A gay rugby player has been given a reprieve from deportation to Kenya after losing his legal battle and being ordered to leave the UK.
Ken Macharia, who moved to Britain a decade ago, faces being sent back to the east Africa country, where homosexual activity is illegal and can be punished with long jail sentences.
The 39-year-old had received a letter from the Home Office rejecting his asylum claim earlier this week. He feared he would be detained on Thursday when he attended Bridgwater police station in Somerset.
Mr Macharia was joined at the police station by his teammates from the LGBTQ-inclusive Bristol Bisons RFC. The rugby players chanted “Bisons! Bisons!” while a sound system played Gloria Gaynor’s I Am What I Am.
Team members said they were “ecstatic” Mr Macharia was able to return to his home in Glastonbury after reporting to the station.
In a statement, the club said: “We are ecstatic to announce that Ken was not detained today when he had to check into Bridgwater police centre this morning.
“A huge thank you to the 60-plus people that turned up to support Ken, some travelling from as far as London to help.
“This is a small victory but we must continue the fight. We will not rest until Ken is safe and granted asylum here, at his home, where he belongs.”
Mr Macharia fears mob violence or blackmail in the east African nation where the Foreign Office warns gay British travellers that holding hands or kissing in public could lead to imprisonment.
The mechanical engineer, who came to the UK to study for a masters degree, has been fighting deportation for three years.
The Kenyan, on bail from an immigration removal centre, said earlier this week that he hoped the Home Office decision would be subject of a judicial review. He said: “I am kind of feeling hopeless and depressed and like life has got very, very bad.”
He has previously told how he had to convince officials of his sexuality with a wealth of evidence before trying to prove the danger he faces as a gay man in Kenya.
A petition to end his deportation has more than 100,000 signatures, including that of broadcaster Stephen Fry.
Earlier this week the Home Office was accused of “hypocrisy” after it adopted the Pride flag on social media while threatening to deport Mr Macharia.
Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: “The Home Office must urgently reverse its decision – to deport Ken would be to put an innocent man in danger.”
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said earlier this week: “This government has a proud record of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“All available evidence is carefully and sensitively considered in light of published country information. All decisions on claims based on sexual orientation are subject to an additional safeguard reviewed by a second experienced caseworker.”
Additional reporting by PA
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