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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Home Secretary Alan Johnson accused of asylum-seeker betrayal

Alan Johnson, British Labour Party politician ...Image via Wikipedia
Source: Hull Daily Mail - January 16, 2010

HOME Secretary Alan Johnson has been accused of "betraying" a respected Hull asylum- seeker.

The Hull West and Hessle MP has been charged with ending his support for Emmanuel Njoya and his family after taking the top post with the Home Office last year.

The Mail can reveal that in 2007, Mr Johnson wrote to the Home Office, making an impassioned "life and death" plea not to send Emmanuel back to the volatile African nation of Cameroon, where he had been tortured for being a member of opposition political party, the South Cameroons National Council (SCNC).

Two years later, in his role as Home Secretary, Mr Johnson wrote to Emmanuel's close friend Rev Mick Fryer, of St Aidan's Church, east Hull, to say he was "satisfied that the proper processes have been followed and that it would be inappropriate for me to intervene in this matter".

Mr Njoya, 36, his wife, Efrasye, 26, and their baby, Tracey, were deported two weeks later.

Mr Johnson told the Mail he accepted the finding that Emmanuel, who spent time in both east and west Hull, was not a genuine asylum-seeker, after hearing all the evidence.

Jackie Fearnley, of human rights charity Justice First, backed the family's seven-year battle to stay in the country.

She said: "Alan Johnson has not been able to answer the simple question of why, as Emmanuel's MP, he could assert it would be dangerous for him to go back to Cameroon, but as Home Secretary, he could decide he was perfectly safe."

Mr Johnson and Emmanuel knew each other because Emmanuel was an active member of the Labour Party in Hull.

The family is currently understood to be lying low in Cameroon, kept afloat by financial handouts from their former church, St Aidan's.

Until now, the Mail has not been able to print the letters, because of fears the publicity would place the family in more danger in Cameroon.

But the family has set aside their concerns to allow the matter to be brought to light.

The two letters, written just 32 months apart, show a startling change of stance.

In his first letter to Immigration Minister Liam Byrne, in January 2007, Mr Johnson wrote: "I can only stress once again how much I wish to support this claim.

"Mr Njoya has suffered terribly and his family in Cameroon continue to do so.

"If Mr Njoya were to be returned, this would be devastating for him and his family. Indeed, it could be fatal.

"There are few cases where we need our system to work more than this one. Please read Mr Njoya's case.

"I think you will find it hard to disagree.

"I would be grateful if you would add my letter to this file as a recommendation that Mr Njoya should be given full asylum status."

After Mr Johnson took his new role of Home Secretary, which involves overseeing immigration and asylum procedures, it is claimed he made a U-turn and ended his active support for Emmanuel.

In his letter to Rev Fryer, Mr Johnson quoted a report, which concluded Emmanuel was not a genuine asylum-seeker.

This read: "At his appeal hearing, an independent adjudicator found that Mr Njoya did not 'succeed in showing that he is seriously wanted by the authorities in Cameroon'."

The adjudicator went on: "I believe the appellant has exaggerated his involvement and I am satisfied he is not as much at risk as he wishes to portray."

St Aidan's Church, where the couple were married, has been a pillar of support for the family.

Last May, members of the congregation picketed Heathrow Airport when attempts were first made to deport Emmanuel.

They successfully managed to persuade the pilot not to take him.

Rev Fryer keeps in regular contact with Emmanuel through an old mobile phone, topped up by the church.

Speaking about Mr Johnson, the vicar said: "I am appalled anybody can change their stance so very quickly.

"To me, it appears he is someone prepared to put his career ahead of this family's wellbeing."

"We feel he (Emmanuel) has been betrayed."

Emmanuel, in a text to the Rev Fryer, wrote: "I have been fighting in conscience not to betray the system for (Alan Johnson's) sake.

"My vulnerable family now face life in hiding with no future.

"I would resort to suicide without St Aidan's."

Since returning to Cameroon at the end of September, campaigners say the situation has been grim for the Njoyas.

The family apparently had to sleep rough in a park for a time, after they were forced to flee the safe house where they were staying when police officers came looking for them.

Baby Tracey, who turned one last month, was struck with yellow fever and had to be hospitalised.

Both mother and daughter were then very poorly with sickness and diarrhoea.

It is Emmanuel and Efrasye's first wedding anniversary this week.

Ms Fearnley said: "A report from the Medical Foundation found his injuries were consistent with his claims of torture.

"And yet, he was forced to spend long periods of time in detention, away from his wife and small baby, suffered many attempts at removal, some of them as brutal as the torture he received, culminating in his return to the country he had escaped from."

Mr Johnson said he did not have the full details of Emmanuel's case when he wrote the first letter, in support of him.

He said: "It is ludicrous to accuse me of a U-turn when the letter I wrote (in 2007) was as an MP, with one side of the story.

"The decision I take as Home Secretary is as a Minister in the Cabinet, responsible for both sides of the argument and looking at a case that has already been through an independent system.

"He has been found to not be a genuine asylum-seeker.

"I should not overturn those decisions just because I know Emmanuel.

"This is asking me, as soon as I become Home Secretary, to show a bias to anyone who I knew and anyone who was in my constituency and I have to give them preference over everyone else in the country and I'm afraid that is basically corrupt."

Mr Johnson said he was convinced, at the time, that Emmanuel needed asylum. He said: "Of course, I believed the argument I was putting forward on behalf of Emmanuel.

"It was my job as his advocate to put that forward, but I cannot, as Home Secretary, simply ignore the asylum and immigration judgement, ignore the judicial review and say no, you have to do this, simply because I knew him and he was a member of the Labour Party in Hull.

"I would be condemned, quite rightly, for acting corruptly.

"The whole point of the British system is that you separate away, you have a conflict of interests in what you do in your constituency as the local MP and what you do as a Minister responsible for the whole of the Government and, in this country, we have to be clear."

He also admitted he was "not clear" over whether he possessed the power to intervene.
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