The grandmother at the centre of a deportation fight says she is overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and strangers.
Winnie Birkenhead (52), of Marsden Road, Burnley, has been told by the Home Office she has to prove she is British to stay in the country despite living in the town for 48 years.
I cannot believe that terrorising this lady, who is innocent of any wrong doing, represents the best use of the Home Office’s resourcesBurnley MP Julie Cooper
Winnie came to Burnley from Malaysia in 1968 aged five on her mother Ivy’s passport and with her late stepfather, William Ferguson, who was serving in the British Army with the Royal Signals. A petition set up on the website change.org has attracted almost 5,000 signatures and Winnie, who is receiving treatment for breast cancer, has had hundreds of messages of support on Facebook.
She also has the backing of Burnley MP Julie Cooper who says she is being treated “like a criminal”.
Winnie said: “It’s has been an amazing few days. I’ve had petitions set up for me and I’ve been on TV and radio. It’s been a whirlwind and a bit overwhelming. People I don’t even know have sent me messages.”
The care worker went to school in Burnley, has worked all her life, has been married and divorced, has children and grandchildren, holds a driving licence, has a national insurance number and is eligible to vote. But, despite this, she has cannot work again until she receives her indefinite leave to remain which will cost more than £3,000 and could take up to 12 months.
Her employer, Pride Community Care, could also face a five-figure fine for employing a person deemed “illegal”. Winnie has already had to take an English exam as part of the process in what her legal representative, Shaf Khan, of Clearwater Solicitors, has described as a “unique” case.
Winnie added: “It’s been really hectic but I now need to just take a step back and sort things out for myself, obviously I won’t be receiving a wage now as I can’t work.
“Julie Cooper made a lovely statement and I am going to see her again.
“I’ve had a load of advice from people all over the place. I’ve had contact from a man who says I should have automatic right to remain as I came here before January 1973.
“But there are still things like where do I stand on getting my prescriptions and treatment on the NHS? Am I going to get into trouble for doing this? I don’t know.
“I would like to thank everybody for all the support, it has made me a bit tearful. It has been brilliant and I’m very grateful for it.”
Mrs Cooper MP said: “She is being treated like a criminal. She cannot sleep because she is frightened government officials are going to turn up at her door to deport her to Malaysia, a country she cannot even remember, a country where she knows no one.
“I am shocked and appalled by the whole situation and I cannot believe that terrorising this lady, who is innocent of any wrong doing, represents the best use of the Home Office’s resources.
“There are people, out there committing real crimes. There are people who are wilfully conniving to enter this country using forged documents. I believe the Government has got its priorities wrong, yet again, and I will be supporting Winnie all the way.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All UK employers must ensure their staff have the right to work in the UK.
“It is down to Ms Birkenhead to regularise her immigration status and we will consider any application we receive.”
Winnie is gathering evidence to support her citizenship bid. Send pictures and stories to her friend Andrea Heys at firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively to Winnie Ferguson Birkenhead on Facebook.