A 23-year-old disabled asylum seeker is in hospital after the threat of deportation led her to self-harm.
Enkeleda Berisha, known as ‘Eda’, suffers with spina bifida (SB), a spinal disease which can result in varying degrees of paralysis of the lower limbs. In addition to the physical and mobility difficulties associated with this illness, most individuals will experience some form of learning disability. SB may also cause bowel and bladder complications.
Eda arrived in the UK with her mother, Vjollca, in 2003, after fleeing their native Kosovo. The two women are Roma and claim that they suffered daily abuse in their homeland. The situation deteriorated when, in December 2001, Eda’s brother was badly beaten and was warned not to trade in the town’s main market. In May of the following year, Eda’s father and brother left the family home for the market and have not been seen since. Roma-owned stalls in the market were firebombed and bodies were reportedly found.
Without a strong male presence in the family, Eda and her mother felt increasingly vulnerable. Despite their fears, they decided to remain in Kosovo, in order to continue seeking answers and justice for their relatives. The Home Office has since disputed the veracity of Eda and Vjollca’s version of events, based on the fact that the pair did not flee Kosovo as soon as their relatives disappeared. Eda and her mother maintain, however, that they remained there out of family loyalty and love. They claim that in this period they were subjected to yet more abuse and after a year of being ‘practically housebound’, they eventually fled to the UK.
The allegations of abuse made by the family appear to be supported by the UNHCR. It continues to highlight the two-tier system in operation in Kosovo, with minority groups, including the Roma, being relegated to the status of second-class citizens. According to UNHCR, the prejudice against the Roma has led to exclusion from certain jobs and from the provision of welfare benefits.
It advises that members of Kosovo’s minority communities are still in need of ‘international protection’ and should not be returned to Kosovo against their will, ‘even if their asylum claims are rejected’. UNHCR has also reported that individuals in a particularly vulnerable situation, ‘for example those with severe physical and mental illnesses’, should not be returned by states, given the ‘inadequate standards of health care and social welfare available in Kosovo’. Despite this advice, the British government is still threatening to deport Eda and Vjollca, who will not have access to the medical treatment that they require if returned.
Since moving to the UK, Eda and her mother have worked hard to make a new life for themselves. Eda has enrolled at a local college and has now been offered a job. The prospect of being forcefully returned to Kosovo has led to a deterioration in their physical and mental health. Vjollca has had a heart bypass and more stress could literally kill her. Eda is so worried about the precariousness of her situation that she has resorted to self-harm. As a disabled Roma, she faces a double discrimination and her suicidal tendencies indicate that she would rather die than be returned to an environment of harassment and abuse.
Eda articulated her motives for coming to the UK: ‘I came to this country to survive and to be sure that the next day I am going to be alive, not to be afraid that someone is coming to my house, not to be afraid that people call me evil, not to be afraid of threats, not to be persecuted about my race and my disability. I don’t want to be threatened and persecuted anymore.’ She ended her statement by appealing to the public, saying simply ‘Please help me to stay.’
Elane Heffernan, of the Save Eda and Vjollca Campaign, told IRR News that Eda is still receiving medical care. The petition circulated by the organisation now has in excess of a thousand signatures and ‘local support has encouraged the family’s MP to re-open the case, which he had previously closed, and also to write a personal letter to the minister of state for immigration and citizenship, Tony McNulty’. In addition, ‘the legal team is now preparing to make a fresh asylum application on compassionate grounds’. One supporter told IRR News: ‘The government has to make the right decision in this case. It says a lot about the conditions for the Roma people in Kosovo that a disabled young woman is prepared to commit suicide rather than be returned there. It really is a matter of life and death.’