Minister's 'smear campaign' against refugee

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THE family of a Nigerian dissident missing after being deported from Britain have accused a Home Office minister of mounting a smear campaign against them.

They say immigration minister Timothy Kirkhope wrongly claimed in letters to concerned MPs that Abdul Onibiyo, deported in October, was a bigamist who had fraudulently claimed welfare benefits. Mr Onibiyo was a member of the Nigerian Democratic Movement and an active opponent of the military dictatorship. He has not been heard of since he was deported to Lagos, where he was met by plain-clothes Nigerian officials.

Labour yesterday demanded an investigation and said ministers should resign if they were found to be spreading falsehoods against an asylum- seeker.

Mr Kirkhope's claims were:

n Mr Onibiyo was signing on for unemployment benefit under one National Insurance number while working under another. But the family say records from Mr Onibiyo's then employers refute the charge.

n Mrs Onibiyo claimed single parent benefit while living with her husband. But, according to the Benefits Agency, there is no record of Mrs Onibiyo ever claiming one-parent benefit. Nor was she awarded her Child Benefit entitlement until nine months after she was first arrested by immigration officers.

n Mr Onibiyo had a second wife with three children. In fact, the family say, Mr Onibiyo's cousin had died and he had taken responsibility for his wife in keeping with a Nigerian custom. Mr Onibiyo did try to get his cousin's widow into Britain describing her as his wife. But neither he nor his first wife Joyce were allowed to present evidence refuting the allegations against them.

The Home Office says the minister stands by his claims. Doug Henderson, Labour's immigration spokesman, has demanded an inquiry. He said: "The least I would expect would be for the Home Office and a government minister to get their facts right."

The Home Office also wants to deport Mr Onibiyo's wife and the three of his five children who were born in Nigeria, including 19-year-old Ade. This week the High Court will hear a judicial review of the Home Office's decision to refuse Ade's request for asylum.