Despite an independent immigration judge ruling that Roseline Akhalu will die without the immunosuppressant drugs she needs to live, the Home Office is funding a second appeal to the Upper Tribunal to remove an acutely ill woman from this country.
Roseline won the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Scholarship in 2003, and was awarded with a place at the University of Leeds, arriving in the UK in September 2004 on a student visa. Whilst completing her masters, Roseline was diagnosed with end stage renal failure, and put on kidney dialysis until receiving a transplant in 2009. We sit in Paul and Dot’s home in Leeds, where Roseline has been staying. Sitting beside me discussing a death sentence, graceful tears break the silence, and Roseline tells me she is living off her faith and the kindness of English strangers.
Roseline’s solicitors won an injunction which prevented the Home Office from deporting her, until a renewed application for permission to proceed with judicial review was heard last July. Rose’s lawyers were able to appeal to the First-Tier Immigration Tribunal, and in November, Judge Saffer overturned the Home Office’s decision. At the tribunal hearing the Home Office accepted the evidence that Roseline would die if removed. Again it was repealed. Actor Colin Firth has denounced the appeal, calling it ‘repugnant to every person in this country’. A further appeal with the Upper Immigration Tribunal will now be heard on 16th July in London.
In March 2012, during a monthly check in with the UK Border Agency, an officer informed Roseline she was being detained. “I was told ‘your case is finished’ and they just refused me.” The Yarlswood security escort company, Reliance, refused to allow Roseline to use a toilet, despite her serious kidney condition. After several hours she was forced to urinate on herself in the van, and as a result Roseline was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection upon arrival at the centre. “That was one of the worst experiences I have had in my entire life.”
Roseline was then detained for 26 days until her lawyers took out an emergency injunction. Rosline says she lived in constant fear of deportation, “I was detained on 16th March, and they had booked my flight for 20th March. I was taken to the airport even though I told them my solicitor had put in an appeal for my flight to be stopped. But they went ahead and took me to the airport, they knew it had been cancelled, but they wanted to psychologically torture me. It was a waste of money. But they have money to waste.”
During her time at Yarl’s Wood, “the reception boys were very hostile and you could see this aura of racism in them. You feel that you are nobody, as long as you are an immigrant; you are the least of all persons. That is the attitude you get from many of those who work there. They don’t even want to see you, and they don’t want anything good for you.”
Despite evidence of community integration and support, “the reality is that the UK Border Agency know my situation, but are saying is that it’s not their duty to protect everybody. People are not going to be flooding this country because they are sick. I didn’t just come here because I was sick – I was diagnosed here. My intention was not to come to the UK to live, to seek asylum and a better life. My intention was to come, study, and go back. I discovered there was a great disparity between girls and boys in Nigeria and I came to England to study development and gender, with the intention of starting up an NGO back home. But while I was at university doing my masters, I was diagnosed with kidney problem. It was like a death sentence for me, because I know in Nigeria there is no hope, we haven’t got a system like the NHS there.”
“They took me to the airport anyway, they knew the flight had been cancelled, but they wanted to torture me.”
The Home Office insist that Nigeria is safe to return to because there is no war, “It is true that there is no battle, but I am not running away because of political issues. I am running away because of health issues.” Roseline finds it frustrating to hear the British complaining about the NHS. “The NHS is taking care of me, for which I am always grateful. When I hear them complain I say they have no idea. Let them try my country. You are living in luxury here. In Nigeria, I would be looking for around £600 each month to cover the cost of immunosuppressant drugs. That is a lot of money. In Nigeria money is not how you see it here. When you are in England £200 is nothing, but in Nigeria you earn an average 350 Nigerian naira per month. If you put money towards medication, where is your accommodation and food meant to come from?”
Roseline accepts the UK Border Agency are doing their job removing illegal immigrants, but Roseline didn’t come here as a ‘health tourist’. “I came here to study and return. I cannot go back to Nigeria because I cannot survive, if I go back to Nigeria I will die and this precious organ I was donated will be wasted. I am being removed to die. I don’t have any friends in Nigeria anymore; I have built my life here. Other people win their cases for flimsy reasons and will be allowed to stay. It’s really stressful.”
The UK Border Agency says, “The UK has a proud tradition of providing a place of safety for genuine refugees. However, we are determined to refuse protection to those who do not need it, and will take steps to remove those who are found to have made false claims.” Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is the main facility for the detention of women in the UK and is operated by the private contractor Serco. Asylum is protection granted to someone fleeing persecution in their own country, this is provided under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Asylum seekers can be detained in UK immigration detention centres for years. A report in May 2012 revealed that two women due for deportation were kept at the removal centre in Bedfordshire, for two-and-a-half years.
Esme Madill who has organised a petition of over 1,500 signatories in support of Roseline commented, “For the Home Office to challenge the decision of its own immigration tribunal, and to waste thousands of pounds of taxpayers money in order to threaten a sick and frightened woman with a death sentence is vindictive. No country that allows its government to behave in this way can call itself civilised.”
What do you do if you cannot find the money to treat an illness in Nigeria? “You die; today the life expectancy in Nigeria is 49 for women and 50 for men. People only go the hospital at the end stage and by then it’s too late. And these hospitals are not well equipped, there is nothing a doctor can do if there is an operation to perform, and there is no electricity to carry out that operation. “My husband died after 10 years, he died in 1999 and since then I have never been married again.” The couple met at the church, as part of the Christian Youth Movement and knew each other for three years, until they first spoke in 1985. “He had been observing me and the way I took an interest in doing things … he first spoke to me when we went to the choir master’s bachelor party, and we were married in 1988.”
The couple lived in Benin, where her husband was a trained nurse. Whilst training as an anaesthetist he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. “In Nigeria you just can’t survive with these things, we had to fly him to India or South Africa but we couldn’t afford it, which was why he died, we needed £8000. How could we raise such an amount? In England things are in place, people do their job, you have electricity and water, you have good roads, and there are socially amenities.”
Asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work in the UK, and so Roseline has been volunteering at the local church, and is the secretary of the support group for women asylum seekers and refugees in Leeds. “We also work with the refugee council, where we adopt young asylum seekers and help signpost them to service that are available; often they have lost their way in the process and so we help them.”
If granted citizenship Roseline will be provided with a homestay and benefits, “Then I can get a job. I would like to work with charities as I have office experience; I am a trained secretary and worked before I went to university. If I am here I can do something of value. But if I am dead my ideas will die with me.”