Search for courses or information

General news

Research student prevents deportation

students in class

A University of East London PhD student researching the experience of refugees in the UK found herself involved in a real-life battle to save an African detainee from deportation.

At the end of her year-long field work looking at how London churches are supporting refugees, Mary Sutton received a call from the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, an organisation that visits people held in detention centres. Mary was invited to meet an African detainee she calls David (not his real name, to protect his identity).

Two weeks later Mary received another call that brought some bad news about the same man. “David was going to be deported in five days’ time,” said Mary, “I couldn’t believe it.”

It was the latest episode in the life of David, who was the subject of an article in The Guardian this year.

An orphan from Africa who had been trafficked into Britain under false documents, he came hoping to leave behind the regular beatings he faced on the farm where he worked. He once saw a fellow worker beaten to death.

His five years of life in England had been spent in substandard conditions, sharing a room with six others. He was forced to work in a warehouse to “pay back the traffickers”.

Thanks to the kindness of one of the van drivers who transported him to the warehouse each day, David was put in touch with some families in London who were able to offer a sofa or bed for the night.

But when David later applied for asylum, he was sent to prison because of the counterfeit passport used to smuggle him to the UK. There then followed long periods locked up in detention centres. During one of his detention periods, the authorities decided David would be deported.

With no-one from the detainee charity in a position to help David, Mary swung into action.

“It was a real learning curve, I’ve never been involved in anything like this before,” she said.

Mary sought legal advice about David’s situation and embarked on a series of telephone calls, emails and face-to-face meetings with the local MP and the Home Office.

Her efforts appeared to make little progress but, just a few hours before David was due to be deported, an email arrived from the MP’s office stating that the deportation order had been withdrawn for administrative reasons.

Mary was able to get a call through to David, informing him of the good news.

“He could hardly believe it,” said Mary. “I had to read the email to him twice.”

It was another four months before David was released from detention but he is now living with a family who support refugees as he awaits the outcome of an appeal against his deportation.