It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of a beloved service-user and SBS ambassador, Dorothy Udealor-Ugwu. A loving and devoted friend to all, Dorothy touched the lives of many of our service-users and staff alike. We pay our tribute to a courageous and resilient woman whose fight for dignity and survival, inspires us to re-commit to our struggle against the unbearable cruelty of the UK’s immigration system to which she was subjected.
Dorothy Udealor-Ugwu, aged 50 left us today. She finally lost her battle with cancer but not without first putting up a heroic and dignified fight.
Update: We are supporting Dorothy’s friends in the UK to raise funds for her funeral costs. All donations welcome
Dorothy came to the UK in 2002/3 from Nigeria, having faced many injustices on the basis of her gender in her home country. She arrived as the dependent of her husband who had a student visa, and hoped for a better life. Like many migrant women, her earnings were retained by her husband who also had possession of her passport and documents. Throughout their time together, Dorothy was falsely told by her husband that he was taking steps to regularise her status. This never happened.
Dorothy was eventually abandoned by her husband in 2012. Vulnerable and alone, she was fearful of being returned to Nigeria, a place she could not return to due to her traumatic experiences. Her insecure immigration status and exclusion from state protection also made her vulnerable to those who sought to take advantage of her precarious situation in the UK.
I met Dorothy, who was one of the first women I counselled, in August 2013. She was very shy, could not speak and did not want to be amongst people. She was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But following long-term counselling and other medical and therapeutic support, she eventually agreed to join our support group. This is where she began to open up and develop confidence and strength. Over the following years, I was honoured to witness Dorothy’s transformation into a leader for women’s rights. She stood up for women and went on to become an ambassador for SBS.
Dorothy loved to read and was always striving to improve herself. She really wanted to go to college but was not able to because of her immigration status, but this did not prevent her from educating herself. She also became politicised in the process. Dorothy had a fantastically analytical mind and spoke passionately and concisely about her experiences as a migrant and black woman in the UK. A woman who was once unable to sit in large groups for any length of time, went on to speak in Parliament and most recently in June 2020, attended the All Party-Parliamentary Group on No Recourse to Public Funds as a panel speaker.
Dorothy also always claimed that she was not able to draw. However, this too changed and she would bring her drawings to show me in the support group classes. Her confidence in her abilities grew and she would share photographs of her drawings with others. A friend of hers even purchased one for her collections. She also went onto to write and contributed a chapter to a collection of stories that we published to mark our 40th anniversary last year. Her constant smile and determination to find joy even in the most difficult of situations was incredible.
After she was abandoned by her husband, Dorothy fought for her right to remain in the UK for almost a decade without success. Excluded from state protection, and at ongoing risk of poverty and destitution, Dorothy persisted in speaking out about the hostility of the UK’s immigration system and its treatment of migrant women subject to domestic abuse. She spoke passionately about the gaps in protection, including the brutality of the dispersal policy for asylum-seeking women and the fear and anxiety created by the inhuman border control policies and their expansion across society. In the last few years, Dorothy’s mental health suffered greatly due to the state of limbo that she forced into by the immigration system. Her health suffered further when she was diagnosed with cancer. But even this did not persuade the Home Office to show compassion and humanity and accept her claim for asylum. Dorothy was told by medical experts that her health problems were likely to be related to the abuse, trauma and stress she had experienced over the years.
In recent months, Dorothy sought our help after being told she would be charged for her medical care. There could not be a crueler example of how the UK treats migrant people; without compassion or care for her rights. Dorothy wanted to leave the hospital because she did not know how she would be able to pay the bills. We were able to overcome this together, and advocate for Dorothy with regards to her treatment in the nursing home as someone without family in the UK. My hope is that this gave her some comfort and ease in her final days.
Dorothy, you will always remain in our hearts and be remembered for your smile, your laughter, your tenacity to fight, and as a friend and a sister. Thank you for standing up for women. We will miss you Dorothy but we will continue to fight for the justice that you did not live long enough to see.