Move to deport slavery victim condemned

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The Independent Online
The Home Office has been accused of a "scandalous and callous" disregard for the welfare of a woman it intends to deport to Nigeria, where her life has been threatened.

The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, risks sending Helen Samuel back into the clutches of a Nigerian couple who had subjected her to five years of slavery, torture and starvation - and who he had earlier deported for their cruelty and assaults upon her.

Truman Abassah and his wife, Philomena, served half of a five-year jail sentence imposed for six charges of assault before they were sent back to Nigeria from London.

It was a case, said the trial judge, which would "revolt all decent people".

The court was told that Miss Samuel had been whipped with a flex, beaten with high-heeled shoes and starved so that her weight fell to 6 stone. She had been made to work from dawn till dusk and to sleep outside like a dog.

Their incarceration and eventual deportation was the end of one nightmare for Miss Samuel. The earlier threats to her life - they blamed her for their trial and imprisonment - had been lifted.

She was paid pounds 5,000 in compensation for her injuries and with the help of the neighbours who had rescued her, Doris and Reg Tapley, she started rebuilding her life.

But then began another. She found she was an illegal immigrant. The Abassahs had brought her here on a one- month visa. She, totally under their control, did not even know she had a passport, let alone comprehend anything about immigration control.

The Home Office at first extended her leave to remain in this country, but has now served her with a notice of deportation.

Yesterday, Margaret Healy, of Kalayaan, which campaigns for overseas domestic workers and which last week picketed the Home Office, said the decision was "scandalous and callous in the extreme".

"She had been encouraged to take a case against these people, who had threatened her life, and now she is being sent straight back into their hands.

"This case will serve only to discourage other women in similar positions from coming forward to report brutality."

A study earlier this year showed that more than 180 overseas domestic workers ran away from their employers because of abuse and assault or because they were living in conditions of virtual slavery.

There are an estimated 20,000 domestic workers in Britain - the exact figure is unknown because the Home Office does not keep statistics. Immigration rules allow foreigners to bring domestic staff with them.

But the workers, mainly from the developing world, enjoy no independent immigration status and cannot, therefore, change their employment.

Campaigners for reform say the rules offer workers no protection from abuse and in fact, encourage conditions of neglect.

Yesterday, the Home Office said that although a deportation notice had been served on Miss Samuel, the Home Secretary was still considering representations on her behalf.