Former Ambassador, Human Rights Activist
There is so much injustice in Tory Britain you trip over it when you are not looking. We just enjoyed a long weekend in the Highlands, and stayed through airbnb at the Wayfarers’ Rest in Laggan. Our hosts were the delightful Zielsdorf family, who could not have been more friendly and welcoming. Their kindness and attention were particularly remarkable given they are every second awaiting the arrival of the border force to deport them.
Jason and Christy Zielsdorf are Canadian. They have been in Scotland for eight years, legally, and several of their children were born here. After studying theology at St Andrews, Jason decided to stay on. Armed with an entrepreneur visa, two years ago he bought the general store and bothy in the small Highland village of Laggan. The premises had been empty for 18 months, because there is not a rich living in providing this community service. The Zielsdorfs reckoned that by investing in the accommodation and opening a coffee shop highlighting their excellent home cooking (and it really is excellent), they could make a go of it and cater not just for locals but the passing hillwalkers. And they have done.
It took some time and a lot of work for the business to find its feet, and to date they have only been able to give full time employment to one person, not the two their visa stipulates. Although they argue given time their business will reach a stage to employ two people, the Home Office says their time is up and is insisting on their deportation; a month ago they were told they will be deported imminently.
Deporting children who have only ever known Scotland is ludicrous. Fairly well the entire community of Laggan has written in support of the Zielsdorfs. Both Jason and Christy have Scottish ancestry.
It is not easy to run a business in the Highlands and Laggan is better for what the Zielsdorfs have done. Local MP Drew Hendry has worked hard for them, but met only unhelpfulness from the Home Office, who have not even given a ministerial meeting promised in response to a parliamentary question.
We do not know when they will get the 5am knock on the door and be taken into custody. They have been unable to sell the Wayfarers’ Rest, in which they invested £240,000, because just as before they came, nobody else wants to run it. In an act of supreme pettiness, the Home Office have confiscated Jason’s driving licence, which makes life in the Highlands near impossible. Also as a former pastor Jason used to pay community visits on elderly and vulnerable people in isolated locations, which he cannot now do.
The truth is, having set arbitrary numerical limits on net immigration, if the Home office deports the Zielsdorf family that reduces net immigration by seven – and they are low-hanging fruit, easy to find, not able to disappear and defenceless. Their plight is Tory Britain’s heartless xenophobia in action.
This case is a prime example of how ridiculous it is to rule the Highlands from London. The law is framed to deal with the immigration situation in London or Birmingham. It is totally inappropriate to the Highlands, where the problem is under-population, where a village store is a precious thing and providing even one full time job to the community is invaluable.
It is also of course worth noting that it takes a special kind of government stupidity to embark upon post-Brexit relationships by picking on the Canadians.