Father of four struggles settling in the homeland of his deceased wife

'Every child is valuable to Latvia' is the bread and butter of some Latvian politicians, but their homecoming is not always easy, and it can be likened to an obstacle course, as the story of Imran's family shows. Imran has lead the children of him and his deceased wife, a Latvian national, to their home country as it wasn't safe in Pakistan. He wants to work and to participate in the Latvian public life, but he hasn't been able to do so as of yet, reported Latvian Radio on Wednesday.

Imran Ali, a 51-year-old Pakistani national shows a stroller with a sign in English that says 'Lots of babies'. There are three babies there in total - the triplets Anika, Alika and Aliza, who are a year and ten months old. Imran says Aliza looks just like her mother - curly, light hair and blue eyes.

Their mother Liene was Latvian, and the triplets are Latvian nationals, just like their nine-year-old brother Zain, with black shiny hair. He looks a lot like his father, though Imran's hair has streaks of silver running through it.

Liene met Imran, 19 years her senior, at a party in the United Kingdom when she was about twenty. Thus their ten year story began. They got married. Zain was born in Britain, but they moved to Karachi, Pakistan as Imran's parents health was rapidly deteriorating. 

"Now I'm sorry - perhaps I did wrong by taking Liene to Pakistan. She didn't complain about anything there, that's true. But perhaps I did wrong by her the same," said Imran, remembering the events that took place in autumn 2013 in Pakistan. Liene died giving birth to the triplets.

Pakistan became more unsafe and Imran decided to lead the four children to their mother's homeland. That's how their new life began. We could call it an obstacle course, but Imran would say it's a challenge. 

Latvian Radio met the family in the Ziedot.lv charity organization. "It's a matter of self-respect, whether I can support myself or have to resort to asking for charity. And for this Pakistani national it wasn't easy to come and ask," said Rūta Dimanta, the head of Ziedot.lv. While we see those who ask only on television, when we meet real people the stories are tragic, she added.

Losing his wife and facing dangers in Pakistan

But let's look at how he got here. Imran, his wife Liene and their son Zains lived in Pakistan for almost nine years altogether. Imran has a master's degree in finance and experience in management and marketing. He lead a department of the Colgate-Palmolive company, while Liene looked after their son at home. 

"We were very happy, and we enjoyed life. Then one day we discovered the Liene is expecting again. We went to a gynecologist, who said we'll have triplets. Even twins are very rare in Pakistan, but triplets are extremely few. That's why I suggested Liene to give birth in the United Kingdom where my sister is living and where the healthcare system is much better.

But she refused - she said she'd go only if I went with her. We decided that the children will give birth in Pakistan. And then it happened, just what I was afraid of - the doctors had misjudged the situation," Imran related.

Liene's heart stopped during childbirth, and Imran thinks that the doctors had left her behind by trying to save the triplets. The anesthesiologist had succeeded in renewing the heartbeat. "That day all the traffic was stopped as a religious event was held in the city. All the city was blocked. It wasn't possible to get an ambulance car to get her to another hospital in time. It took about four hours, and they asked me to get 26 bottles of blood," said Imran.

He pleaded to his relatives, friends and acquaintances, and they succeeded. "She was in great pain and lived until the morning. At 11 o'clock the doctor called me and said that she had died ten minutes ago," Imran said. 

Imran was left devastated, confused and helpless with four children. It's hard to picture it now, seeing how agile and masterful he is in donning the feet of his daughters and how attentively he catches the jackets or shoes that the babies sometimes eject from the stroller.

He got married again, with the Pakistani-born Zakia. Pakistan got less and less safe - terrorists and Islam fundamentalists, including fighters from the Taliban attacked schools, and there were news about kidnappings, including those of foreigners. Imran said that it's not normal if you go to job without knowing you'll come back in the evening. He had to take Zain out of school for a few days. 

"One day terrorists - I don't know whether they were Talibs or others - attacked my son's school. They made teachers and pupils gather in the yard and killed two teachers in frot of them.

They made everyone watch and threatened - if you'll continue coming to school, you'll have the same done to you, we'll kill you all. Yes, and so they did, in another school they killed 150 people in one day, mostly pupils," Inram said.

