"I have never welcomed the weakening of family ties by politics or pressure" - Nelson Mandela.
"He who travels for love finds a thousand miles no longer than one" - Japanese proverb.
"Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." - Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"When people's love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change". -
David Cameron.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Ed & Anya

“I will exercise my treaty rights in order to live with my wife – a right denied to me by my own government.”

Ed is a British citizen from Scotland, married to Anya, from Russia. They met in their early twenties while studying at Edinburgh University in 2004, when they were both selected for a student-run charity project helping a community in Manzini, Swaziland, build a soup kitchen. Not unlike many international couples, their love was kindled in a shared experience of travel and living away from home which has continued ever since.

They lived together back in Scotland, finding employment near Edinburgh after graduation in 2007. Before long, a job opportunity for Anya took them on more overseas adventures to Azerbaijan and then Nigeria. Juggling individual visa restrictions gave them their first experience of forced separation and relationship-by-Skype: traumatic, tiring and unsustainable for more than a short time.

Luckily, Anya's job in microfinance also gave them the chance to save enough money to fulfil a dream they'd both had since before they even met: a longdistance bicycle ride.

In May 2010 a group of friends and family cycled with Ed and Anya to the boundary of their hometown in Scotland, waving the pair off on a journey that would last over a year. They explored Scotland's border uplands, west coast and islands, before heading to France. They followed rivers and canals to Switzerland and pedalled to over 2000 metres of altitude to cross the Alps into Italy.

Facing the expiry of a Schengen visa, they took a cargo ship to Turkey, which marked the beginning of an Eastern world of hospitality, history, food and natural beauty unlike anywhere else.

Their route along the Mediterranean coast took them into then-peaceful Syria and on to Lebanon, and then back into Syria, where they overwintered in a desert monastery near Damascus, working in return for food, board, and the nourishment of community. In early 2011 they set off across the Syrian desert, crossing back into Turkey just before the start of protests in Syria. Reaching the Black Sea, they steered right and continued into Georgia and Azerbaijan, finally ending their journey at the Caspian Sea in June 2011.

With her last UK visa long expired, Anya had to return to Russia; unable to get a Russian visa away from home, Ed returned to Scotland. Ironically, it was only by staying on the road through 11 different countries that the two managed to avoid separation for so long. But now they had no choice.

They decided to make Russia their home for a while; Ed wanted to learn the language, and Anya wanted to be near her family. Already trained as an EFL teacher, in winter 2011 Ed landed a great job in Moscow which also gave him time to study Russian and pursue other work opportunities although he now is a self-employed copy editor now. Anya worked at the British Embassy before leaving it to write for an English-language newspaper and take some distance-learning courses from SOAS in London. After the constant uncertainties of the bicycle tour, settled life in the big city held appeal - for a while.

Russian bureaucracy is infamously slow and labyrinthine, but the pair knew there would be benefits if they got married: Ed could apply for temporary residency in Russia and so no longer be tied to any particular employer. They also naturally assumed that being married would make returning to the UK pretty straightforward when the time came. After all, if you're married, you're family - right?

So the process of gaining temporary residency started with Ed and Anya's wedding in August 2012.

The day itself was pure fun. The newlyweds rode bicycles from the registry office to the reception and danced the night away to ragtime and swing, surrounded by their new families. But despite a materially comfortable life and supportive family nearby, life in Moscow started to take its toll. It seemed a metropolis worn down by social inequality, ingrained distrust, and an entrenched car culture.

Anya and Ed missed their friends and family back in the UK, and longed to live a more outdoor life again.

While looking at the procedure for returning to the UK, they heard about Theresa May's new familyimmigration rules, which effectively prohibit them from returning directly. How does the state have the right to do this? Isn't it a citizen's right to marry whomever they choose and live in their own country?

Ed finally gained temporary residency in Russia in July 2013. But by this time, he and Anya realised their best option was to take the Surinder Singh route, probably via Ireland, in autumn or winter 2013.

Exercising treaty rights is something they can do as they don’t have careers in the UK which would be disrupted, and no children to have to look after.

They are looking forward to the adventure of the next half year, while remaining anxious to get it over with; they worry that the route will rapidly become more difficult, with more applications being rejected by the UKBA on spurious grounds in order to force appeals and test the law.

However, Ed remains positive and feels lucky to be able to exercise rights afforded to him by the EUrights to a family life denied to him by his own government.

More stories like this : http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/stories

A video on exercising Surinder Singh rights : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1-v0cV2Y8E

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