In Parliament last week Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North, challenged the Home Secretary over her relentless persecution of Roseline Akhalu, the kidney-transplant patient who, nobody disputes, will die horribly if she is returned to Nigeria. The latest news is bleak indeed. On 6 February Roseline’s lawyers learned that the Home Office had won permission to appeal against the ruling of an immigration judge late last year allowing Roseline Akhalu leave to remain in the UK.
“Too many UKBA decisions are still wrong and the process is taking far too long,” declared Mulholland in the House of Commons on 11 February. “In which case does the Home Secretary not think it extraordinary that, notwithstanding the clear ruling of a judge on 29 November and previous tribunal decisions, UKBA is still seeking to prevent Roseline Akhalu from staying in this country, despite the fact that if she is deported she will die?”
Home Secretary Theresa May replied: “I will respond to my honorary Friend in relation to the individual case that he has raised.”
But she didn’t. Instead she took the House on a diversion through a thicket of Border Agency jargon that left nobody any wiser.
I know Roseline Akhalu. I have studied her case. I am not at all surprised that Theresa May dodged Mulholland’s question, for how could she defend the government’s conduct in this case? The state’s mortal pursuit of this ill and vulnerable woman at vast expense to the taxpayer is utterly indefensible.
For readers new to Roseline’s story, which OurKingdom has followed since May 2012, here are the key facts: Roseline, a Nigerian university graduate, came to the UK in 2004 on a Ford Foundation scholarship to do a Masters degree in Development and Gender Studies at Leeds University. Soon after arriving and whilst here lawfully she was diagnosed with renal failure and began treatment. In 2009 she had a successful kidney transplant. Roseline must take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of her life or the transplant will fail. However, such drugs are prohibitively expensive in Nigeria and Roseline is poor. If deported, she would be unable to afford her vital medical and, her NHS doctors say, she will die within four weeks.
The Border Agency has deemed her a 'health tourist', despite the medical evidence which it does not dispute. The very idea that somebody could anticipate, years in advance, a sudden unforeseeable critical illness, devise a cunning plan, years in advance, to get free medical treatment by beating fierce competition to win a prestige international scholarship. . . is frankly laughable.
But I’m not laughing. The consequences of all this official bullying and incompetence are too grave and terrifying for Rose. Dispatched to Nigeria, she would not only die, but die in the most horrible way. Her NHS consultant Dr James Tattersall has described for the courts and for the Home Office the hideous journey towards death that Roseline might experience. He has asked us not to publish the details for fear of alarming UK transplant patients, for whom the prospect of organ rejection alone is frightening enough, and who would anyway have the benefits of dialysis or, if their case were hopeless, palliative care. There would be none of that for Roseline in Nigeria. The fate that awaits her is unthinkable.
Here is more of what I have learned of Roseline’s story.
When Roseline won the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Scholarship in 2003, she chose to come to the UK rather than go to the United States. In the UK she could complete her prestigious course of study in 12 months rather than the 18 months it would take her in the US — then she could return to Nigeria sooner. Returning to Nigeria was an essential part of Roseline’s ambition to establish an NGO for young girls in her village, encouraging them to return to school and pursue an education that would enable them to have some choices and control and to pass this on to their children.
Roseline was the only female graduate from her village. Having worked full time and studied part time for many years to pay for her own education she knew the path for young girls was not an easy one. Before leaving for the UK she had already begun to hold meetings under a tree in her village, paying for cola from her own money, to encourage girls and teenage mums to come and think about returning to school. Her plan, once she returned to Nigeria, was to secure funding to support young girls’ continuing education.
When Roseline was diagnosed with end stage renal failure in the UK her first instinct was to try to return home and continue to support her mother and brother, who was himself sick. Her consultant had to explain the implications of her illness and the fact that to return home would mean her death.
Rose was forced to let go of her dream. But she was used to hardship: a widow, who had not been blessed with children and who was still supporting her mother and sick brother in Nigeria, she did what she has always done and made the best of her situation through hard work and a strong faith.
