On 8 April 2015 I got a letter from the Home Office. It was in a big yellow envelope and as soon as I saw it, I knew something was wrong. It said I had 28 days to leave the country.
My world is finished, I thought.
They were accusing me of cheating on an English test known as TOEIC by using a proxy to sit my speaking test. But I took the test myself. I had no need to cheat – I had finished a degree in business administration at Central Lancashire University and I was doing a post-graduate diploma in business management.
I’d heard about other people who had been accused of this in the news and I knew it was a trap – once you got the accusation, there was no way out, no way to fight it.
But I never thought it would happen to me.
I was broke, so I got help from a law student who was a friend of a friend. But there’s no way I can win my case, as I have no right to appeal the Home Office decision.
At one point, I borrowed £600 from my uncle to pay for a barrister to represent me in court. But the hearing was just 15 minutes and I had no chance to say anything. It was like I was the audience in my own case.
I lost the hearing and my barrister said to me, “You’re not fighting the law, you’re fighting against the government – this won’t be easy.”
I thought there was justice in this country. I thought you could go to court and get justice if you’ve been wrongly accused of something. But I can’t.
My family back home in Bangladesh don’t know anything about what’s happening to me. They call me every day to ask when I’m coming home and why I haven’t finished my studies yet.
I’m very close to my mum and I share everything with her, but I can’t tell her this. Out of self-respect, I can’t tell them what I’ve been accused of. But how many lies can you tell?
I can’t go home without clearing my name first. I’m scared my parents will say, we’ve done everything for you, given you everything and now you’re coming home empty handed.
There was one time when the Home Office tried to deport me. They arrested me and told me I would be put on a flight that evening.
I asked to call my lawyer, but they said I wasn’t allowed to call anyone. I told them I had a case pending with the Home Office, but they said that wasn’t true. I told them I didn’t want to go, but they told me I had no other option and it was better to follow their instructions.
I was shaking and crying, thinking, today is my day. I only had the clothes I was wearing, an oyster card and £5 in my pocket.
I finally managed to persuade one of the immigration officials to let me make a phone call and I called my lawyer Jakir, that same law student I first asked for help.
At Heathrow, I waited in a room for several hours with other people due to be deported. One man was vomiting, another was shouting in the toilet. One by one, people were taken from the room. I kept thinking, am I next?
Five minutes before my flight was due to depart, I found out that my lawyer had stopped my deportation by proving that I had an ongoing case with the Home Office.
But that didn’t stop them locking me up overnight at Harmondsworth detention centre and detaining me for a week at The Verne in Dorset. I felt like a criminal, like I’d killed someone.
I’m losing all hope now. I can’t sleep. I just keep thinking, what am I doing here? All my friends are doing PhDs or have careers now, I’m just stuck. I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean. I can’t see any way out.
Today, I’ll be demonstrating outside Parliament with lots of other students wrongly accused of cheating on the TOEIC test and with Migrant Voice, a charity that’s supporting us.
I want the government to let me sit a new test and finish my studies, so I can go back home and start my career. If I manage this by the end of this year, I’ll be okay. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Nazmul Chowdhury is an international student from Bangladesh