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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Asylum: 'I just want my children to be safe'
BY Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Bethsider Tavares
Bethsider Tavares: Family fears deportation
Up to 15,000 asylum seeking families are to be given the right to stay in the UK in an effort to clear the backlog of cases. One woman who has fought for four years to stay in the UK tells her story.

When Bethsider Tavares heard the Home Office had decided to let 15,000 asylum families stay, she began to tremble.

After three years of doubt - and the threat of deportation currently hanging over her - the Angolan asylum seeker finally believes the end may be sight.

"I cannot tell you what this feels like," she said from her home in Barnet, north London.

"We're going to have to wait to see what happens but it feels like I was facing the death sentence and now I have been told by the judge that I won't be executed."

Bethsider and her family were told earlier this year they were to be deported back to South Africa - a country with which she says she has no connection.

But what has kept her going is the belief that she would finally get justice - not least because the Home Office paid for her to come into the country to be reunited with her family.

Husband murdered

Bethsider, a mother of five, was married to Charles, a pastor in southern Angola - they were a well-to-do family who, says Bethsider, wanted for nothing.

I do believe that some people come here and abuse the system. I have met them myself and I rebuke them for doing so - people as educated as lawyers
Four years ago, Bethsider says the family were attacked by soldiers after Charles spoke out at church meetings against the abuse of children's rights.

On the first occasion the soldiers beat Charles in one room while she was raped in another. Medical evidence of her injuries, presented at her asylum hearing, is consistent with her testimony.

Some months later, the soldiers returned and murdered her husband and burned down their home, while Bethsider was out visiting a clinic with three of her children.

Two of Bethsider's children, George and Laetitia, who were at home, fled with a friend. When Bethsider returned with the other children, Candi, Maree-Ann and Ray, she was told by friends to leave as quickly as possible.

She was split from the three children as friends believed they would be safer travelling separately.

The children were brought to the UK before the family could be reunited. In the confusion, Bethsider, having obtained a false South African passport, first travelled to the United States.

Wrong country

When she realised she was in the wrong country, she flew to London, was refused entry, and sent back on the next available flight.

I have been here so long now and my children are so settled this has become my life - And I just want to get on with it and contribute to the community where I live
Bethsider, with husband Charles
Her case file shows that after weeks of lawyer's letters, the Immigration Service accepted what had gone wrong and booked her on to a plane back to the UK where the family was reunited.

Since then, she says, her battle has been two-fold: to prove she is who she says she is and be reunited with her remaining children in Angola.

At her asylum hearing she freely admitted using false documentation to enter the UK - but the adjudicator concluded she was in fact South African and her case was unfounded.

Nevertheless, a local campaign supporting her case has been led by the Anglican community at Barnet's St John the Baptist church.

"I cannot describe what it is like to live everyday thinking that immigration officers will knock down your door and take you away," says Bethsider.

"Today I still do not know if I will be able to stay - but God is great and this news gives me enormous hope.

"When they said I was South African I appealed to them to go and check - I was totally honest about how I had escaped. It's been like a form of hell waiting to find out.

"Even though my case has never been settled I am grateful for the kindness of the British people."

Working in the UK

Under the policy change, some 15,000 families are eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Most of these are supported by benefits, says the government - but Bethsider is one of those who has been paying her own way.

She entered the UK before the government banned asylum seekers from working if their case had been delayed.

Today she is a senior care worker in a north London nursing home, earning a salary and paying taxes. If allowed to stay, Bethsider wants to become a full-time nurse. Her two daughters are both working and studying while the youngest, Ray, is enjoying science at school.

"I did not come to the UK to sponge off the state," she says. "I came here for safety. I just want my children to be safe."

"I do believe that some people come here and abuse the system. I have met them myself and I rebuke them for doing so - people as educated as lawyers.

"But I have been here so long now and my children are so settled this has become my life.

"And I just want to get on with it and contribute to the community where I live."


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