Despite going for dialysis three times a week she continued with her studies, gaining her Masters in 2007. Working as a waitress, cleaner and invigilator (on her student visa she was allowed to work – she is no longer permitted to do so) she supported herself and family members back in Nigeria. Realising that to return home and survive was impossible, she threw herself into life in the UK. Swollen ankles, severe fatigue and high blood pressure did not prevent her from becoming a tireless volunteer for the local Catholic Church, St Augustine’s. There she runs a club for older people helping to reduce their isolation and loneliness. She is a member of the choir and hosts the Bible study classes. She supports young refugee women and goes out onto the streets of Headingly at night to reach out to the homeless and vulnerable.
While the NHS saved Roseline’s life, firstly through dialysis and then in 2009 with a kidney transplant, the UKBA has been doggedly seeking to end it. Having detained Roseline in prison like conditions, damaging to her health, on two separate occasions, in September 2012 the Home Secretary refused Roseline’s application to stay in the UK.
Perhaps the Home Secretary is fully aware of the circumstances that have led Roseline to seek leave to remain and has decided nonetheless to send her to her death. Perhaps she has not taken the trouble to find out. Whatever the basis of Theresa May’s decision, it is inexplicable and cruel, and not just to the minds of those who know and love Roseline.
Two judges have listened to, or read much of, Roseline’s life story – more than is written here. They also heard from Rose’s consultant about the painful death than would await Rose within four weeks of her return to Nigeria.
After considering all the evidence, in November 2012 Judge Saffer found that this was an unusual case where the removal of Roseline would breach her right to a private and family life protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Judge found that Roseline had established a private life of value to her, to members of her Church and to the wider community. Taking into account the fact that Roseline came here legally, was diagnosed whilst here legally, that the cost of her ongoing treatment was not excessive and that she would die quickly in distressing circumstances if returned, Judge Saffer found that the Home Secretary should have granted Roseline leave to remain and on 17 November allowed her appeal.
This finding was upheld by another judge the following month, when on 14 December the Home Secretary’s application to appeal against Judge Saffer’s decision was refused.
Roseline was jubilant. With a new found sense of security she continued to work hard for others. She tends the allotment, makes tea and plays dominos, helps people in their nineties to celebrate their birthdays and comforts some of the most vulnerable members of her church’s community.
This sense of security was not to last. The Home Secretary sought permission once again to appeal against the decision to allow Roseline to stay in the UK and has been granted that permission — to the horror and outrage of Rose’s friends and colleagues.
In the words of Rose’s solicitor, Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers: “My client has spent years living with the threat of detention and deportation. We had hoped that the Home Secretary would now leave her to live in peace in the community that has taken her to its heart. Instead my client faces further lengthy proceedings. These proceedings will cost the taxpayer dearly and are completely unnecessary. The Home Secretary could respect the courts findings and allow my client to live.”
Roseline’s MP Greg Mulholland shares Gregory’s outrage: “It is extraordinary that despite the clear ruling of the judge on November 29 that the UK Border Agency are still seeking the deportation of a woman who will face certain death if she is forced to return to Nigeria,” he says.
“Not only is this morally wrong, but the constant appeal to tribunals by the UK Border Agency is also a huge drain on the public purse, simply with the aim of pursuing a case that is so obviously wrong. It is time the UK Border Agency saw sense, stop wasting tax payers’ money and allow Roseline to remain in the UK, to live her life in peace and continue receiving the essential treatment and drugs she needs to stay alive.”
Might the Home Secretary reflect and decide to respect the evidence in this case? Theresa May has worked hard to please the tabloids, to burnish her anti immigration credentials, sometimes with little regard for the facts. Remember how she told her party’s 2011 conference about the “illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because — I am not making this up — he had a pet cat”. She was making it up, as it happened. No matter, it got a great laugh.
Roseline Akhalu matters. She will die horribly unless this next judgement falls in her favour — or unless Theresa May exercises courage and integrity and calls off the attack.
Roseline Akhalu’s friends and supporters continue to ask people to sign the online petition urging the Home Office to let her stay in the UK. There is a Facebook "Campaign to Stop the Deportation of Roseline Akhalu", where people who want to support Roseline can find sample letters to the Home Office and regular updates on her situation.