Asylum plea by African coup victim fails

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The Independent Online
THE HOME Office has refused to consider an application for political asylum by the deposed vice- president of Sierra Leone, who sought refuge in Britain after fleeing from an armed coup.

Abdulai Conteh, who left the West African state in a dug-out canoe, is to challenge the decision in the High Court next week.

The Government wants to deport him to Belgium, the first safe country in which he arrived after leaving Sierra Leone on 29 April.

In the High Court yesterday, Alper Riza QC, counsel for Mr Conteh, withdrew an application to release him from custody after the Home Office agreed that he should be granted bail to allow him to apply for a judicial review of the asylum decision. David Pannick QC, for the Home Office, said that no attempt would be made to deport him before 11 July.

Mr Conteh fled to neighbouring Guinea after the military coup, where he spent 10 days in hiding. He then flew to Belgium, which has a direct air link with Guinea, and came to Britain as a visitor in early June.

He was arrested at his home in north London and detained as an illegal immigrant after he telephoned the office of Baroness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development at the Foreign Office. The Home Office said that there had been irregularities in his emergency passport. In the High Court last week, Mr Justice Simon Brown ordered his release on bail from Harmondsworth Detention Centre, near Heathrow, while his application for asylum was considered.

Mr Conteh, who has a doctorate from Cambridge University and is a member of the Bar, said after the hearing he would challenge the decision to deport him on the grounds that he had strong links with Britain and that the Government had wrongly formed a judgement about the regime in which he had served.

'They formed a conclusion on hearsay evidence and used the same brush to tar us all,' he said. 'The whole decision is anti-refugee. If it is right, the whole scheme of refugee protection would disintegrate.' He said that he had no links with Belgium, which had been merely a transit point.

Mr Conteh, whose two children live in Britain, said that he had been 'traumatised' by his detention. 'I escaped with only the clothes on my back from my own country and was in hiding for a fortnight, running for my life - only to arrive in this country to be carted off to jail.'