The case of Isa Muaza, a sick asylum-seeker who was put on a plane to Nigeria on Friday only to return 20 hours later, after the Nigerians refused to let the plane land, is doubly shaming for the Home Secretary, Theresa May. Not only does it make her look callous, it makes her look incompetent – not good for someone who sees herself as a successor to David Cameron. Why even contemplate forcing someone on to a plane “home” – at no inconsiderable expense, because he was the only passenger on board – without making sure he would be able to get off at the other end?
Mr Muaza clearly did not fit the profile of the so-called “fake” asylum-seeker to begin with, which begs the question of whether he was deported on the strength of the merits of the case, or because the Home Office under Ms May wanted to show how tough it could be to asylum-seekers generally. He was certainly not someone who could be accused of having come into the country bearing a flimsy claim of persecution that looked as if it had been cobbled together with a view to leapfrogging immigration procedures. His homeland of northern Nigeria is in sectarian ferment, so his fear that the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram would persecute him if he were returned there seems plausible, not least because they appear to have killed several members of his family already. That he then almost starved himself to death in protest against the threat of impending deportation should have been considered as additional evidence that his opposition to going back to northern Nigeria reflected legitimate concern.
Now that he is back in the UK, Ms May should reconsider her approach to this case, and to others like it. A suspicion that some people have abused asylum claims to ensure fast-track immigration may be widespread. But it is disgraceful if individuals with a good right to claim the protection of this country then find themselves bundled on to planes as part of some ill-considered crackdown whose primary aim is not reform of the abuses of the asylum system, but helping the Conservatives to see off the threat from Ukip in the next election.