Twenty-seven years of marriage, two British sons and a granddaughter could not protect Singaporean Irene Clennell from deportation, but now the feisty grandma is fighting to get back to her family.
Mrs Clennell, 52, was deported to Singapore on Sunday (Feb 26), despite being the primary caregiver for her sickly British husband John, who she said has sunk into a mire of depression since she left.
"He was crying," she told AFP in an interview at her sister's cramped suburban home in the Southeast Asian city state, where she is sleeping on the sofa as she tries to find a legal way back to her family in Britain.
John had femoral artery bypass in his leg last year and suffered a subsequent hernia. Since then, she said, he has struggled to walk far and needed help dressing himself.
"Before, it was different because he was fit and well — he was able to look after himself. But now he can't because of his condition," she said, adding that she had been his sole caregiver at their County Durham home.
Mrs Clennell has been holed-up at her sister's Singapore flat, talking to the media and trying to coordinate her legal fight to be allowed back into Britain since she was deported Feb 26.
Her British sister-in-law has hired an immigration lawyer and set up a crowdfunding campaign to cover her legal fees, which had raised more than £53,000 (S$91,844) by Friday.
Her husband is so desperate for them to be reunited he has written to a French minister asking whether they could live in France as a family, said Mrs Clennell, who arrived in Singapore with hardly any money or possessions after a period in UK immigration detention.
Mrs Clennell first arrived in Britain in 1988 and worked as a receptionist at a London hotel where she met her husband, a construction worker. She was subsequently granted indefinite leave to remain in the country.
But she lost this right after spending long periods of time in Singapore, initially to have help from her family raising her young children, and then to care for her elderly parents before their deaths.
Mrs Clennell said she now regrets leaving for so long as she didn't realise it would create so many problems.
"I think that's the mistake," she said, adding it would be difficult for her husband to now move to Singapore due to his medical conditions, which require expensive care.
Her deportation has forced Mrs Clennell to again part from her two sons and her two-year-old granddaughter in Britain.
Ever since losing her right to remain in the UK, Mrs Clennell has struggled to get visas — in December 2007, she said, she was not allowed back into Britain.
"I'd bought all the Christmas gifts for my sons, my nieces and for John," she said, wiping tears from her eyes at the memory.
"At the airport in Newcastle, I was told that I couldn't enter the country... When they said they were going to send me back, I could hear my younger son screaming."
After that incident, Mrs Clennell applied for leave to enter Britain in 2008 but was rejected, as were two subsequent appeals. She spent five years in India working as a forex trader.
In 2013, Mrs Clennell managed to enter as a visitor and has remained since, overstaying her visa. She reported fortnightly to an immigration centre and it was during one of these sessions in January that she was detained.
Britain's controversial spousal visa system means that the British partner in a marriage has to prove earnings of at least £18,600 and the couple have to demonstrate long stretches of uninterrupted time living in Britain.
While the Clennells meet the first criteria, the periods Irene spent out of the country have posed a problem.
The threshold was put in place in 2012 as part of efforts to drive down the number of immigrants arriving in Britain from outside the European Union.
A spokesman from Britain's Home Office said in a statement all applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with immigration rules.