Family seeks refuge in church

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A Nigerian family facing deportation has taken sanctuary in a church in a bid to force the Home Office to back down.

The Ogunwobi family wants to to stay in Britain because two of their three

children suffer from medical problems they say are untreat-able in Nigeria.

They have been living in the century-old Hackney Downs Baptist Church for 75 days and are supported by about 50

people who take them food and essential supplies.

A telephone link has been set up so that a prayer meeting can be called at any sign of Home Office officials.

The family say that their daughter Debra, seven, has health problems after being born severely premature at 25 weeks. She suffers from breathing difficulties, slow development and has language problems.

Their second child, five-year-old Tunde, has severe

language difficulties associated with poor concentration;

moderate hearing loss from glue-ear, and behavioural problems. They claim that treatment for the special needs of their children is unavailable in Nigeria.

Mr Sunday Ogunwobi arrived in Britain in 1981 to study for a degree in environmental resources at Salford University. In 1987, the Home Office refused to allow him to stay and work for the Pentecostal Church.

The following year he married Olubunmi and was

allowed to remain while his wife continued her degree in business management. His wife was forced to abandon her studies in 1990 after the birth of their second child.

The Ogunwobis reapplied to the Home Office to extend their stay but were refused in June 1993. They were allowed to stay until Mrs Ogunwobi had given birth to their third child.

Despite protests from the Nigerian High Commission and calls by their solicitors for a judicial review, they were served with a deportation order in March. The family then took refuge in the church, which was previously used as a sanctuary when more than 40 Kurds sought shelter there during the Gulf War

The Ogunwobis have the use of two dilapidated rooms, a kitchen and a shower. They have put down rugs in an attempt to hide rotting plaster and worn floorboards.

Sunday Ogunwobi said: 'We are coping because of local people and the support they give us.' Mrs Ogunwobi said: 'It's cold and damp. But we can cope with this and it's better than back home where we have nowhere to go.'

Candlelit vigils are held for the family outside the church every Monday. Usually, only 15 or 20 people turn up, but organisers are hoping the protest will gain momentum.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: 'We would prefer it if they left voluntarily but if the situation carries on, we will have to enforce the deportation notice. That is something that we do not wish to see. We will take a number of things into account before deciding our course of action.'

Ian Rathbone, spokesman for the Ogunwobi Family

Campaign, said: 'There will not be any resistance but there will be plenty of people.

'We will be holding a prayer meeting - if they wish to break it up, that's up to them.'

(Photograph omitted)