The daughter of Windrush scandal victim and campaigner Sarah O’Connor says a crowdfunding bid has been launched to help pay for her mum’s funeral.
The 57-year-old, who was left facing bankruptcy after a lengthy battle with the Home Office, was found dead at her home in Dagenham on Sunday.
Her daughter, Stephanie O’Connor, told HuffPost UK her mum had no known illnesses but said her family believed the stress of fighting for legal recognition after the government declared her an illegal immigrant “couldn’t have helped” her health.
“It’s been really difficult,” she said.
“The last few days have felt like months. As it wasn’t expected, there are so many things I wish I could say to her but more importantly – I’d just like for her to give me a hug.
“All your life, your mum is the one that makes things better, but for the most heartbreaking feeling in the world there’s nothing she can do and that’s the most difficult thing to come to terms with.
“Our mum is no longer here.”
A post mortem examination was scheduled to take place on Friday to determine O’Connor’s cause of death.
“There’s only so long you can fight for,” her daughter added. “As far as we are all aware she wasn’t ill and so that’s why her death has been even more shocking.
“I definitely feel that the scandal took a toll on mum, physically and mentally. It drained her. Before the whole situation came to light it felt like you were trapped in a vicious cycle.”
Back in March, O’Connor said she was facing bankruptcy after being told that she was an illegal immigrant by the Home Office – despite moving the UK at the age of six.
As a result, she was unable to work, despite having been in continuous employment for all of her adult life in Britain and was refused benefits because of her status.
Even after she had been presented with a naturalisation certificate in July, O’Connor was given notice by her landlord and struggled to find a new place to live and a new job.
Her family, who said her life was “turned upside down”, joined forces with Windrush activist Patrick Vernon OBE to launch a fundraising campaign on Friday – the proceeds of which will go towards her funeral costs.
Vernon said: “Sarah was a champion and a voice for victims of Windrush scandal. It is only fitting we give the best send-off.”
At an event in Parliament in May attended by Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, O’Connor received an apology from Nokes and gave a speech about the impact of the scandal upon her life.
She told the audience: “The government and parliament need to sit down and sort something out. Aren’t we all British? Why do we have to go through all this rigmarole and hardship and pain?”
Inspired by her mother’s activism, Stephanie said she is keen to continue campaigning for the rights of Windrush victims.
“When you’re stripped of having no passport, getting a job, benefits and told you’re not a British citizen, I can’t ever imagine not having those rights and yet it was going on all around us,” she added.
“When your identity has been stripped from you, wouldn’t you want to fight for justice?
“Mum wanted to give people a voice and highlight the problem. She felt so alone at the beginning and wanted to make sure that other people in the same situation didn’t feel like that.
“I can’t explain how proud I am of her, even though this has been the worst week of my life.”
A Home Office spokesperson told HuffPost: “Our sincere condolences are with Ms O’Connor’s family and friends at this difficult time.”