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Home Office wants to break our family up and send me back to South Africa

By Angela Rainey

Published 05/03/2016

Christine McArthur
Christine McArthur
Christine McArthur
Christine McArthur with her daughters Michelle and Lee
The letter

A mum-of-two has been given 10 days to return to her native South Africa, leaving behind her husband and young children, because of a Home Office administrative error, she has claimed.

Distraught Christine McArthur, whose parents are British, and who has a National Insurance number, a voting card and has even been called for jury service, was warned via an email from the Home Office that her visa was not being renewed and that she must leave the UK by March 15.

Her husband of 13 years Neal - whose parents are also British - and their two daughters have been allowed to stay.

The McArthur family left their home in Johannesburg two years ago after witnessing and suffering violent attacks.

They moved to Belfast to be close to Neal's family, who live in Newtownabbey, and Christine secured herself a job in Argos in the borough.

But after updating the family's residency documents for the Home Office, Christine (38) received a shocking email this week ordering her to return to Johannesburg, where she has no home, family or employment and fears for her safety.

Neal, who specialises in water jetting and asbestos removal, was on a work training course in London when he had to make an emergency dash back home to comfort his wife.

Christine, Neal and their daughters Michelle (12) and Lee (8) used to live in daily fear in the Vanderbijl area outside Johannesburg in a house surrounded by 12ft walls, jail-type gates on doorways and double windows for security.

As the clock ticks the stress is mounting for the family, who say they feel like they are living under the guillotine.

"It's very stressful," said a tearful Christine. "I just can't sleep. I don't remember the last time that I slept, with the worry of all of this. I'm always crying at the thought of being taken from my children.

"It's terrible. Like any mother, I'm trying to protect my children by telling them as little as possible because I don't want them to be worried or frightened.

"They are settled here, have nice friends and are doing really well in school. It will break their hearts and mine by being separated."

After applying for the relevant paperwork to stay and gaining a job as a delivery assistant in Argos in the Abbeycentre, being granted a National Insurance number, being entitled to vote and even being called for jury service this July, the couple have no idea why the Home Office made the distressing U-turn.

They think an administrative error has been made somewhere by officials.

"We had the relevant visa to come here, which is where all our family live," said an emotional Christine. "We applied before that ran out for a residence card.

"Then we received a phone call telling us to withdraw the application or it would hinder our citizenship.

"They didn't give an explanation for the withdrawal, but we did as they said.

"We were then told that Neal and the girls could stay but I would have to go back.

"Then I received the email from the Home Office the other day saying I had to leave the country by March 15. It was a huge shock.

"All I want is to be allowed to stay in Northern Ireland, to be with my husband and children and to be a good mother for our two girls.

"I just want to help build a good foundation for my husband and girls. I am happy here. We are safe and we have really nice neighbours. My parents have passed away. What family I have is here in Northern Ireland - that is all I have."

The couple moved to the safety of the province, where all Neal's relatives live, after becoming the victims of horrendous violence in South Africa.

While there, they were burgled six times in two months and Neal was also subject to a carjacking in which thugs doused him with petrol and attempted to set him alight.

"The country is lawless," said Neal. "People live in terror there - there's the constant threat of violence and we don't want that for our children. Our home was like a prison and our elderly neighbour, who was in her 80s and living alone, had her home broken into and her wrists and mouth bound with barbed wire as her home was ransacked.

"We've seen a man placed inside car tyres and then set on fire, and other incidents that people just wouldn't believe.

"This is the level of violence that we were faced with on a daily basis."

Christine added: "We just want to be able to stay as a family, live a normal life, work and provide for our children.

"I can't imagine what this would do to us if I am sent back, I don't want to think about what it will do to our girls. At one point we were told to leave the girls here and for Neal and I to go back, but that's not an option.

"We don't claim or want to claim benefits - we are not asking for handouts.

"Neal is setting up his own business at the minute.

"I watched a show on television the other night where it said that all foreigners were welcome.

"But, so far, I have not been welcomed by a Government that wants to send me back to South Africa, where there is just nothing there for me.

"We've done everything by the book that the Home Office has asked for.

"We can't believe this is happening - it's so upsetting."

A spokesperson from the Home Office said: "This is a very complicated case and we need more time to look at it."

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