Reprieve for 'model' student who was sent back to Nigeria

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The Independent Online

An immigrant who was deported to Nigeria despite being honoured by the Church of England for his contribution to British society has been given the right to return to the UK.

In a change of heart by the Government, Damilola Ajagbonna, 20, has had his case reconsidered by the Home Office and been granted a temporary residency to live here.

Mr Ajagbonna came to Britain with his mother when he was 11 and only discovered that he was an illegal immigrant and faced deportation after he was accepted for places at universities in Cambridge and Sheffield. His achievements in education and community work have won him acclaim from both teachers and immigration campaigners.

When the Home Office said Mr Ajagbonna, who had missed the deadline to register his immigration status by only a few weeks, had to return to Nigeria, the case became a cause célèbre championed by the Church of England, MPs, teachers and immigration campaigners.

The Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, said yesterday that he welcomed the Home Secretary's "U-turn" on the case. "I congratulate the Home Secretary on this decision. It is unfortunate that Damilola was forced to return to Nigeria where he had not lived since childhood; but it is a huge relief that he has been allowed to return here," he said. "He has much to offer this country, and we were worried that the Home Office had not taken his past and potential contribution into account."

This year, Mr Ajagbonna attended a service at St Paul's Cathedral where the Bishop of London awarded him the St Mellitus Medal for his contribution to his school, the Greig City Academy in Hornsey, north London, where he achieved 13 GCSEs and three A-levels.

His former headmaster, Paul Sutton, told The Independent after the decision was made to send him to Nigeria that Mr Ajagbonna's was one of the school's highest achievers. "He has been an absolute star who has given unfailing support," he said. "It seems to me he is the very kind of person we need to keep. So it is quite bizarre that we are even thinking about deporting him."

His talents have also been recognised by the United Nations, which in 2005 appointed him an adviser on youth issues to its child protection organisation, Unicef. He was closely involved in one of the flagship community projects run by the former Department for Education and Skills and held prominent roles in the Children's Rights Alliance for England.

One of the judges who heard Mr Ajagbonna's immigration case described these achievements as "spectacular". He said in his judgment: "I find the appellant's contribution to youth culture in our society as a whole, and to his school society in particular, has been remarkable ... He is clearly an outstanding young man. He would appear both keen to learn and keen to give."

Mr Ajagbonna has now returned to Britain and is living in Luton. He intends to start a degree in September and train to be a teacher.

"I have always regarded Britain as a just country and believed that as long as you played by the rules you will be treated fairly," he said earlier this year. "I find myself the victim of consequences of which I have no control."

A Home Office spokesman said it could not comment on individual cases.