Wants the children to accept their mother's culture

Zain, who was seven at the time, was terrified and refused to go to school. After the triplets were born, Imrans decided to take the children to the homeland of their mother, to Latvia, as repaying an obligation of his deceased wife. Liene had accepted the culture of Pakistan - she became a Muslim, learned the Urdu language, made traditional food - spicy, as it should be - and wore Pakistani clothes. 

Irman didn't ask it from his wife. She had chosen it herself. She was loved among locals. "When she died in the hospital and the news rushed through our house, everyone from our apartment building gathered in the yard and cried. More than 200 attended her funeral. I have lived in Pakistan since being born, but I met people whom I didn't know in her funeral. They were crying and I asked: 'How did you know Liene?' She had created a circle of people around her. People really loved her, and they were surprised at how an European girl could accept our culture more deeply than we did.

When she was alive she did so much for us, and now I've brought her children for them to grow up in her culture," Irman said.

Imran had never been to Latvia before. He didn't speak Latvian as the family spoke English both in the United Kingdom and in Pakistan. Liene had told her son about Latvia, though, about her grandfather, the forests, the Līgo celebration.

A long, long wait, and no way to learn the language

Inram arrived in Latvia with his children and wife Zakia, also a Pakistani National, in January 2015. He registered the triplets, who are Latvian nationals just like Zain. He didn't even consider asking for asylum - if four children with Latvian nationality live here, then he and his wife should be granted a residence permit as the guardians. He turned to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP) and waited for a residence permit for eight months, finally receiving a temporary permit in August. He couldn't work before receiving one. 

"I started looking for a job even before I acquired the permit. They told me at the PMLP that the decision will be made by April. I expected getting a positive result by then. That's when a good job opportunity sprang up - there's an international US company on Brīvības street that works as a call center, and I went through a ten-day course at them.

They told me - when the course is over, we'll need a personal number [the Latvian equivalent of a social security number, ed.]. I was sure about receiving it, but the PMLP extended the review period," Imrans related.

When the company offered Imran to sign the job contract, he had to refuse. Afterwards his search for a job didn't go so well, even though he looks over job offers on the internet and asks his friends for help. Not knowing Latvian is a huge obstacle for him.

His son Zain, who attended fourth grade in Pakistan, had to study in the first grade in Latvia as he didn't know enough Latvian, and he has remained there since. Imran, on the other hand, tried finding free Latvian courses when he arrived in Latvia, as he didn't have money for paid ones. He could find them only now, in September. "That's my problem, that I cannot speak Latvian, otherwise I'd have many Latvian friends here. For example, I have such nice neighbors! Just think of it, what happened next week. I have never talked with my neighbor, but she evidently has seen me with the triplets and the big stroller. And one day she knocks at our door and shows - she doesn't speak English - three small sweaters that she has knitted, saying 'bērnu' [children's] or something like that," he said. 

Until the Latvian course the main Latvian teachers for Imran and his wife Zakia were the children, especially the triplets. They are learning Latvian in the kindergarten, he relates: "For example, I learned the word for 'cat', and 'ball'. And sometimes they are all saying one word, which they have learned in the kindergarten, but I cannot understand what they mean by it." 

There's a less than pleasant story about the kindergarten as well. When he wanted to register his daughters at a municipal kindergarten, he was refused. "They said that according to the law at least one of their children needs a Latvian personal number," he said. "I replied that it's very surprising." 

I wrote them a letter on six pages that I have lead them here all the way from Pakistan as they could not be educated because of the Taliban and their lives were endangered. If they cannot get an education in Latvia, where else can I lead my children then?

Where can they study? After all, their passports are Latvian. If I don't have a personal number, why should they be punished for it?" he related the letter.

After receiving the letter the municipality institution changed its mind and found a kindergarten for the triplets within two days. Irman's face shines with pride upon remembering this - they had told at the department that it's one of the best kindergartens in Rīga. Tuition is free.

No more support in paying rent, no more food packages

As the triplets started going to the kindergarten, the next obstacle presented itself.

"Four or five days after they started attending, I was handed a bill to be paid. It turns out it was for food in the kindergarten. A little above €40 for each child, a total of some €125 a month. It's a small sum for education, but now, when we don't have any job at all, it's big money for us," Irman said. 

