A 14-year-old boy with sickle cell anaemia has become the latest in a string of failed asylum-seekers to be scheduled for removal from the UK despite the risks to his health if he returns to his home country, Nigeria.
Emmanuel – who does not want his surname to be published – has lived in Britain with his family for more than four years, but is due to be removed to Nigeria at lunchtime today.
When he lived in Nigeria he suffered frequent bouts of life-threatening falciparum malaria, to which sickle cell anaemia sufferers are particularly susceptible. His campaigners have said that returning him to a malarial country is tantamount to a death sentence.
Emmanuel's case follows that of Ama Sumani, a cancer patient who was sent back to Ghana this month, where she will not be able to receive the treatment she needs. Defending Ms Sumani's deportation, Lin Homer, chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, told MPs that the Home Office sent home "hundreds" of such people each year.
In 2004, Emmanuel's father, said to be a high-ranking official in Nigeria, abandoned the family and returned home. Since then, the family allege that he has made death threats against them. They sought asylum in the UK as a result.
But on Tuesday this week, following several failed appeals, Emmanuel's mother, Helen, and her six children were seized from their family home in Plymouth and taken to Yarl's Wood detention centre near Bedford. The family say they were taken in what they describe as a "terrifying" dawn raid by "more than 20" immigration officers.
The family were known in both Plymouth and Wallington in Surrey, where they lived previously, as "exemplary" members of the community.
Helen is a qualified physiotherapist, but was unable to work while their asylum case was pending, so she spent her time volunteering for refugee agencies and working as a governor at her children's school, where they were excelling academically.
Helen said yesterday: "I'm very scared about returning to Nigeria; firstly because of my husband, but also because of Emmanuel's health. With his sickle cell, a single bout of malaria can kill him now and I'm scared for his life."
Speaking from the health centre in Yarl's Wood, Emmanuel, whose condition is exacerbated by stress, said: "I'm in a lot of pain now. I just want to stay here."
A 17-year-old friend of Emmanuel's is co-ordinating a campaign to keep the family in the country. Alex Stupple-Harris has galvanised friends and supporters to write letters of appeal to MPs, Home Office officials and British Airways executives.
Alex said: "We only found out on Thursday night that this was happening, so we're all in shock. They have given so much to our community; far more than most people do here. The thing that annoys me is people saying that families like them just 'take, take, take', but with them it's the reverse. We are not going to stop fighting for them."
Jane Robinson, area manager for Refugee Action in Plymouth, said: "We are concerned that Helen may not be able to afford appropriate treatment for her son in Nigeria. The Home Secretary has powers to award discretionary leave to remain on compassionate grounds. We urge her to look at this family's case."Reuse content