A desperate great-granny who got stranded in Birmingham for a YEAR after a passport mix-up has finally flown home, ending a ‘horrific ordeal’.
Phyllis Diaz Campbell flew in from her home in Georgia, Atlanta, to visit her poorly sister, planning to stay for five weeks.
But her passport was confiscated at the airport and, in the confusing period that followed, she ended up stuck in Birmingham for months, relying on homeless support and the kindness of strangers.
Now she has been flown home after we highlighted her plight to the Home Office. Local activist Desmond Jaddoo, chairman of the Windrush Movement UK, took up her case and organised her flight home, paid for by the Home Office, and is pursuing a compensation claim on her behalf.
“It was a very traumatic time for Phyllis and there was obviously a lot of confusion but she ended up stuck here through no fault of her own. We were very glad to be able to help her get the right outcome.”
Phyllis, speaking just before her departure, said she was very glad to be finally leaving and going home.
She thanked those who had helped her resolve the issue, including Mr Jaddoo, Yardley MP Jess Phillips and the Birmingham Live team.
But she said she had missed Christmas with her family and lots of birthdays for her children, grandkids and 27 great grandchildren during her time away – “time I will never get back”, she said.
Mr Jaddoo is now supporting an application for compensation in connection with her ordeal.
Phyllis, a Jamaican by birth, said of her time in Birmingham: “It has been like being imprisoned but I have not committed a crime.”
Her ordeal began when she flew in for a five week stay last July to visit her sister, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
On landing at Birmingham Airport, she was detained for several hours because she did not have a visitor visa, and her passport confiscated. it was only returned to her seven months later.
Phyllis lived in Birmingham from her mid teens, marrying a Brit and having two sons here, before moving to America when her marriage broke down.
She said: “Birmingham was once my home – but now I never want to come back. It has been a nightmare…” she told us.
She flew in on her Jamaican passport, as she had on all previous occasions, only to ushered into a detention area and held for five hours because she did not have a visitor visa. In 50 years travelling to and from England she had never previously needed one but visa rules had tightened since her last visit.
Phyllis was eventually allowed to go on with her visit – but without her passport.
It was then seven months before the passport was finally returned – by which time Phyllis had long missed her flight home and had moved into emergency homeless accommodation provided by Birmingham City Council.
Her family back home in America have been helping her to survive, but live themselves on meagre incomes, she said.
The initial cause of the passport being held is a cause of some confusion, with conflicting explanations.
She says she sought legal help after being released from the airport and was advised by a lawyer to apply for an indefinite right to remain, which would then enable her to stay for the duration of her visit and return home as planned five weeks later.
But the Home Office says her application to remain triggered a legal application for British citizenship which took several months to resolve – and that was why her passport was not returned to her.
“Mrs Diaz applied for British citizenship shortly after arriving in the UK last year,” a Home Office spokesman said.
“The application was subsequently granted and her passport returned to her.”
Phyllis maintains she never had any intention of staying in England: “All I wanted was to be allowed to stay for five weeks, and then to go home.”
Phyllis was 14 when she flew into England the first time to be reunited with her mum and older sister, who were both working here. They were part of the ‘Windrush’ generation who left the Caribbean in the post war period, by invitation, to fill UK work vacancies.
Phyllis was the youngest of three girls. It was 1955.
“I remember the weather was so cold, and I didn’t really want to be here, I wanted to be back in Jamaica. I went to school here and it was fine, though they called me golliwog and mudbaby and other racist insults. Mum was a nurse, caring for people.
“When I was 19 I got married to an Englishman, and we had two children, both boys.
“The marriage didn’t last as long as we hoped. His mum didn’t want her son with a black woman – it tore us apart really, and we separated.
“I later went to Liverpool and I trained as a nurse – then in 1969 I met an American airman and relocated to America, living in Louisiana and then Atlanta, Georgia.
“I went backwards and forwards, to and from America and England, to see my mum and sisters who were still living here.”
She said her most recent visit was for a lengthy spell, from 1998 to 2001, visiting her by now ill mum who was in a nursing home. Her mum died in 2000. Months later Phyllis returned home, in the wake of the trauma of the 9/11 terror attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
“I was worried that Atlanta was vulnerable and was desperate to get back to my children and grandchildren. America was in turmoil,” she said.
In 2004 she started having chest pains and was taken to hospital, where medics discovered she was having a heart attack. A double bypass operation followed in 2007.
“Me and my sisters lost touch but in 2017 I was in a car accident with a taxi that damaged my back so I received $8,000 compensation. I threw a party for all the kids, grandkids and my 23 great grandchldren, and then arranged to come and visit my older sister, who I hadn’t seen for years.
“I didn’t realise, and nobody told me at any point, that I would need a visitor visa.
“I came into Birmingham at 8.30am in the morning and they said I needed a visa and could not enter. They kept me there four and a half hours. It was frightening. They took my passport and said I did not have a visa – but I have never needed a visa before. It was a nightmare, I couldn’t understand what was going on, and why?
“I was intending to stay for five weeks, and go back in mid September. I had a flight booked and my return ticket, I showed them my return ticket.
“Eventually I was allowed to leave but my passport was held. I was so confused but I just did what I was told.”
Phyllis finally arrived at her sister’s – where she was upset to discover her sister barely recognised her. “She has Alzheimer’s but I did not realise she did not know me.”
She stayed with her sister, and then with a friend, but her meagre funds were rapidly depleted and she was ready to return home as planned – but was unable to get her passport back.
It was finally returned to her in February, by which time Phyllis was living in emergency accommodation provided by Birmingham City Council, and did not have the funds to get a flight home.
It was only when her plight was alerted in July that steps to get her home began.
She flew out of Birmingham in the last week of August (Thursday August 28), on a ticket funded by the Home Office, who also funded her taxi from her temporary home in Yardley to the airport.