Challenging a brutal immigration system

Posted on: 24th August 2017

Next Monday marks two months since one of our particularly vulnerable members was deported to her native Nigeria while awaiting a decision on her application to remain in the UK on medical grounds. Sarah Jones, Body & Soul’s head of casework and advocacy, describes what happened and outlines the concerns raised by this case.

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At Body & Soul, we support some of the most vulnerable members in society – people who have experienced serious trauma in their past and often struggle as a result to cope with life’s challenges in the present. Our whole-person approach means we work with our members both to overcome practical difficulties and to set them on a path to fulfilment in their lives.

The fact that we are pursuing our mission in the face of a brutal and sometimes capricious system was brought home to me in a stark way earlier in the summer when one of our members, Kemi, was taken late one evening from the care home where she was living and within 12 hours had been placed on a charter flight back to her native Nigeria.

The challenges faced by Kemi are shared by many Body & Soul members:

  • Once Kemi’s original student visa expired, she applied for leave to remain in the UK on medical grounds: she has physical health issues (on top of her HIV diagnosis) as well as serious mental health issues (including anxiety, impaired cognitive functioning and psychosis).
  • As well as being supported by Body & Soul and a range of medical professionals, Kemi was receiving legal representation from a charity supporting immigrants as she tried to regularise her immigration status.
  • Her solicitors were informed in February this year that her application for leave to remain had been rejected. Following the important Paposhvili v. Belgium ruling by the European Court of Human Rights at the end of last year, Kemi made a fresh application, which was being considered by the Home Office at the time of her deportation.

 

Deportation

However the facts of Kemi’s case raise some worrying questions about the way such cases are handled:

  • The documents giving notice that Kemi was to be removed from the UK were served only on Kemi herself – not on her solicitors who were on record as acting for her. This is not in line with standard procedure, something the Home Office has since accepted.
  • Kemi was flown back to her native Nigeria in the dead of night on a charter flight (a controversial practice in itself). Why did the entire process take place outside of office hours? This meant she could not challenge the deportation, as her solicitor was not given the opportunity to lodge an application for a judicial review.
  • Of greatest concern to us is the fact that Kemi was deported in spite of her outstanding application for leave to remain. Why was she deported before her legal options had been exhausted?

 

When a member’s legal avenues have been exhausted, it is our job to help that member come to terms with the fact that they may have to return to their country of origin. This usually involves practical as well as emotional support: we try to put them in touch with services in their own country that can go some way towards meeting their needs, but we also help them to prepare psychologically for a major change in their circumstances – something that can be particularly troubling for members with mental health issues.

I dread to think how Kemi must have felt as she boarded that flight to Nigeria on her own, with no plans in place and no clear sense of what she was returning to. As Kemi was deported before a final decision was made on her application, she was not given her due in terms of legal process, and we were not given the opportunity to prepare her for a return to Nigeria (should the final decision have gone against her). As it is, we are doing what we can to support Kemi from a distance as an appeal is prepared on her behalf. It is a priority to find out when her HIV and mental health medication will run out, and whether she has been able to access suitable healthcare in Nigeria.

At Body & Soul we acknowledge the need for a regulated immigration system, and understand that ultimately not everyone who arrives in this country will be able to stay indefinitely. However it is important that the system should (i) be humane and (ii) follow due process. In Kemi’s case, the system failed on both these counts. We as a society need to do better.

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In this post the member’s name has been changed to protect her identity.



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