Passport to new life for man who lived in airport

By Meera Selva,Africa Correspondent
Thursday 09 August 2012 04:07

Sanjay Shah has spent 13 months living at Jomo Kenyatta airport, Nairobi, after he ended up stateless by falling foul of Britain's citizenship laws.

"I know each and every shop," he told reporters recently. "I know each and every shopkeeper. I know the sweepers, the security officers, the immigration officers. Everyone."

His wife, Rasmita, and son, Veer, who are both Kenyan citizens, have visited him every few days to deliver clean clothes and home-made Indian food. In between, sympathetic waitresses gave him coffee and food from the airport cafés.

Mr Shah's story has echoes of the Tom Hanks film The Terminal based on the life of an Iranian refugee, Merhan Nasseri, who spent 16 years living at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris after a diplomatic mix-up.

Mr Shah flew from Kenya to Britain in May last year on a British overseas citizen's passport to visit his sister and decide if he and his family should emigrate.

His son was studying for international GCSEs in a Kenyan school and his father had worked long hours in factories and restaurants to be able to send him to a British university.

Legally, Mr Shah was within his rights. He was born in Kenya in 1962, a year before it gained independence from Britain, and he was considered to be a citizen of the UK and Colonies.

Changes in the law in 2003 gave him the legal right to apply to become a full British citizen, but officials at Heathrow airport were suspicious of his one-way ticket and denied him access to the country.

With the words "Prohibited Immigrant" stamped on his passport, immigration officers in Nairobi were reluctant to let him back into Kenya. The country does not allow dual citizenship so, in his attempt to get into the UK, he had surrendered his Kenyan passport and his automatic right of entry.

The country's Vice-President, Moody Awori, declared that Kenya could do nothing for Mr Shah. But eventually, officials from the Kenyan authorities and the British high commission told him he could leave the airport and remain in Kenya while his application was processed. But Mr Shah was terrified that if he left the airport, he would jeopardise his chances of returning to the UK, so he decided to stay.

On Wednesday, his perseverance paid off and he was formally told that his application for a British passport had been approved.

The high commission insists that it merely followed procedures to secure him his passport, and that his success had nothing to do with "pointless protest".

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