what One Parent Families Scotland did for her, and I told her to ask if I could join, and that’s how I got in touch with them. At One Parent Families I notice that you do get the help that you need, it’s more open to information if there’s anything that you don’t understand.
It made me feel relevant, if I can say that, in a society where I was invisible. I was pushing through just to get the right to stay and thinking “what next?”. One Parent Families made me start thinking, okay, there’s hope for how to move forward with the kids growing, with help and information. Through everything, I’ve been guided there. I’ve just been there less than a year and that’s been really good for me.