Rashida Chapti has unwillingly found herself in the glare of hostile media coverage over the past month or so. Her fight to bring her husband and son to the UK to live with her has encountered the newly introduced barrier of the pre-entry language requirement. Their case is the test case, having been heard late last month in a Birmingham court, and Mrs Chapti has attracted all kinds of unwarranted attack.
Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell flaunted her lack of understanding of the case and the law in an ignorant article appearing in The Mail on 30 July:
“Mrs Chapti says her husband has no intention of learning English even if he is allowed to join her. And why should he? There will be plenty of interpreters on hand – whom we pay for – to help him complete his benefit forms when he fails to get a job.
She claims her husband can’t learn English, as he lives too far away from the nearest school. Yet she’s been able to afford to fly to and from India in the past five years – on her machinist’s salary in a clothes factory – so surely she could stump up the bus fare he needs to get to the school.”
It would appear that Ms Platell doesn’t understand that any spouse moving to the UK has no recourse to public funds (for the probationary period of two years, potentially rising to five) and will therefore be filling out no benefit forms – with or without the assistance of publicly funded translators. If she had tried, perhaps she could have had a conversation with Mrs Chapti and discovered that she can indeed speak English, only a lack of confidence made her decide to speak through a translator on the Today programme on Radio 4. As for being able to afford to “fly to and from India in the past five years”, maybe it would have been more honest to point out that Mrs Chapti has flown to and from India just once in the last six years.
The Daily Mail’s reporter Andy Dolan ran a piece claiming that, according to Mrs Chapti her husband has no intention of learning English. That’s different from what she told me, as she expects him to pick up the language if he was allowed into the UK just as she has done “by watching the News everyday and listening to her nephews and nieces speak”. That’s how Mrs Chapti got by, and she lives, shops and works without a translator.
Migrants learn the language they need to survive and to live comfortably. There is no doubting that the best place to learn English is England (the clue is in the name there). The furore over English language testing and anyone’s willingness or otherwise to learn English is less about cohesion and communication, and more about racism and discrimination.
The people making most noise about the need for immigrants to speak English always appear to be the last people who would actually want to have a chat with Mr or Mrs Chapti. Amanda Platell, with her journalistic background, contacts and influence appears to have made no effort at all to have that conversation, and the resulting ignorance shines through in her article.
The real story
It would appear its time to put the record straight and tell the story of Mrs Chapti.
Rashida Chapti was born in Malawi, and moved to India when she was thirteen. Most of her family have since moved to the UK, living in Blackburn, Bolton and Leicester, all are settled with families of their own. She met Vali in 1973, and they married in 1974, having six children. The youngest son, Sohel, is the only one not married and settled with children of his own.
Six years ago she had saved enough money to come and visit them in the UK, having not seen some of them for years. When here, she realised what she was missing and, with a little peer pressure from her siblings, decided it would be a good move to reunite her family by living in the UK.
So she moved, applied for settlement which was granted and has since worked as a machinist in a clothing factory, at times doing two jobs as seasonal work became available. At no time has Mrs Chapti claimed benefits, always ensuring she has paid her own way – hardly a burden on the state as some would have you believe.
The attempt to have her husband and youngest son come and join her in Leicester has been scuppered by timing. Before the pre-entry language requirement was introduced, the move would have been pretty straight forward, but now they face a difficult battle. As things stood before, Mr Vali would have been expected to learn English within two years of coming to the UK if he wanted to be granted settlement. As yet, no convincing argument has been put by the Government or the test’s supporters how a pre-entry requirement is a better rule than the two year probationary period previously existing.
So far the couple have spent around £5,000 on visa application fees and other expenses on trying to get Mr Vali the correct paperwork to enable him to join his wife. That is a huge amount of money considering the paltry wages both partners currently survive on.
The Mrs Chapti I met was a million miles from the grasping and scheming character portrayed in certain newspapers. She is a humble and humorous person who is obviously driven by her desire to spend her life with her husband. She is ready to laugh at the odd inadvertent misunderstanding, and has a warm and engaging personality. How she or her family present a threat to the fibre or cohesion of British society is impossible to tell for anyone who has spent any time in her company.
We await judgment from the Chapti’s court case, we can only hope for a favourable outcome, that the judges see sense and allow this family to be reunited.
Other related posts on media cioverage of immigration include Bogus, Sham and Swamp: The Words and Numbers of Anti-Immigration and A study in distortion – how The Sun twists the figures.