Up until now they received state minimum income benefits. They are also receiving food packages from the EU relief program, but they cannot use almost half of it as the children don't eat buckwheat, but they cannot eat pork as they're Muslims.

The Rīga Municipality has covered two thirds of the rent up until now. As Imran and his wife only have temporary residence permits, they don't receive any support from the state, and only children are entitled to benefits.

Though when the story about Imran's family was already finished, things changed. Imran went to the Rīga City social services department and discovered that, upon receiving the residence permit, they had received child support benefits and a payment for the children's loss of a guardian, a total of €800, the sum has been now added as an income and the municipality has ceased the support payments accordingly. 

There'll be no more support payments for the rent of the flat, no more diapers or food packages. The establishments offer no comment upon the case.

A system that doesn't encourage loyalty

"What surprised me the most is how rife with stupidity the whole process is," said Rūta Dimanta, the head of Ziedot.lv, pointing at the difficulties that Imran had to face in obtaining a residence permit, and the length of the process.

She thinks the situation is absurd that the Latvian state can support the little girls with providing free kindergarten through the means of the municipality, but cannot help them with food.

"So we have an absurd story - on the one hand, we want all of our children born in Latvia or to Latvian and place demography on a pedestal, but, on the other hand, when we see these little children whose father asks for a residence permit, and factually they're our children, then the help isn't possible due to bureaucratic obstacles," Dimanta said. 

“Faktiski izgaismojās tāds absurds stāsts – no vienas puses, gribam visus savus Latvijas vai latviešu bērnus un demogrāfiju ceļam uz pjedestāla, bet no otras puses, kad saskaramies ar mazajiem bērniņiem, kuru tētis prasīja uzturēšanās atļauju un faktiski viņi ir mūsu bērni, tad palīdzība nav iespējama dažādu birokrātisku apstākļu dēļ,” saka Dimanta.

Ziedot.lv helps covering the lunch costs for the triplets for the second month now. Dimanta noted that this case encourages looking at what'll happen when more than 700 asylum seekers will arrive to Latvia, that is, how will we deal with every single story. "Every asylum seeker has his own family story, and I believe that it's tragic enough as no one leaves his homeland due to living too well, but rather [they leave] because of big problems. While we are looking at these people as numbers, they are scaring us, but when we look at a story of an individual, of a child, we look in a completely different way. 

We cannot evade these Juncker refugees, but we can look at them as people, to relate to them on human terms, and I think that we will get the same in return. This Pakistani man shows that he's very loyal to our country, he talks about Latvian officials, about the Latvian system on much more pleasing terms than the average Latvian does! It's a phenomenon. He receives it and is grateful," said Dimanta.

Integration? Yes, but only on your own

Imran has lived here for almost a year, and virtually no integration has taken place - he has accepted from Latvia only as much as he could understand. From Liene's relatives only her grandfather lives in Latvia, and they have met him already. Her parents are dead. Despite the obstacles he has faced, Imran has understood some of Latvia. 

"I realize now that my children will have to learn two languages - Latvian and Russian as well. As these are the two main languages used in this country," said Imran.

The refugee matter has been discussed in Imran's household as well, and he's rather wary about admitting them: "In my country, Pakistan, I saw people among refugees that weren't really refugees but rather troublemakers. I arrived to Latvia escaping a dangerous situation, and that's why I'm cautious. I am worried about the same happening here. I know that if many asylum seekers arrive, it's very hard to ascertain who's a refugee and who's a terrorist," Imran explained.

That's why he hopes for tight security controls by the institutions. But as of now the most pressing problem for Imran is finding a job, and he and his wife are competing as to who will find a job first. "We are in a lot of stress right now - I know that I cannot be dependent on others for all my life, so I am trying to find a solution, I am looking for a job. I am not comparing anything anymore - what job I had in Pakistan," he related his struggles.

"I need a job, any job, to make money for my family, even a cab driver or a store clerk. Being dependent on others is the last thing a human being can wish," he said.

So if anyone has a job offer for Imran - please contact the charity organization Ziedot.lv.

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