Surviving prison when you don’t speak the language

Bilyana is a Bulgarian with limited command of the English language. Her ex-partner Lael is also Bulgarian and they have a three year old son. Prior to her arrest, Bilyana was the main carer of the child, and only left her – reluctantly – in the care of her partner, when she went to work.

Bilyana’s partner was physically abusive to her during their relationship and there were several incidents when she was badly beaten and the police became involved.  On one particular occasion Lael came home drunk and started to hit Bilyana. She was fearful for her life and tried to escape her violent partner, but she could not. She then grabbed a knife in order to defend herself and stabbed Lael in the chest. Bilyana was arrested and detained on remand. She did not remember the act itself and she was very distressed whenever she tried to recall the incident.

When arrested, Bilyana agreed for her son to be taken into care by social services as she did not want him to stay with her former partner. The Hibiscus Initiatives project workers held regular support sessions with her and assisted her with practical problems relating to her finance and criminal, family & immigration matters. Bilyana did not speak sufficient English, and was provided with language support by the Hibiscus Initiatives project worker who supported and advocated for her.

Whilst in prison, she struggled to cope with the consequences of the domestic violence she suffered. The language barrier prevented her from being able to access support and courses in prison. Support provided in her language of origin by the Hibiscus worker helped her to cope with the emotional impact of domestic abuse. When Bilyana’s sentence finished she was detained by the Home Office and served with a deportation order. Hibiscus project workers secured a pro bono barrister who agreed to represent Bilyana during her immigration court hearing. The project workers liaised closely with the barrister.

The application for immigration bail was considered, however Bilyana needed a suitable address to be granted the bail.  Two applications for help with housing support were submitted but both were refused. The Hibiscus project worker approached an immigration solicitor for help in applying for immigration bail. As a result of changes to legal aid provision Bilyana was not eligible for funding towards legal representation in her deportation case, however she was still entitled to free legal representation  for her bail hearing. The solicitor was successful in making an application for legal aid which resulted in her being able to access other support services and was housed in a refuge.

The safe house’s address was provided as a release address for immigration bail. The bail application was submitted and during the court hearing, the judge approved the release of Bilyana after six months of the immigration detention. Hibiscus Initiatives provided financial support to her for the most needed expenses after her release.

For Bilyana the most important matter was to reunite her with her son.

After her release, she has been in regular contact with the Hibiscus project worker who has been continuing to support her with family and immigration matters. The project worker accompanied Bilyana and supported her emotionally during her family court hearing. The court granted Bilyana the residential order for her son, and the child has been staying with her in the safe house since then. Bilyana won her appeal against deportation. While in the safe house she completed various courses for victims of domestic violence and ESOL level 2. She feels safe in the location she stays and enjoys the precious moments with her son. Bilyana found a job and she is hoping to move to her own accommodation very soon.