Death threat man expelled from Britain: Fugitive refused asylum because flight made emergency landing

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The Independent Online
A COLOMBIAN man facing a death threat in his home town near Medellin was refused the right to enter Britain and sent back to Portugal yesterday because his flight made an emergency landing there on its way to London.

Officials refused to give Gabriel Echavarria refugee status, saying that because his flight touched down in Portugal, he should have applied there. But last night immigration officials in Porto told Mr Echavarria's lawyer that he would be returned to London on a flight today because he had refused to seek asylum there.

Mr Echavarria left Colombia last week in the hope of joining his sister, Gloria, in London but was detained as soon as he arrived at Heathrow, and removed on Thursday night.

The aircraft had been forced to stop in the Azores last Saturday because the crew feared there was a fire on board, British Airways said yesterday. Passengers had been put up in a hotel on the island before continuing their journey the following day. According to the Home Office, refugees are obliged to apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach. It was irrelevant that Mr Echavarria had arrived in the Azores 'by default'; neither did it matter that he had a relative in London and knew no one in Portugal.

Jan Shaw, a refugee officer at Amnesty International, said: 'This man did try to come directly here. I think it's an incredibly harsh decision.'

Speaking on Thursday night before his removal to Portugal, Mr Echavarria said his brother had been murdered last August in their village, Betulia, 100 miles from Medellin. Shortly afterwards, a note was delivered to his house telling him that he would meet the same fate unless he left the area. Although clearly confused and distressed, Mr Echavarria said: 'I cannot go back. The situation is very delicate. I will be killed.'

According to his sister, the family had been unwittingly caught up in a terrorist campaign, with a local guerrilla group extorting money through threats of violence. This meant they were potential targets for a number of organisations, including the security forces, Colombian experts said.

Mr Echavarria's British lawyer, Hugh Southey, said his client became profoundly agitated on the flight to Lisbon and had apparently suffered a form of nervous breakdown.

At first, he was convinced that he was in Brazil, and when the truth was explained, said he wanted to go to Rio anyway. Last night his sister flew from London to Porto to try to persuade him to apply for asylum in Portugal. Mr Southey said the Portuguese had attempted to persuade Mr Echavarria to remain there, but he had refused to do so. Amnesty said Brazilian authorities were likely to return him to Colombia.

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