This blog was written by Reeja Shrestha, who is campaigning for justice after her daughter Omisha was charged £76,000 for her cancer treatment.
I am expressing my gratitude to all the supporters who have signed the Justice for Omisha petition, and made it to this level. I saw immense support from people who realised what the Hostile Environment is and how it has affected migrants and refugees. Thank you for raising your voice against the injustice and becoming the voice of the voiceless.
My daughter Omisha was diagnosed with Liver Cancer when she was 10 months old and as a result, she had a Liver Transplant when she was just a year old. This all happened when we, as a parents of Omisha, had no visa and no status. During that time, we were not allowed to do all those basic things that normal people do in their day-to-day lives. We had zero income and zero savings – the only things we had were bank credits, loans, one single rented room, and household expenses which resulted in depression and anxiety.
We were sad, angry, helpless, and depressed — and even though we while explained our financial situation to the hospital, they continued to send us the bills. The response was always very rigid, cold, and had lack of empathy, which made us feel like we were the ones who were wrong.
With Migrants Organise and the #PatientsNotPassports campaign, we fought with the overseas team of the hospital, and against the injustice system of NHS. We have participated in various events, leafleted in our local community, and I have spoken out to share my story with others. We started a petition for Omisha to cancel her NHS debt and saw many people supporting us. Then I knew that we were not wrong the whole time.
With all the support from so many people, I have managed to uplift my confidence to talk more about our campaign and the fight against the Hostile Environment. I wrote to my local MP to discuss more about the debt, and with Migrants Organise and the Patients Not Passports campaign, we met him in person to put forward our demands.
Our MP – Mr. Wes Streeting – helped us by writing to the CEO of the hospital. In response, the CEO of the hospital wrote us an apology letter and told us that the NHS charge of the family has been withdrawn and won’t be pursued now or in the future. This was a big win — but our campaign has not ended.
The debt in our immigration history is still recorded in the Home Office file and it will affect our next visa process or will be questioned whenever we travel. Our MP also wrote to the Immigration Minister a few months ago, but sadly he said it cannot be canceled.
The debt did cause a problem when I traveled last month with my older daughter, Shreeya. I was stopped at the Heathrow airport due to the debt recorded in the immigration history, and I was asked a question about it. I was told to show if there is any proof that I do not owe the debt to the hospital anymore. Thanks to the Migrants Organise team I had a letter and this helped me to convince the Border Agents that the hospital is not pursuing me for the debt. However, I was stopped, questioned and made to wait due to the debt recorded in my immigration history. The letter from the immigration minister where he mentioned about not causing any trouble while travelling was proved to be wrong.
And so I am still involved and continue to take the Justice for Omisha campaign forward because this is how migrants are treated by the Home Office on a daily basis. I felt like a criminal who is being detained by the police officer – just because my daughter got sick. No one should feel like this and made to feel like you have done something wrong when you are a victim yourself, a victim of a hostile environment. I am and will still fight against this injustice and that no other migrants has to feel like what I have felt.
Our campaign is still going strong and it will continue to grow until all the migrants and refugees will be treated the same and given equal rights and opportunities like any other human being.
Therefore, our fight against the unjust system of border controls in the NHS is still going strong, and it will continue until everyone gets justice. We will continue to campaign until the end of the Hostile Environment for Migrants and refugees from its roots. I hope you will do your best to support the cause of the migrants and refugees who want justice.
SIGN OMISHA’S PETITION HERE: https://change.org/justiceforomisha