‘We are lost’: Their father died from coronavirus – now this family fears they could be forced to leave UK

‘He was a very hardworking man. Now everything is shattered,’ says Aylin, 22, whose family has been plunged into financial difficulty since her father died from Covid-19, but cannot get help due to Home Office policy

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 15 May 2020 09:43 BST
Jose de Jesus Vasquez (second to right) sits at the dinner table with (from left to right) daughter Aylin, his wife Martha (second left), eldest daughter Janeth and his nephew Jorge
Jose de Jesus Vasquez (second to right) sits at the dinner table with (from left to right) daughter Aylin, his wife Martha (second left), eldest daughter Janeth and his nephew Jorge (Aylin)

“The ambulance came and I had to go downstairs with them and fill out some paperwork. All I did was touch his foot and say bye,” says Aylin Vasquez, 22, weeping at the memory of her father being taken to hospital after becoming ill with coronavirus symptoms at the end of March.

“He was in there for a month. Every day we got called and they said he was stable and would be getting better,” she adds. “Then all of a sudden, when it was time for him to wake up he just couldn’t. We couldn’t even be there with him when he died.”

The death of Jose de Jesus Vasquez at the age of 63 has left his family devastated. A hardworking man who devoted his life to supporting his family and helping those in need, the Honduran national appeared to have decades left in him. But he died alone in hospital to the deadly virus that has stolen the lives of many thousands, with his loved ones unable to say a proper goodbye.

Compounding the grief is his family’s fear for their own future in the UK. Aylin has been in the country almost all her life, with Jose and his wife, Martha, having left Honduras with her in 2005 due to increasingly dangerous threats from gangs. They were granted leave to remain in 2015 with a no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition attached to their immigration status, meaning that while they may work in Britain, they have no access to state support.

Jose and his wife Martha (Aylin Vasquez)

This inability to claim benefits had never been an issue throughout their 15 years in the UK. Jose was a self-employed carpenter, much loved by many of his customers, and was the breadwinner of the family. Martha was a full-time house cleaner and Aylin – while waiting to get indefinite leave to remain so she can go to university – worked part time in a shop while doing online education courses.

But both Martha and Aylin have had to stop working due to the lockdown, and that, along with the loss of Jose’s income, has left them struggling financially. Unable to apply for public benefits, they have had to dip into the money they had saved for when they need to apply for their next visa extension in January next year, which will cost several thousand pounds.

“For our whole lives, we’ve never asked for any help or benefits,” says Aylin. “My father always said as long as he could work and was capable of working, we wouldn’t need help. He was a very hardworking man. Now everything is just shattered. We are lost. In terms of finances, I just want someone to tell me what I need to do. I can’t cover the rent myself.

“I don’t know what the future holds. If we get denied access to public funds, I don’t know what we’re going to do. We can’t go back to Honduras, there’s nothing there. It would be like starting from zero. I want to continue with my education here. I need some help for my mum.”

The Vasquezes are among thousands of families in the UK who are tied to the NRPF condition, meaning they are unable to fall back on state benefits – even in a time of crisis. There have been widespread calls for the Home Office to suspend of the policy during the coronavirus pandemic, but the department has argued this is “not necessary”, saying people can apply to have it lifted if there has been a change in their financial circumstances. The family has applied to have the restriction lifted, but this is known to be a long and complicated process.

When contacted by The Independent, a government spokesperson said it had also brought forward measures in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, many of which could be accessed by those with NRPF.

The family’s immigration lawyer, Syed Naqvi, of ITN Solicitors, said the Vasquezes’ case highlighted the “stark” reality of life for them and many others during this crisis, and accused the government of “profiteering” by charging extortionate fees for visa renewals and “routinely shirking responsibility” when people fall on hard times.

The restrictions on travel during the Covid-19 emergency mean Aylin’s older sister Janeth, who lives in Spain, is unable to visit, so the younger sibling is having to support her grieving mother, who is still in a state of shock following the death of her husband – to whom she has been married for 40 years – alone.

As well as using their savings, the family is relying on help of Jose’s many friends. As a former alcoholic who had been sober for 25 years, Jose took it upon himself to set up the country’s first Spanish-speaking Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group – and it is members of this group who are helping to pay for his funeral costs.

“He was such a loved man, and we’re relying on his friends to get by, but it’s the future that worries me,” Aylin says, her voice trembling. “Mum keeps going outside and calling for him. I have to wait until she goes to sleep. It’s just awful being in this flat, you feel like he’s still here. My dad was the main support. It feels like it’s all on me now. I’ve not been prepared for this.

“Maybe I’m asking for too much, but we have worked very hard in this country. My dad has done his bit for the community. I just want to get my education and graduate so that I can get a better job and a better life for my mum. I’m not looking to be supported by benefits all my life. But I need help now, that’s why I’m asking for help.”

A crowdfunding page has been set up to support the family

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