An asylum seeker is to be sent back to Nigeria in a matter of days despite fears that her two young daughters will be circumcised in the country against their will by members of her own family.
Almost 20,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Home Office to reconsider their decision to deport 31-year-old Afusat Saliu, herself a victim of female genital mutilation [FGM], and her two daughters, Bassy, three, and Rashidat, one, to Nigeria. The family currently live in Leeds but have been asked to leave the country by Friday.
The campaign echoes the national support garnered for A-level student Yashika Bageerathi, 19, who was deported to Mauritius after 175,000 people had signed her petition. But while her last ditch legal attempt failed, campaigners are hoping Ms Saliu’s can be won.
Solicitor Ben Davison, head of immigration advice at Ison Harrison Solicitors said he had written directly to the Home Office on Tuesday, “setting out why we believe their decision to remove Afusat and her daughters is wrong in law.” Leeds MP Greg Mulholland and FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein are amongst those supporting her campaign.
Ms Saliu, whose youngest daughter was born in England, said she wants to protect her children from going through what she experienced at the hands of cutters. “It has affected me my whole life. There is no feeling there and it has been painful,” she told The Independent. “I don’t have a boyfriend and I don’t intend to. It was really difficult for me to have my daughters. The pain was very strong. I never enjoyed my teenage life; I felt pain when I started my period. It’s not good at all. I am trying my best to fight for my children. It’s so scary. I don’t want them going through the same pain I went through.”
Ms Saliu fled Nigeria in 2011 after her stepmother told her she would have to get her elder daughter, Bassy, cut. She added that her parents were forcing her to marry a man 40 years her senior, who would also pose a threat to her and her daughters, if she returned.
“I don’t feel I’ll have the opportunity to protect them from the pain or trauma over there,” she said. “I don’t want circumcision to be done on them, but it’s [the will of] my family. I can’t control that. It’s mostly done by the female – the mother or grandmothers.”
Ms Saliu said she first applied for asylum in 2012, but it was denied. A subsequent appeal has been dismissed. She added that the Government told her that she will now only be able appeal from outside the UK.
Mr Mulholland said he is “very concerned” to hear about “the treatment Ms Saliu has received from the Home Office”. He told The Independent he has written to the UK Border Agency and asked that that they urgently investigate her case and put deportation on hold until fresh evidence has been examined. “It is extremely worrying that the Home Office are trying to deport her to Nigeria, despite the threat of violence she faces, and the threat of FGM to her two young daughters, which sadly Afusat has already been a victim of,” he added.
Ms Saliu’s campaign has garnered particular support from students at Leeds University, where she recently gave a talk about her experience as a victim of FGM. Flo Bateson, the president of the Amnesty International Society at Leeds University Union, who organised the event, said she was a “lovely woman” and “valued in the Leeds community”. She added: “It’s heartbreaking that there is even the possibility of her two girls being faced with forced FGM. The UK government have publicly pledged to end the practise worldwide, we have the responsibility to protect Bassy and Rashidat and not allow their deportation to Nigeria.”
A Home Office spokesperson said the UK has a “proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and we consider every claim for asylum on its individual merits.”
She added: “We believe that those who fail to establish a genuine fear of persecution should return home voluntarily. If they do not, we will enforce their removal.”