Leading article: Sporting chance

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The Independent Online

Four years ago, a frightened 15-year-old boy arrived in Britain. He was fleeing Sierra Leone, where his father had been killed. The boy was given limited discretionary leave to remain by the authorities. It was a chance he seized.

The boy found employment, paid his taxes and started a family. But now he has lost an appeal against a ruling by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. The Home Office is trying to send the young man (now aged 19) back to Sierra Leone, where he has no immediate family and could face persecution.

This could describe the plight of a great many refugees in this country. But this asylum-seeker has a higher profile than most. He is Alhassan Bangura and he plays for Watford Football Club. Mr Bangura has the full support of Watford's fans and his club. A campaign will now be waged on Mr Bangura's behalf to get the Home Secretary to intervene personally.

Mr Bangura makes a clear contribution to British life and should be permitted to stay. But the same could be said of thousands of other asylum-seekers and irregular economic migrants that the Government is trying to deport. They do not enjoy the same fame as Mr Bangura, but this does not make them any less deserving of our compassion and respect.

If any good can emerge from this unusual case, it will be that it encourages more of us to think about refugees as individuals with their own stories, rather than faceless and threatening statistics.