A woman who is working to make her home community ‘a village of sanctuary’ was moved to unearth a tragic tale of abandonment in her midst.
Katherine Gutkind and fellow villagers founded the East Hoathly and Halland Village of Sanctuary under the umbrella of the National City of Sanctuary, a charity started in Sheffield 20 years ago.
Katherine invited a young woman called Rose Ssekyewa to tell the group her story. As a result, signatures are now flooding in to support a petition with Change.org in the hope the Home Secretary will allow her to remain in the UK.
Rose, 28, born in rural Uganda and abandoned by her mother, was beaten with an electric cable by her father if she refused to do his chores. She was encouraged to join her UK-based aunt in England where she worked to fund a college course.
She described how in 2009 rules for overseas students changed making it impossible for her to work more than 10 hours a week. In 2010 she was denied an extension of her visa and denied her right of appeal.
Friends she had made as a student helped her. She told the Express: “I only survived because of the goodwill of friends and strangers but suffered at the hands of those who knew they could take advantage of me.”
In 2013 she met local man Ben Cottingham, a relationship blossomed and he asked her to marry him. “Ben told his family about my problems. They were very sympathetic and helpful, accepting that as a human I am subject to failures and problems, like anyone else. They are a Christian family and understand I was in huge need.”
Rose has lived at the Cottingham home for almost two years, goes to their church every Sunday and has become close to the large family. An application to remain in the UK was rejected by the Home Office last year, and an appeal by the family’s solicitors was once again rejected last week. She is now hoping for an oral hearing.
“We are chiefly refused on grounds of my overstaying and the reasons we gave for making an essential choice were to no avail. They seem determined to separate us and refuse to accept the human side of our story choosing to side with cold legality. Poor Ben has been outraged and incensed at the unfairness, lack of compassion and humanity shown to us.”
Because of her desperation, Rose encountered problems of homelessness, sexual harassment, shame and anxiety, often going without food for days. She concludes: “Nightmares have become routine.”
Katherine explained: “The Village of Sanctuary was set up to enable members of our community to do something for some of those who desperately need safety from war or persecution in countries of origin.” P
eople are asked to email or sign a form and leave it in the village church porch stating whether they are willing to donate or raise funds, collect or donate clothing, write to authorities or offer support to refugees or asylum seekers.
There is also space to say whether they have potential accommodation at home which could be available to a refugee or family.
Katherine urges local people to sign the petition at Change.orgSsekyewa.
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