Athlete faces 'ludicrous' deportation

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The Independent Online
The British Government is trying to deport an Ethiopian athlete by relying on an assurance of her safety from the government she is fleeing, writes Saeed Shah.

The move, castigated last week by immigration campaigners as "ludicrous", is aimed at 22-year-old long-distance runner Askale Bireda (left, foreground) who, along with three other athletes, sought asylum in Britain with three colleagues after visiting Durham in 1995 for the world cross-country championships.

Ms Bireda was active in an opposition political party in Ethiopia, the All-Amhara People's Organisation (AAPO) which promotes the rights of the Amhara people in Ethiopia, and is against the 1993 secession of Eritrea. She said her uncle had been killed by the regime and her brother had disappeared. She received many threats in Ethiopia, telling her to stop participating in the AAPO or risk death, which she believes came from the state authorities.

The Home Office refused asylum to all four of the athletes, but Ms Bireda and her compatriot, Berhane Dagne, successfully appealed against this decision. The Government, however, has not accepted this decision for Ms Bireda and will be bringing her in front of an Immigration Appeals Tribunal in the next few weeks. The appeals of the other two athletes before the Special Adjudicator are yet to be heard.

Ms Bireda's solicitor, Georgina Davidson, said that the Home Office's only legal ground of substance in its appeal is an assurance they have received from the Ethiopian government that the athletes will be safe when they return.

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