Sixth attempt to deport African prince who fled tribal torture

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The Independent Online

An African tribal prince who fled Cameroon after being tortured for refusing to take part in an initiation ceremony which involved sleeping with his dead father's widows is set for deportation today. It will be the sixth time the Home Office has tried to remove Anselme Noumbiwa from Britain in the last four years.

On the last occasion he claims he was beaten by British security guards after he refused to board a Kenyan Airways plane because of his fear of returning to Cameroon. The Right Rev Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, and Father Gerard Wilberforce, the great-great grandson of William Wilberforce, are among 600 people who have signed a petition urging Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, to halt his deportation. Mr Noumbiwa, 34, from Ngoko village in Cameroon, said that his father was the Bamileke principal tribal king. At his father's funeral in 2006, a group of men from the tribe encircled him and carried him to a house to begin king initiation rituals.

Mr Noumbiwa, who has a five-year-old son called Gregory in Cameroon, recalled: "I had no idea they would choose me. My father had many wives and sons. I was living in the city of Douala, running two clothes shops and just came back for the funeral. It was completely unexpected."

He added: "They jumped on me, beat me, pushed me down. I was trying to run away but they caught me and threw me on the floor. I had injuries on my hands and feet. They made marks on my body. I was cut to be part of their tradition. That is why they did it."

After days of alleged torture and imprisonment by furious relatives and other tribal men, he escaped and fled to Britain with the help of his mother and uncle.

Last week the Home Office arrested Mr Noumbiwa, who has lost his claim to asylum, and took him to Colnbrook immigration removal centre in Middlesex. If his flight is unable to take off today he will be deported at the first available opportunity.

Mr Noumbiwa came to Britain in 2006 and lives in Stockton-upon-Tees with a Baptist minister, Pete Spence.

Mr Spence, 59, of the Portrack Baptist church, said: "He has lived with me for two years and he has never given me the idea that he is a liar. He is very genuine. We are very concerned for his safety if he returns to Cameroon."

Mr Noumbiwa claims he was beaten by immigration escorts in July 2008 while on the aircraft but was spared deportation when airline staff intervened. In a second complaint Mr Noumbiwa says he was beaten by five security guards when he resisted removal, this time on a British Airways flight on 23 October 2008.

Mr Noumbiwa said: "When we arrived at the steps of the aircraft ... they jumped on me and pushed me to the floor of the plane. They used their hands and feet to kick and punch me so that I would be quiet. Then one of them twisted the handcuffs against my wrist and I cried out in pain."

He said the guards tied his legs together and carried him to a seat. When he was transferred to an Air France aircraft in Paris for the journey to Cameroon, passengers forced the pilot to stop the deportation. "Passengers ... asked the guards to remove the handcuffs but they refused," Mr Noumbiwa said. "Then the pilot came to try to stop the passenger protest." Mr Noumbiwa said the French pilot ordered the guards to remove him from the aircraft. "They said they would not do this until the French national police came on board. So the pilot called the police," he said. He was flown back to Heathrow and transferred to Colnbrook.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said that all the allegations had been fully investigated: "Each removal case is fully assessed on its merits and we only remove those who are not at risk".