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Home Office could forcibly separate non-cohabiting couple before their wedding

A couple planning to marry soon could be forcibly separated by the Home Office because they are not cohabiting before their wedding.

Sarah Bradley, 29, a British digital marketing teacher, and Youssef Mikhaiel, 28, an Egyptian man who graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in aeronautical engineering, met in February 2022 through a Christian dating app.

Both are practising Christians and both live in Glasgow. Mikhaiel was planning to formally propose to Bradley this summer and the couple have discussed the kind of wedding they want.

Mikhaiel was diagnosed with Fabry disease in 2020. The rare inherited neurological disorder means a chemical that is broken down in the body in healthy people builds up and attacks vital organs.

Bradley said: “It was love at first sight, love at first chat, love at first everything when we met in February 2022.”

Mikhaiel applied to remain in the UK on humanitarian grounds: his relationship with Bradley and their plans to marry, as well as the lack of access to treatment in Egypt for his medical condition.

But on 16 May, when he attended a routine appointment at a Home Office reporting centre in Glasgow, he was arrested by officials and taken to Dungavel House immigration removal centre in South Lanarkshire. He was released on Friday but remains at risk of forced removal to Egypt.

His lawyer, Usman Aslam of Mukhtar & Co solicitors, has obtained expert medical evidence from doctors in Egypt saying there is no treatment for this rare condition over there.

Without treatment, which is available in the UK, Mikhaiel’s lifespan is likely to be shortened. According to evidence from Egyptian doctors, being deprived of treatment for Fabry disease will cause Mikhaiel “intense suffering or death”.

Speaking from Dungavel House, Mikhaiel said: “I’m still trying to process what happened to me when I was arrested and detained. I’ve never been detained in my life before and I am very stressed. I believe in respect for all religions.

“We are just following our teachings and beliefs by not living together. The plan was to propose this summer but now everything is upside down. In our relationship, Sarah and I support each other and give each other energy. I got through my time in detention by going to church here.”

Bradley said: “I need the love of my life to be with me. We’ve asked about 30 friends and relatives for evidence to provide to the Home Office that our relationship is genuine. It’s humiliating to have to ask and Home Office classes this kind of evidence as ‘weak’.

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“I think this rule about having to cohabit is discriminatory because it excludes couples like us who have made a decision not to live together before marriage for religious reasons. I earn well above the minimum income threshold for a spouse visa so I can support Youssef. And he wants to work and pay taxes. I’m concerned about his physical and mental health in detention.”

According to Home Office guidance, people who are not already married or in a civil partnership are expected to have been living together for at least two years in a relationship similar to a marriage or a civil partnership.

Listed exceptions include the couple living apart for work reasons or one partner in the couple is studying abroad. There is no exception for people who are not cohabiting for religious reasons.

The Home Office classifies the type of evidence couples can provide as proof that they are in a genuine relationship according to its strength or weakness. Letters of support from friends, relatives or religious leaders with British citizenship is classified as “weak” evidence, as are photographs of time spent together by the couple.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All applications for leave to remain are carefully considered on their individual merits, on the basis of the evidence provided and in accordance with the immigration rules.

“In some cases immigration detention is required while we organise an individual’s removal from the UK. We only return those with no legal right to remain in the UK and will not return anyone to countries where they have been found to be at risk of persecution or serious harm.”

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