A wave of compassion for a young Nigerian who was deported from Ireland has forced the country's toughest government minister into an unusual and very public climbdown on refugee regulations.
Faced with a campaign that has caught the popular imagination, the Irish Justice minister, Michael McDowell, announced that the student, who was deported last week, will be allowed back for six months.
The minister at first resisted the campaign, but bowed yesterday to the pressure from a growing movement that has encompassed the public, politicians and the Catholic Church. He finally admitted: "It was the wrong decision."
Olunkunle Eluhanla, who is now 21, arrived in Ireland unaccompanied several years ago, saying he had been shot by a criminal gang in Lagos after refusing to become one of its members. He said his father had been killed and that his mother was in America.
Helped by supporters, he found a place to live and attended a Dublin community school, financing himself by working in a supermarket. He was reportedly a popular student and was preparing to take his leaving exams in June with a view to going to college.
But, according to the authorities, his status had never been regularised, and when he went to a police station last week he was arrested and flown out to Nigeria on the same night.
He said he had been deported in his school uniform, was given no chance to go home for his possessions, and had been refused access to a lawyer. The authorities said he had been wearing a tracksuit, had refused the opportunity to pick up his things, and could have asked for a review of his case.
He was one of 35 Nigerians deported on a special charter flight. From Lagos, he contacted the Irish media to say he had been attacked and beaten by a gang in Lagos before being given shelter by a priest.
Mr Eluhanla said in interviews: "I have friends and a life in Ireland, but there is nothing for me here. I'm so depressed over here, I don't know what to do. Please let me come back. Please allow me to return to my real life in Ireland."
His schoolmates have staged demonstrations on his behalf in Dublin, while his case led to angry exchanges in the Irish parliament. Meetings have been held in support of Mr Eluhanla and others who were deported, and their campaigns are expected to continue.
The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, said there had been widespread sadness at the deportation, adding that the lack of "an intelligent immigration policy" would damage the important institution of asylum.
In recent years there have been racist incidents in Ireland as the thriving country has become a target destination for people from many countries. About 15,000 Nigerians are now said to live in the Republic.
The Archbishop said he had been heartened by recent tales of arrivals, who were regarded as good neighbours. Mr McDowell, who steered through tighter citizenship regulations last year and is regarded as probably the most robust member of the cabinet, defended the Republic's system as "the fairest in the world". But he said yesterday that he "had been reflecting overnight" and had decided to arrange for a six-month visa so that Mr Eluhanla could sit his exams.
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