Michelle was excited to start life in the sun with her new toyboy husband Hamma, until he started asking for a UK visa…
By Helen O’Brien Google
My heart skipped a beat as I saw a new Facebook message come through.
It was Hamma again, and I felt the same surge of excitement every time he replied to one of my messages.
He had started messaging me a few months ago and I was still a bit skeptical.
He had added me out of the blue and I thought there would be no harm in having another friend on there.
I never expected it to go any further and I was shocked when he asked to talk over webcam.
At 21, Hamma was half my age and I was wary about his intentions – I’d heard horror stories about young Tunisian men scamming older British women for money before.
He was gorgeous and I couldn’t help being attracted to him. But I was divorced with six children.
Surely he would never fancy an old girl like me, I thought.
Only he didn’t seem interested in money and he was so sweet and caring. He constantly showered me with compliments.
“You’re beautiful,” he told me: “Come and see me in Tunisia, I want to see you in person.”
I was tempted, but I held back, I didn’t want to fall for him too easily.
But he was so genuine and persistent that I was eventually won over and after six months of talking I visited him in Tunisia in December 2010.
Under the beautiful sunshine, everything seemed perfect.
Hamma was even better looking in the flesh and he was so affectionate, I felt flattered.
But, like his family, Hamma was a Muslim and felt uncomfortable having a relationship without his god’s approval.
“Will you marry me? It would please my family,” he said.
I was horrified at first, it was far too soon.
But he explained it wouldn’t be an official marriage in law, just an Islamic marriage ceremony at his local mosque, so I happily agreed.
It was so romantic and spiritual, I felt totally at home with Hamma and his family.
It was like I had known him all my life.
After that Hamma begged me to marry him properly, but I was determined to make him wait.
I visited as often as I could and we spoke every single day when we were apart.
I couldn’t help falling for him – he was never too busy to talk to me.
“Come and live with me here in Tunisia,” he begged.
It sounded like the perfect idea, but I was nervous about uprooting my life here – it was a big step.
In the end he was so persistent that I couldn’t resist and agreed to marry him.
But my son Jason, now 30, didn’t approve.
Hamma and his family were very poor, so I often helped him out with money – I knew life in Tunisia was tough and Hamma had struggled for years to find work.
Jason said: “I don’t like this Mum, he’s only in it for the money, he’s using you.”
But he didn’t know Hamma like I did.
I said: “Don’t be silly, I’ve been seeing him for ages now, I know what I’m doing.”
We had been together for at least a year before Hamma first asked for cash. Hardly the approach of a desperate scammer!
By then I had met his family and seen how little they had. That’s how I knew he genuinely needed help.
So, ignoring my son’s warnings, I trusted in my heart and went ahead with the legal marriage.
We said our vows officially under the Tunisian sun in May 2012. I wore a traditional white wedding dress and felt like the luckiest woman in the world.
I’d been married before but it didn’t work out and we divorced in 2005 after 32 years of marriage.
It was really important to me that this time it was perfect.
I was sure Hamma was genuine – we had been together for two years already after all.
This time I knew it was forever.
But just a week after our wedding, Hamma called me up.
He said: “Will you help me pay for a UK visa?”
I was confused – we had always talked of building a life together in Tunisia.
He said he wanted to be able to visit me and my family, which seemed reasonable.
But when I realised a permanent visa would cost over a thousand pounds I told him I couldn’t help him – I had already spent thousands to support him and his family.
I thought a visitor’s visa would be the best option and he seemed happy to apply for that.
The application process was long and slow, and I was shocked when his application was refused in January 2013.
We had been married for a year by then, and together for three, so I thought there wouldn’t be any problems.
I assumed that there must have been a mix up so we appealed the decision and in the meantime I still visited him all the time.
Hamma had said in his application that he worked in Tunisia running a farm, but he didn’t have a job at all.
Because he had been dishonest they just refused it outright – they said he had no ties to Tunisia to prove he would return.
I was sad that my husband couldn’t come to visit me, but I thought we would just carry on as we had been.
I started looking at moving to Tunisia. Life in the sun will be bliss, I told myself.
But my toyboy husband had other ideas…
Just days after the tribunal decision, I received a Whatsapp text message from him ending our marriage after just two years.
It said: “I need someone who can support me with money to get a visa, I’m sorry.”
He told me I was too old for him and if I couldn’t help him then he’d have to find someone who could.
I was heart broken.
I felt completely used – after we got married I gave Hamma access to my bank account and he withdrew money every week.
I didn’t have much cash, so I’d even been letting him have the child tax credits that I got for my two youngest boys, who hadn’t turned 18 at the time.
That money should have been spent on my kids, but instead I wasted £35,000 bailing him out of debt – and even more travelling back and forth to visit him.
How could I be so blind?
I felt like such a fool that I let him take over my life just to entertain his hopes of getting a free ticket to the UK.
I had been caught up in my little love bubble, flattered that such a good looking, charming man was interested in me. I should have realised it was too good to be true.
Then just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I logged into Hamma’s Skype account a few weeks later.
Tears streamed down my face as I saw he’d been talking to more than 20 other British women.
He says that he wasn’t using me, but I’ll never believe that, especially as he’s now moved onto other British women.
I can’t believe that I’m facing my second divorce, but I’ve learnt from my mistakes. I feel stronger and wiser now.
I’m just glad that he didn’t get what he wanted out of me.
Hamma said: “We did apply for the visa and I was refused.
“We appealed but it was refused again. I’d been waiting more than two years.
“I don’t believe in relationships if you can’t see them. You know, she’s over there and I’m all the way over here so it doesn’t make any sense. It is difficult.
“How can you live together as husband and wife when she’s over there and I’m over here?
“I’m sure you have ideas about Tunisia and what it’s like here — no jobs. It’s hard to live here. But I didn’t use her to get a visa.”
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