UPDATE 9 August 2013: Roseline Akhalu heard today that the Home Office has granted her leave to remain in the UK until at least February 2016. Akhalu's lawyers said that in light of the exhaustion of the Home Secretary's appeal rights, they would press the Home Office to grant Akhalu indefinite leave to remain. Akhalu thanked her supporters and said: "I am free at last."
Here's what we reported on 26 July 2013: In London today judges rejected an appeal by Home Secretary Theresa May to deport a kidney-transplant patient to certain death in Nigeria. May had sought to overturn decisions by two judges permitting Roseline Akhalu stay in the UK.
Akhalu came to Leeds in 2004 on a fiercely competitive Ford Foundation Scholarship to pursue a Masters Degree. She fell dangerously ill, was put on dialysis, then given a kidney transplant in 2009. These facts are not disputed.
Doctors warned that Akhalu, who is 49, would die ‘within weeks’ if returned to Nigeria, since essential drugs and medical treatment would be unaffordable to her. They have testified that the onset of her illness was sudden and could not have been predicted.
The Home Office nevertheless persisted in its efforts to deport Akhalu — in what her supporters have characterised as an ideologically driven and badly targeted crusade against 'health tourism'.
Today the Upper Immigration and Asylum Tribunal rejected the Home Office’s appeal. Judge Southern said:
“we are satisfied that the [original] judge did not make an error of law . . . the circumstances here were, if not truly unique, so exceptional as to stand out from the ordinary run of cases where a claimant complains of being disadvantaged by a comparative lack of medical care in his or her own country. That was not the basis of the decision here.”
Tessa Gregory, a solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers, representing Akhalu, said:
“We are delighted that the Upper Tribunal has dismissed the Home Secretary’s appeal and found in Rose’s favour. The facts of Rose’s case are exceptional and have been rightly recognized as such. It must now be time for the Home Secretary to accept that it would be unlawful to deport Rose to a certain and lonely death in Nigeria. No more money should be wasted on further appeals and Rose should be allowed to get on with her life within the community that has given her such incredible support throughout this ordeal.”
We have published almost a dozen articles on Akhalu's case since May 2012, soon after her second period of detention by the UK immigration authorities.
We ran Akhalu's own account of her 200 mile journey from Leeds, via Manchester, to Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire in the care of the Border Agency's commercial contractors. (The company was Reliance, who had reportedly undercut its rival G4S to win the government contract).
According to Akhalu, during the journey she requested to use the toilet. On arrival at Manchester she could see the facilities through the van window. But Reliance guards refused to let her leave the van. Instead, and too late, they offered her a plastic bag. In full view of a CCTV camera, she had to urinate into the bag. She stayed wet for the remaining 160 miles of the journey.
We published a statement by Dr James Tattersall, one of Akhalu’s consultants at St James Hospital in Leeds. He appealed to the Home Secretary to let her stay in the UK:
"Roseline has broken no laws. Her kidney failure is not cause by anything she could control. We saved her life by dialysis and transplant while she was visiting the UK. If we send her back to Nigeria, she will not live long, our efforts and generosity will be wasted. Others facing less provable danger are given asylum. Be generous, let Roseline stay.”
Akhalu's local MP Greg Mulholland and John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, consistently expressed support for Akhalu and bewilderment at the state's pursuit of her.
Two weeks ago we featured the local campaign by Akhalu's fellow parishioners, friends and neighbours. Many travelled from Yorkshire to London to attend the hearing on Thursday last week. Forty supporters packed the court. Churches throughout Leeds held prayers for the duration. Actor Colin Firth broke off from filming to send a message of support.
Today, on hearing news of the judgment, Roseline Akhalu said: “Thank you everybody for the support, for the prayers, for the publicity, for everything. Hopefully the UKBA will let matters rest at this stage.”
Esmé Madill, on behalf of the Save Rose Campaign, said:
“We are overjoyed with today’s judgment. Roseline has had to endure months of needless worry and anxiety because of this groundless and expensive appeal by the Home Secretary, which has aggravated Rose’s fragile health condition. We really hope that the Home Office now has the sense to admit defeat so that Rose can get on with her life and continue contributing to her community as she has been doing for so many years.”
Madill added: "Thank you for bringing this case to public attention."
Colin Firth, whose public comment on Rose's case over months has helped to sustain press interest in her plight, said: "I join Rose's friends and supporters in expressing delight and relief at what we hope will be an end to her ordeal. We hope the Home Office will now accept the decision of the courts, respect the wishes of her community and let the matter rest."
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