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UEL disappointed to be unable to welcome Jimmy Thoronka

students in class

Sierra Leonean sprint star Jimmy Thoronka will not be coming to UEL after the Home Office turned down his application to stay in the UK.

The university offered Thoronka the opportunity of a sports scholarship (on condition that he was allowed to remain in the UK and that he fulfilled UEL's academic requirements) to enable him to further his academic and sporting career after he was discovered sleeping rough.

Thoronka, 21, represented Sierra Leone in the 100 metres at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but went missing shortly afterwards because of his fears of returning to his Ebola-ravaged homeland in west Africa.

He was informed during the Games that his uncle had died of the disease and discovered later that it had also claimed the lives of eight members of his family, including his adoptive mother and three of his siblings.

Thoronka is Sierra Leone’s top sprinter, with a 100m personal best of 10.58 seconds. But after fleeing the Commonwealth Games he was forced to sleep rough, washing in public toilets and begging for money to eat.

Following media publicity about his plight, he received numerous offers of help, including cash donations and free accommodation – and ultimately the chance to pursue his dream of entering higher education as a UEL sports scholar.

The Home Office said his application was “clearly unfounded”, which means he has no right to appeal until after he has returned to Sierra Leone.

Dusty Amroliwala, UEL’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer said: “We are all obviously very disappointed that the opportunity for Jimmy to study in the UK and to continue to develop as a world-class athlete has, for now, been lost.

“At UEL, we set considerable store on the ability for people, of whatever backgrounds, to be granted the opportunity to achieve their full potential and to grasp the opportunity to succeed in their life ambitions through studying in higher education.

“Jimmy’s story – his struggle against huge adversity, his determination to succeed, his fortitude, all in the face of losing his family for a tragic second time in his young life – these things all marked him out as being a very special young man.

“He was exactly the kind of individual to whom UEL would wish to extend the hand of support and we are deeply saddened that we are no longer allowed to do so.

“The outcome of the Home Office decision will doubtless be a severe test for him. But if he continues to show the strength, resilience and humanity that he has displayed over the past year or so, this is unlikely to be the final chapter in the Jimmy Thoronka story.”  

Thoronka had been offered the chance to study on UEL’s new Applied Community Sport foundation degree course, which is delivered in association with West Ham United Football Club.

His sports scholarship would also have enabled him to develop his sprinting talent, following in the footsteps of recent UEL graduate Adam Gemili, the European 200m champion.