By THE No One Is Illegal campaign
For the first time an alliance of trade union General Secretaries have come together in support of a refugee in detention and under threat of deportation. The refugee is Alphonsus Uche Okafor-Mefor.
The General Secretaries are: Paul Mackney of UCU (the University and Colleges Union), Mark Serwotka of the PCS (Public and Commercial Service Union), Jeremy Dear of the NUJ (National Union of Journalists), Bob Crow of the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport), Tony Woodley of the TGWU (Transport and General Workers). They have all written to the Minister responsible for immigration at the Home Office (Liam Byrne) protesting at both the detention and threatened removal of Alphonsus.
Paul Mackney explains: “Alphonsus Uche Okafor-Mefor is presently being held in a detention centre and is due to be flown back to Nigeria ,where he has been previously detained and tortured. This case is of particular relevance to trade unionists as he was due to speak at a forthcoming ‘No One Is Illegal’ Trade Union Conference, of which UCU is a sponsor. He is a leading figure in the campaign group Asylum Voice who have campaigned against the abuses suffered by asylum seekers...”
This coming together of General Secretaries of major trade unions in support of Alphonsus is unique and shows that the labour movement is committed to the defence of refugees and others threatened by immigration controls – and shows why the slogan “No One Is Illegal” is a demand for justice and basic human rights”
The No One Is Illegal trade union conference to which Paul Mackney refers is one opposing immigration controls. It is therefore ironic that Alphonsus is now being prevented from attending and is in imminent danger of deportation himself. Asylum Voice is the campaign Alphonsus initiated in Liverpool (where he had been living) against the government’s so-called New Asylum Model (NAM) which is being piloted in Liverpool and which is intended to ensure speedy removals.
Even whilst in detention (at Tinsley House) Alphonsus has been lodging a series of complaints about the ways in which refugees are maltreated there. The campaign in defence of Alphonsus considers that is his opposition to immigration controls which lead to his arrest without warning and his being put in detention it. The Home Office is scapegoating Alphonsus.
Alphonsus claimed asylum in 2005. He is an Igbo and belongs to MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra) who are campaigning for an independent Biafra. He was detained and tortured following attendance of a MASSOB meeting. He has continued to campaign in the UK to highlight the persecution of the Biafran people and the murder of MASSOB members and Igbos by the Nigerian government through the Biafran Actualisation Forum.
Now known to the Nigerian government Alphonsus faces imminent danger if he is returned. MASSOB members here are active in his campaign. They have issued a statement:
“Mr Okafor-Mefor is a MASSOB leader who has taken a key role in this peaceful struggle and, if he is deported back to Nigeria, unequivocally his life will be in danger. Even UK foreign office officials have confirmed that Nigeria takes a ‘tough stand’ (diplomatic terminology for persecution and killing!) on MASSOB activism.”
Alphonsus was first arrested on February 28th. Neither he nor his solicitor were given any warning. This shows how the immigration system operates. Alphonsus has kept in regular contact with the Home Office, he has never gone underground. Yet he was arrested without warning. He was given 48 hours before his flight was due to take off. He was taken to the airport for deportation. But just as he was about to board the plane the Home Office said he would not be flown out that day. We attribute this to his excellent legal team, a public protest at the airport by supporters of MOSSAB and, undoubtedly, the vast amount of trade union support he had, not just by national unions but at branch and trades council level.
Alphonsus is now back in detention, anxious that each day he may be taken back to the airport. In the meantime his solicitor has prepared a judicial review of the refusal to grant asylum.
What you and your union can do:
1. Email Liam Byrne: Minister for State for Immigration at firstname.lastname@example.org. Quote ref number M1320887. Or fax 020 7035 4745.
3. Attend the No One is Illegal Conference on 31 March. 1-5.30pm, Asylum Links, St Annes Church, Overbury St, Liverpool 7.