Bishop urges Smith to halt deportation

Law Editor,Robert Verkaik
Friday 08 February 2008 01:00

The Bishop of London has written to the Home Secretary urging her to halt the deportation of a Nigerian teenager who has won universal praise for his unique and outstanding contribution to British society.

Damilola Ajagbonna, 19, this week lost his legal battle to stay in the UK despite living here since he was 11-years-old and winning places at two leading universities. The Court of Appeal upheld an earlier ruling that found he had no right to remain because he had not renewed his visitor status when he was growing up in London.

Now the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, has asked Jacqui Smith to overturn the Home Office decision to send Mr Ajagbonna to Nigeria. In his letter, the bishop urges Ms Smith to intervene and help Mr Ajagbonna, who he describes as an excellent "role model" to young people in deprived parts of London.

Criticising the Government's immigration policy in an interview, the bishop also accused ministers of penalising those immigrants who, "play by the rules". He said: "Damilola has made a magnificent contribution to society in his work with his school and has always acted within the rules ... I know there's got to be a balance in immigration and I know what happens if you have too much of a strain on social housing but it does seems to me that this is all about following immigration targets blind to the individual."

The bishop said he was aware of at least two other cases in which immigrants had made huge contributions to the communities in which they lived but had been "picked off" by the authorities and recommended for deportation. He said these were clear cases of "virtue having its own punishment" and suggested the Government diverted more resources to targeting illegal immigrants who were, "living below the radar".

This week Anglican and Catholic bishops called on the Government to help asylum-seekers whose lives they said are blighted by prejudice, poverty and an unjust legal process.

In a joint statement they said: "We wish to express our concern at what appear to us to be aspects of inhumanity in the official processes undergone by asylum-seekers."

This week Mr Ajagbonna was honoured by the Church of England for his contribution to British society when he attended St Paul's Cathedral to receive the St Mellitus medal in recognition of his work at the Greig City Academy in Hornsey, north London, where he achieved 13 GCSEs and three A-levels at A grade

Mr Ajagbonna's contributions have also been recognised by the United Nations, which in 2005 appointed him an adviser on youth issues to Unicef.

At school he helped draft an anti-bullying policy and acted as a mentor to black students. Mr Ajagbonna came to Britain in 1999 with his mother, who suffers from sickle cell disease, under a visiting visa lasting six months. Because of his mother's illness he was brought up by his aunt in London and then Luton.

He explains: "My aunt asked the solicitor to send off an application for adoption before the visiting visa ran out and he failed to do it in time and so since then unbeknown to me I have been an overstayer."

He added: "I'm slowly emerging from the shock and astonishment of the [Court of Appeal] judgement. I can't dare hold out any hope because I've seen it dashed so many times.

"I feel like the system that I had embraced and contributed to has finally disowned me."

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