Sierra Leone athlete arrested in London for overstaying visa because Ebola killed his family

Jimmy Thoronka, 20, went missing after the Commonwealth Games and has been sleeping rough in London through the winter

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The Independent Online

Sierra Leone’s best sprinter has been arrested after he was found living rough on the streets of London.

Jimmy Thoronka, 20, disappeared at the end of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last summer and said he could not return home because of the Ebola epidemic ravaging the country, and he has considered suicide.

He said his family have already died from the disease, which has killed 9,800 people in the three-worst hit countries.

The Guardian interviewed Mr Thoronka before he was reportedly detained for overstaying his visa at around 7pm yesterday.

Jimmy Thoronka's family are among the 3,500 people killed by Ebola in Sierra Leone

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said he was arrested on Friday for immigration offences and is now with the UK Border Force.

The Home Office refused to comment on individual cases, adding: “There is assistance available for people to return home when they are not entitled to remain in the UK."

The Guardian reported that when Mr Thoronka, Sierra Leone’s top 100m sprinter, left to compete in Glasgow a small number of Ebola cases had been confirmed in villages surrounding Freetown but the epidemic had not yet taken hold of the capital.

The death toll in the country now stands at more than 3,500.

Mr Thoronka said: "I was hoping to win a medal for my country. But during the Games I got the terrible news that my uncle had died, probably from Ebola. I couldn't stop crying. It was difficult to continue with competing but I tried to carry on."

It was not until the athlete was staying with friends in Leicester after the tournament that he found out his entire immediate family had been killed by the disease.

Mr Thoronka claims he was not working illegally or claiming any benefits or housing and understands the legal implications of remaining in the UK after his visa has expired, but said his situation is hopeless.

Jimmy Thoronka hoped to win a medal in the 100m Commonwealth Games race

Since travelling to London he has been sleeping in parks and on night buses, begging for £1 from passers-by to buy chips.

"Some days I get no food at all. I wash in public toilets and sleep in the park," he said.

"I wake up around 4am and if I've got a bus pass I get on the night bus and sleep there until morning. I met a man who sometimes lets me sleep at his house but I have to wait outside for him to come home at 10 or 11pm and I get very cold.

"We have a cold season in Sierra Leone but it is not cold like England. Some days I don't think I'm going to make it and just feel like killing myself. My dream is to become one of the best sprinters in the world but I don't see how that can happen now."

The Guardian said hundreds of people have been in touch to offer support, and a petition has been set up on to support him.

Additional reporting by PA