Lala, 50, from Armenia living in Belgium

“I was told that I would never make it to Armenia, that I would die on the way.” 

Lala has serious heart problems. After her claim for medical regularisation was rejected, she was detained. Lala’s private cardiologist believed she would not survive if deported, but the detention centre’s medical services declared her fit to travel. The highest court requested a third opinion. An independent cardiologist confirmed the diagnosis of Lala’s doctor. After a legal battle of more than two months, Lala was finally released. Detention traumatised and separated the whole family.

Garik (Lala’s son): My parents left Armenia in 1994. They took my brother, my sister and me to Russia, when we were still very small. We had a shop for a while, but were blackmailed by the mafia and lost everything. We eventually came to Belgium in 2005 and claimed asylum, but this claim was rejected.

Lala: Shortly after arriving in Belgium, I became seriously ill. The doctors told me that only 25% of my heart functioned properly and would need urgent medical assistance. I applied for regularisation on medical grounds, but last May my claim was rejected. Our case was closed.

Garik: Not long after, the police arrested both my mother and sister and took them to a detention centre. That same week, my father and I were sent to prison for having committed small offences. My father, for example, had been caught behind the wheel without a licence twice. My older brother was already in prison; he was serving a three-year sentence.

Lala: Two weeks after being detained, my daughter was deported to Armenia. I too was supposed to be deported, but I refused to fly because I knew I could die of a heart attack. My lawyer found me a cardiologist; he said that I should be released immediately as I urgently needed an operation. He told me I’d never make it to Armenia, that I would die on the way. Two months later I was finally released and taken to the hospital for surgery. By that time my husband had also been deported… They’ve ruined my entire family.

Garik: The fact that my mother and sister had been detained really worried my brother. He knew that my mother needed an operation and that the doctors had said her chances of survival were slim. The stress became too much for him… He committed suicide in prison.

As for me, I was told that I would be deported as soon as my 10-month prison sentence came to an end. I said that was fine; I’d told them I was Armenian. When they contacted the embassy, however, they couldn’t find any record of me – which meant I couldn’t be sent anywhere. I was released in February.

Lala: We’re living with my son’s girlfriend now. My daughter is ok; she came back to Belgium and married a Belgian. She now has a residence permit, but I’m worried about my son. He needs to work – it’s not good for him to stay inside all day. Without a passport, he can neither get married to his girlfriend nor return to Armenia…He can’t do anything.

Garik: I need to take care of my mother; she can’t work because of her heart. But without papers I cannot find a job. I can’t even rent a house with my girlfriend…it’s very difficult. My mother doesn’t have a house or any family left in Armenia; even my father has left for Russia in search of work.

Lala: I cannot leave my son behind… [Points to the urn above the fireplace.] I’ve applied for a residence permit on medical grounds again, but so far we haven’t had any news. My daughter keeps asking the lawyer but he tells us wait, wait, wait. I don’t understand why they don’t give us any papers. I’ve been here for eight years now.