‘It was a re­lief’ The char­ity that saved Sylvester Mar­shall

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Amelia Gen­tle­man

Ayear ago, Sylvester Mar­shall had fallen foul of the Home Of­fice’s “hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment” pol­icy. He had been re­fused NHS cancer treat­ment be­cause hos­pi­tal staff be­lieved he was an il­le­gal im­mi­grant. If he wanted to be­gin the ra­dio­ther­apy pre­scribed to treat his prostate cancer, he would need to pay £54,000.

When we first met in Fe­bru­ary he was home­less, hav­ing been evicted as a re­sult of coun­cil sus­pi­cion over his im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. He was told he could not work or claim ben­e­fits. He tried in vain to ex­plain to of­fi­cials that he was not an il­le­gal im­mi­grant, as he had been in Bri­tain for 44 years, since ar­riv­ing in 1973 aged 19.

Mar­shall was con­sumed with worry about the cancer and about whether the Home Of­fice was go­ing to de­tain and de­port him to Ja­maica. “I can’t sleep at night. It feels like they are leav­ing me to die,” he said, dur­ing a stress­ful in­ter­view. He was ex­hausted and de­pressed; it was, he says, the worst pe­riod of his life.

A year later, he looks trans­formed. Af­ter 12 weeks of ra­dio­ther­apy, ev­ery­thing is go­ing well. The Home Of­fice fi­nally ac­cepted his right to live in the UK and is­sued him with a bio­met­ric card, con­firm­ing his le­gal res­i­dency. He says Praxis, the char­ity that helped him fight for his rights, is the main driver of this dra­matic, pos­i­tive shift in his for­tunes.

“It was a re­lief from day one to meet peo­ple from Praxis,” he said when we met in a cafe near Brix­ton. “Fi­nally, some­one un­der­stood.”

When the Guardian first wrote about his fight for NHS treat­ment, we called him Al­bert Thomp­son, as his lawyer did not want the me­dia to com­pli­cate any of­fi­cial de­ci­sions. For a while he was head­line news, his predica­ment em­blem­atic of the problems faced by the Win­drush gen­er­a­tion. Now his im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus has been con­firmed, he is happy to be us­ing his real name. He was first re­ferred to Praxis in 2017,

‘I don’t know where I would be with­out [Praxis] – de­ported or liv­ing home­less. Maybe six feet un­der’

Sylvester Mar­shall

Win­drush vic­tim

when he was sleep­ing rough in a Lon­don park. It was in­stantly able to iden­tify his prob­lem and help.

Praxis is one of the five char­i­ties sup­ported by the 2018 Guardian and Observer ap­peal. All played a key role in as­sist­ing Win­drush vic­tims, and con­tinue to help peo­ple ad­versely af­fected by the hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment (which re­mains in op­er­a­tion, de­spite be­ing re­branded as the “com­pli­ant en­vi­ron­ment”).

Praxis, like the Refugee and Mi­grant Cen­tre, and the Law Cen­tres Net­work, un­der­stands the dif­fi­cul­ties fac­ing peo­ple wrongly af­fected by these mea­sures. It had al­ready helped about 100 peo­ple in Mar­shall’s po­si­tion when they took on his case. Our other ap­peal char­i­ties, Joint Coun­cil for the Wel­fare of Im­mi­grants and the Run­nymede Trust, have high­lighted how the poli­cies that en­snared Mar­shall are caus­ing problems for far more peo­ple who do not have pa­pers to prove their right to be here.

Mar­shall had bat­tled for years to con­vince the Home Of­fice he was here legally but strug­gled with the com­pli­cated ap­pli­ca­tion process and the need for documentary ev­i­dence. The chal­lenge be­came harder when the Home Of­fice said it could find no record of his ar­rival in the UK.

Case work­ers at Praxis were able to show that he had a valid claim to be in the UK and find him a hos­tel. Over sev­eral months, they helped col­lect the proof he needed. It was a labour-in­ten­sive process, for which there is no le­gal aid fund­ing. It found a lawyer pre­pared to work pro bono to take ac­tion against the hos­pi­tal’s de­ci­sion to refuse to treat Mar­shall.

Sally Dagh­lian, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Praxis, said: “Praxis faces a tsunami of need as more and more peo­ple are trapped in a com­plex web of im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion and hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment poli­cies. Peo­ple are wrongly de­nied ac­cess to ser­vices, em­ploy­ment and hous­ing, leav­ing them un­able to meet ba­sic needs.”

The char­ity is so over­whelmed by re­quests for help that they have to turn peo­ple away. She hopes that do­na­tions from Guardian and Observer read­ers will help Praxis to see ev­ery­one who needs sup­port.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the kind of free spe­cial­ist im­mi­gra­tion ad­vice and wider sup­port that Praxis pro­vides is very scarce and with­out it peo­ple fall deeper and deeper into cri­sis. Praxis is of­ten their last re­sort.”

“I don’t know where I’d be now with­out it,” Mar­shall said. “De­ported to Ja­maica or liv­ing home­less some­where in the bushes in Lon­don. I try not to think about it.” With­out Praxis, he feels sure he would not have got ra­dio­ther­apy. “It was a hell of a lot of money – £54,000. Maybe I’d be six feet un­der, dead and gone.”

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