by Azeezat Fadekemi Sulaiman
A Nigerian mum was deported last night with her two children aged 2 and 4 back to Lagos after a long campaign to halt the process failed.
Afusat Saliu, a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM) was fighting deportation back to Nigeria in order to protect her two young daughters from suffering the same fate as her.
The young mother fled Nigeria in 2011 after her family threatened to ‘cut’ her daughter and has made her home in Leeds where she and her two children lived.
In April, she won a temporary reprieve while her case was being reviewed by the Home Office after a campaign to halt her deportation, led by her friend Anj Handa got noticed by Afusat’s local MP and the Press.
The family were however taken from their home in Leeds last week and transported to a detention centre in London where they were to be deported allegedly without the knowledge of Afusat’s legal counsel (Read Story here).
Reports reaching us today is that the family have now arrived in Lagos after an overnight flight from Heathrow.
Speaking to Naija Living UK earlier, Anj Handa who has led the campaign to halt Afusat’s deportation in a bid for the UK government to grant the family asylum in the UK said the Home Office’s treatment of the family was ‘disgusting’ and that Afusat was being made into an ‘example’ for other asylum seekers in a bid to appear tough on immigration by the Home Office.
‘There is a culture of disbelief in the judicial system’, she said.
“We’ve got judges who are privately educated and don’t understand what it means to be mutilated. Calling FGM circumcision shows that these people don’t really grasp the full gravity of the situation.”
FGM which involves the cutting of a woman’s clitoris is a practice that was widely practised in Nigeria but with the advent of education and the efforts of campaigners, the practice enjoys little or no sympathy in the country in recent times; A reason most critics feel suspicious towards Afusat’s claim of her daughters being in danger of being cut if returned back to the country.
However, Anj disagrees saying it ‘doesn’t really matter what the stats say’.
“Stats are unreliable. At the end of the day, it comes down to the family level. It doesnt matter if the practise is no longer widely practised in Nigeria, the issue here is we have a single mum with two children whose family still carry out the practise and that is all should matter.”
She also criticised the home office procedures on treatment of deportees after they arrive on their home soil saying not enough was done in Afusat’s case to ensure the family’s welfare and safety on arrival in Nigeria.
The ‘help’ arranged for Afusat and her children on arrival in Nigeria consists of a two night stay at a hostel provided by the Nigeria High Commission according to Jean Garrod, one of the campaigners for Afusat’s asylum.
In a statement on her blog on Wednesday, Garrod posts a scathing condemnation of the family’s abandonment in Nigeria saying the Home Office procedures is not ‘fit for purpose’.
“Before leaving, Afusat was told she would be taken to a hotel for two days, then left to make her own arrangements. To “assist” she was given the names and contact details for 4 agencies,” she said.
“She was met at the airport by the British High Commission and taken to her hotel. Her solicitor asked what happens after that, to be told, “That’s as far as my information goes.”
After checking the websites of the agencies in Nigeria, Garrod comes to these conclusions;
“Red Cross Nigeria operates in Lagos but its mission is to provide infrastructure support for refugees from the violence of war/terrorism. So it seems unlikely they will be able to assist. Baobab operates a woman’s refuge in Lagos with 14 places and campaigns on Muslim women’s rights. As a Christian convert, this is unsuitable, even if they have places. WACOL is a well-respected Women’s Aid Collective dealing mainly with domestic violence victims, but is based in Enugu which is miles away from Lagos. (The Judge Simon Batiste deemed Lagos would be OK since she lived there as a University student and had friends there then). She knows no-one in Enugu. Lastly, there is the Nigerian Salvation Army. They may, indeed be able to help. Let’s hope they can provide some sort of temporary refuge for such a vulnerable family.”
Campaigners for Afusat have called into the question the credibility of the government’s recent campaign against FGM in light of the family’s treatment but the fight is not over for Anj who is currently frantically trying to find a safe place for Afusat and her girls before time runs out.
“I know where the opposition is coming from, being Indian myself,” she says.
It’s very easy to dismiss this as just another asylum seeker trying to take advantage of the FGM campaign but I’ve known Afusat for a long time and her campaign started in 2007, way before FGM became a big issue in Britain so I know her story is credible.”
“Even if you don’t want to think about Afusat, think about those two little girls who have been taken away from their home in Leeds where they call home”
If you have any useful information about where this vulnerable family could stay in Nigeria, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.