Janice Gwaltney says family of five tried to reach UK but they left some key items behind in Germany
They gave up everything to get to Europe. Now they may be sent home
The most British of arrivals may be sent back home after ditching all the remnants of their Anglo-Saxon past to start a new life in Europe.
Janice Gwaltney from Burnley hopes to persuade her four-year-old son Jaxon that the family, including her husband Mark and their two daughters, Mylo and Laila, left behind memories from home when they decided to seek a better life in the UK.
Germany was the next stop after visiting Greece and Belgium last summer. From her home in Portugal, where they were told they had arrived, they tried to call their families in Burnley but couldn’t get through. It was a miserable Christmas and they were unprepared for the harshness of life in Europe.
Janice Gwaltney has her photo taken for an artwork of the Smiths. Photograph: Benjamin Beavan
After three weeks, Jaxon asked to be brought home. “He says ‘Mum, can I come home for Christmas?’ He is so embarrassed and tearful. He is a big boy and he’s really lovely and gets tears in his eyes. He knows he is in Germany and said ‘don’t we love you?’”
Gwaltney would have nothing but gratitude to have remained in Europe, given the tribulations they have faced in the six months since arriving.
By April 2017, having a failed asylum claim and deportation orders hanging over them, they left the single bed and triple square foot house their daughter Mylo had been living in in Portugal and moved into a privately rented apartment.
They had lost their jobs, a financial package to support them in Germany of €1,500 a month and the support of a 10-strong Portuguese church family.
“The worst thing was we left without any papers at all. We tried to get our travel papers straight away from Portugal but there was no staff. I felt at rock bottom,” said Gwaltney.
Having exhausted their savings, they resorted to doing anything to get into Germany. “We spent £45 on a packet of biscuits and in the shop,” said Gwaltney. “We spent £10 on a paperclip so we could move round a bit, we would make a stick out of this.”
Her daughters were so desperate to see their parents they would steal stuff from their classes, she said.
Gwaltney said her eldest daughter Laila, 13, was worried about staying in school and appearing the wrong way to people in Germany. But the family was determined to make the most of every day. The next thing they knew they were in a migrant hostel with 220 other families.
“In winter you have no heat, you don’t have furniture and you are freezing,” said Gwaltney. “When we first went we were so scared. We thought we would die. There is not enough money and everything is gone. You want to go back home. But the biggest worry was the children.
“Laila has been bullied at school in Germany and I was lucky enough to get a lesson on helping young refugees at the Co-operative academy and I started to teach myself some German.”
They have kept a low profile so far, adding that their story resonates with a lot of others.
A crowdfunding effort had raised nearly £6,000 of a £10,000 target to repay money they borrowed and pay off loans. The family has also been offered free car and bus passes, accommodation, tuition in English and some car and bike insurance, even camping equipment.
Gwaltney said: “I still want to live here but I do not like the climate. We are in winter and not even if the going gets rough the children still have their coats on.”
They plan to work hard until their asylum application is sorted out and to get a visa.
“I came here to provide for my children and I see it is their future as much as mine. The family I started with gave me one year. I can’t think about that, I have to fight on until the worst case scenario is over.”