A few days left to prevent UK transplant patient’s perilous removal to Nigeria

The NHS saved her life. The UK Border Agency plans to send her to her death. Public support ahead of 21 November appeal hearing may be Roseline Akhalu’s last hope.

Friends of Roseline Akhalu, the Leeds woman facing forcible removal to Nigeria despite doctors’ warnings that she may die there within weeks, have issued an urgent appeal to members of the public to sign a petition and / or write to the Home Office pleading for Akhalu to be allowed to remain in the UK.

Akhalu’s lawyers will present witness statements and letters of support to an appeal hearing on 21 November, along with examples of press coverage from The Guardian, The Independent, Private Eye, The Friend, The Independent Catholic News, Yorkshire Evening Post, Big Issue in the North, Morning Star, ITN Calendar News and OurKingdom, which reported on Akhalu’s case in May and June and September.

Supporters campaigning for Akhalu to stay in the UK say that strong public support may make the difference between life and death for her.

Roseline Akhalu, who lives in Headingley, Leeds, came to the UK in September 2004 on a student visa, having beaten fierce competition to win a Ford Foundation Scholarship. According to court documents, she had planned to return to Nigeria after one year’s study to set up a charity to educate young girls and teenage mothers.

But she fell dangerously ill in April 2005, was put on dialysis, and eventually given a transplant in July 2009.

The immigration authorities want to return Akhalu to Nigeria, branding her a ‘health tourist’ even though she applied for her scholarship back in 2002 and her renal specialist Dr James Tattersall, at St James’s University Hospital Leeds, testifies that her illness three years later was sudden and impossible to predict.

In his witness statement Dr Tattersall warns that Akhalu’s forcible return to Nigeria could result in her death within weeks because she cannot afford the anti-rejection drugs and monitoring vital to her survival.

He details the awful sequence of suffering likely to be experienced by a patient undergoing kidney rejection without medical care, something unimaginable in this country.

The plight of Akhalu, a parishioner of St Augustine's Roman Catholic Church in Harehills, has inspired strong and sustained support in Leeds. Bernard Thurlow, a fellow parishioner and member of the Leeds St Vincent de Paul Group, said: “Rose works tirelessly for others. The reason why so many people support and love her is because in spite of all the problems she faces she never stops helping and supporting those around her. She is an invaluable members of the local community and makes a fantastic contribution to the lives of so many people.”

He says Akhalu volunteers for the St Vincent de Paul Society, visiting and befriending the isolated and poor in her parish, and for the Refugee Council, supporting young mothers and babies. She also works voluntarily as a mentor and trainee street pastor.

Among prominent people who have urged the Border Agency to show Akhalu compassion are John Packer, Bishop of Ripon, who has said: “Roseline has made a life in this country  . . .  and is loved and respected in her community in Leeds. It saddens me to think that, having been accepted and cared for in the UK to the extent of being given a kidney transplant which has transformed her life, she should now find herself being forced to return to Nigeria where she would not be able to receive the medical treatment she needs to survive.”

Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, has begged the Home Secretary for Akhalu to be allowed to stay. Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth has said: “We must hope that the courts see sense, overturn this incomprehensible and heartless decision and allow Rose to live.”

The Joint Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Kidney Group, has urged the Home Secretary “most strongly to allow Mrs Akhalu to remain in the UK” as a “decision to send Mrs Akhalu back to Nigeria will ultimately cause her death.”

And the National Kidney Federation has told the Home Secretary that all of Akhalu’s NHS care and the dying wish of the transplant donor would be squandered were she to return to Nigeria.

Akhalu’s solicitor, Tessa Gregory, at Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers, said: “Roseline is a bright, articulate woman who is an asset to the UK. The Home Secretary's refusal to grant her leave to remain is unlawful, inhumane and an insult to the family of the kidney donor. We have lodged an appeal which will be heard on 21 November 2012 and we will do our utmost to prevent Roseline’s deportation to Nigeria.”
 
There is an online petition to sign here, and a sample letter to the Home Secretary on the Facebook page set up by friends of Akhalu.


About the author

Clare Sambrook, novelist and journalist. Co-editor of OurKingdom and co-founder of End Child Detention Now. Winner of Paul Foot Award and Bevins Prize for outstanding investigative journalism in 2010. Orwell Prize nominee in 2013.