Shine A Light

Kidney transplant case signals deep flaws in UK immigration policy and practice

Home Secretary Theresa May’s relentless pursuit of kidney transplant patient Roseline Akhalu is one more sign of crisis within the Home Office and its UK Border Agency. A supporter of Akhalu writes.

Esme Madill
16 January 2013

Roseline Akhalu had good grounds for hoping that her treatment at the hands of the Home Office, described by Oscar-winning actor, Colin Firth, as smacking of “persecution”, was to end before the start of 2013. Late last year, in two successive rulings, judges found that the Home Office was wrong to try to deport the kidney-transplant patent to certain death in Nigeria. But on 4 January Akhalu learned that the Home Office would fight on to remove her from Britain.

Akhalu’s advocates, Public Interest Lawyers, writing in OurKingdom last November, summarised her case like this:

“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 needs to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of her life or the transplant will fail. However, such drugs are prohibitively expensive in Nigeria and so, if deported, Roseline would be unable to afford them and she will die within four weeks.”

Public Interest Lawyers went on: “At the hearing on 21 November 2012, the Home Office accepted the evidence that Roseline would, if removed to Nigeria, not be able to afford the immunosuppressant drugs she needs to survive but continued to maintain that her removal was proportionate and not in breach of her human rights.”

Judge Saffer found that Akhalu's removal would indeed breach her right to a private and family life protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that Roseline had established a private life of value to her, members of the Church and the wider community. According to Akhalu's lawyers Judge Saffer “took note of 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. After considering all the evidence he found that the Home Secretary should have granted Roseline leave to remain and allowed the appeal.”

But that was not the end of the story. The Home Office continued its pursuit, applying to the First Tier tribunal to appeal against Judge Saffer’s decision. In December that application was denied. Akhalu and her supporters breathed a tentative sigh of relief. Perhaps that was the end of her nightmare. Perhaps now she might be left to live her life in Harehills in Leeds, continuing to volunteer in her local community and worship at St Aiden’s, her local church.

The latest blow fell on 4 January when Akhalu learned that the Home Office was applying to the Upper Tier of the Immigration Tribunal to appeal against the ruling by the First Tier Tribunal that she be granted leave to remain in the UK. Her legal team hope to have news of the Upper Tier's decision by the end of January.

Leeds MP, Greg Mullholand, said: “The news that the Home Office are seeking permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal in the case of Rosaline Akhalu is a continued drain on the public purse, fighting a losing battle that has cost far more than the much needed treatment she receives in this country.”

Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers said: “It is mind boggling that the Home Secretary is continuing to pursue Rose through the courts, at great public expense, after conceding at the last hearing that if Rose is deported to Nigeria she will not be able to access medical care and will die a painful death within 4 weeks of her return.”

The Home Office’s relentless pursuit of a sick woman is a source of outraged disbelief to the many friends, parishioners and colleagues who have tirelessly campaigned to protect her life. Among them is a 99 year old woman who regularly attends the Monday club that Akahlu and fellow volunteers run for the elderly, as evidenced in this Guardian video by journalist Marishka Van Steenbergen. Roseline Akhalu is a much loved and valued members of St Aiden’s parish and her local community. Her friends and supporters, including this author, have resolved to continue to protect her and ensure that she is not returned to her death.

This is not just about Roseline Akhalu. Her case is a symptom of a real and present crisis within the Home Office and its UK Border Agency. This crisis has been explored and exposed not just in articles such as this or in OurKingdom’s detailed investigations, but in countless reports by statutory agencies and, with notable passion, in the House of Lords, where, during a bruising debate last July, Peers discussed the UK Border Agency’s culture of disbelief, its abuse of torture victims, the death under ‘restraint’ of Jimmy Mubenga, the denial of legal representation, dawn raids on pregnant mothers, the perils of outsourcing, “loutish and aggressive” behaviour by employees of contractor G4S, “disgraceful” and “deplorable” short-term holding facilities for children at Heathrow Airport, and more. The case of Roseline Akhalu is not an aberration, but a warning.

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