'˜Passport wrangle meant I couldn't say bye to mum'
A DARK cloud hangs over Malcolm and Iryna Bennett as they relax in the sunshine of Tenerife over the festive break.
While the holiday means freedom at last for Ukraine-born Mrs Bennett after a long, hard battle for a British passport, it masks a personal tragedy.
A tangle of Government red tape prevented Iryna flying out of the UK to Russia to be at her mother’s bedside in her final moments.
On the day the passport arrived it was too late.
“It’s heartbreaking because Iryna didn’t get the chance to say ‘goodbye’ to her mum,” said Malcolm.
“She slipped into a coma on the very day the passport arrived. Iryna didn’t have time to make the trip.”
The couple, who were married four years ago, had been fighting for the passport since January when she officially became a British citizen.
She was told she would have to return to her war-torn homeland to complete paperwork - simply to alter the name on her Ukraine passport to Bennett - before the Home Office would grant her application.
But, as weeks and months passed, her mother became more and more ill.
“It was still classed as a war zone where Iryna had lived,” explained Malcolm. “She didn’t even know if her home was still standing - others nearby had been destroyed by shelling.
“Even if she had wanted to make that dangerous trip, she had surrendered her Ukranian passport to the authorities here as instructed and they didn’t return it.
“So without either passport she was stuck here, a prisoner in the UK and unable to leave the country.
“Iryna talked to her mum on Skype on a daily basis, so at least she had that to cling on to. But she so wanted to be with her at her brother’s home in Russia as her health got worse. She was prevented from doing that by ridiculous bureaucracy.
“I felt like it was a breach of her human rights. And telling her she would have to return to a war zone just to get the right paperwork was disgraceful.”
In desperation the couple, who live in Bow Lane, Leyland, took their case to their South Ribble MP Seema Kennedy. Eventually she persuaded the Home Office to relent and issue the passport.
“Seema was very good,” said Malcolm. “It wasn’t easy, because rules are rules.
“But in the end she must have persuaded them it wasn’t fair keeping Iryna in the UK while her mother’s health was failing and they relented.
“Sadly it came just a few days too late. On the day the passport arrived we got the call that her mother had gone into a coma. A few days later she passed away.
“I feel so sorry for Iryna not being able to be at her mum’s bedside. The fact that the delay was so unnecessary makes it worse.
“We’ve got a place in Tenerife, but we haven’t been able to go there while all this has been going on. So the first thing we did was to book flights to go out for the Christmas break and meet up with Iryna’s son who is coming down from Russia.
“After all the heartbreak of the last few months it’s a relief to be able to relax in the sun.”