Why Do We Care About the Australian Family Being Deported from Scotland?

Around 40,000 people are made to leave the UK each year. So what's so special about these guys?

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Jun 2 2016, 12:00am

The Brain Family meeting Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. (Photo: Gordon Terris/PA)

Right, so here's what it is. There's this Australian family called the Brains. There is Kathryn and Gregg Brain – they're the parents – and little Lachlan Brain, who's their eight-year-old son. In 2010, the Brains moved to Scotland. Why? Does it matter? They're just people: they had people reasons.

The Brains went to Scotland on Kathryn's student visa, with a plan to stay for longer on the government's post-study work visa scheme, also known as a Tier 1 visa, which allows students who study in Scotland to stay there for two years after finishing their degree. So they got settled and little Lachlan Brain went to a Scottish school, where he learnt Gaelic. They started to feel Scottish. Then the government decided to abolish its post-study work visa scheme and told the Brains they had to apply for a Tier 2 visa or get out of Scotland.

A few things about the story so far: it sucks for the Brains that they had moved their whole life over to the UK, only to be told they had to go back to Australia. But having a post-work visa didn't guarantee you a permanent spot in the UK; it gave you two years, then you had to move home or apply for a Tier 2 visa (which is a long, arduous process). The Tier 1 visa didn't even count towards a longer-term visa application, and the application form for it couldn't have been clearer about that. Here's what it says:

Time spent in the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) category does not count towards the period an individual needs to spend in the United Kingdom before being eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain. Leave in the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) category does not lead to settlement.

So basically, at some point the Brains would have had to make a new plan anyway; it just all came a bit sooner than they'd expected. What's more, the scheme was cancelled in 2011. That was after they'd moved, but still gave them quite a long time to realise that once Kathryn's student visa ran out, they'd need to make alternative arrangements.

So far, so straightforward: some people needed to follow some fairly well-established laws. However, the Brains have made an almighty fuss about it all. They got their small Highland town to help fund their legal fees; they met with Nicola Sturgeon, who is campaigning for their right to stay; they were interviewed lovingly on the Today programme about their ordeal. They have been covered by every national newspaper, given television interviews and at the time of writing they're the top story on Mail Online (whose headline writers have managed to make it about Europe, even though it's really not about Europe at all).

The Brains seem like lovely people and I hope they are allowed to stay in the UK and continue the life they have established for themselves here. But let's talk about some other people who should be allowed to stay in the UK:

Luqman Onikosi, a Sussex University student with Hepatitis B, a disease that had already killed his two brothers and was also life-threatening for him, unless it was treated properly. Under Theresa May's student visa reforms, his degree was terminated while he was still writing his dissertation, and he has been told he has to return to Nigeria, where it is almost certain he will not get adequate medical attention. He called the move "a death sentence". His appeal to stay has been rejected by the Home Office and he is, in all likelihood, going to be deported. There is no mention of Onikosi on Mail Online or on BBC News, both of which have covered the Brains' story.

Beverley Boothe is a mother of five who had lived in the UK for 34 years, having moved here when she was 17 from Jamaica. She has five children, all born in the UK, none of whom can get British passports because the Home Office won't accept her residency. Without passports they were unable to apply for university. In 2013 she received a letter telling her "to make immediate arrangements to leave the United Kingdom". She was denied access to legal aid.

Rafeeq Ratanda was born in the UK. He went to primary school here but was deported back to Nigeria, a country he has never known, along with his mother, when he was five years old.

Damilola Ajagbonna came to the UK when he was 11 years old. He had worked hard at a rough inner-city school, and after getting A grades in everything he was offered a place at Cambridge University. He had won plaudits from everyone in the community and school – the UN even made him some kind of child ambassador. But before he was able to take the place he was deported back to Nigeria. The Home Office refused all his appeals. When he left he told reporters, "I do not want to be patronised any more. The immigration rules are not governed by justice any longer, but by the xenophobia of the tabloid press."

There are thousands of cases like this, of people who – to put it bluntly – are more deserving of a stay in the UK than the Brains. Around 40,000 people leave the UK from enforced removals each year, the majority returning to Asia and Africa. Many of them are failed asylum seekers.

As recently as January, hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers – including child refugees, and translators who have worked for the British army – were sent back to Afghanistan when Theresa May managed to get the country declared safe after numerous failed attempts. As of last month, thousands of non-EU immigrants have had to return home because they don't earn more than £35,000 a year, a new earnings threshold set by May.

Of course stories that are of greater human interest rise to the top of the news cycle, but is there any reason that the Brains are apparently of greater human interest other than the fact they are white Australians? What other reason can you give for the public outcry about their removal over thousands of other cases? They're not the only family whose deportation has been reported on, but it can't be a coincidence that many of the other families whose stories have been covered are white people from English-speaking countries; the tabloids are full of stories about Canadians, Americans and South Africans.

So I hope the Brains are allowed to stay, just as long as everyone else who has had to leave Scotland since the Tier 1 visa was cancelled can stay too.

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