Asylum seeker fears for future

MATHIAS Edoh Agbenokoudji is a man who fears for his future.

MATHIAS Edoh Agbenokoudji is a man who fears for his future.

Fresh from a spell in a government detention centre, the asylum seeker came close to being sent back to Togo this week despite hopes of a judicial review of his case.

Today, as thousands of people across the country celebrate Refugee Week, all Mathias can think about is what will happen if his last avenue of appeal fails.

“I know the worst will happen if I go back. When I was detained I told them that was the end of my life,” the 32-year-old from St Helen's Street, Ipswich, said, speaking about his detention ordeal for the first time.

The popular filmmaker, web designer and musician had gone to Capel St Mary to check in with immigration officials on Thursday when he faced the moment he had been dreading for five years.

“When we got into the building I was going to sign in. Then two immigration officers came and they blocked the doors.

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“I knew what was going to happen. They searched me and later they asked me if I wanted to be handcuffed or not. I wasn't handcuffed and I followed them. I didn't try to struggle.

“They put me in the back of a van and they drove me to Harwich. I was so confused I could not even talk.

“When I got to Harwich they took my name and asked me where I came from. They took my belt and they took my bag and they put me in a small room.”

Mathias, a volunteer at the CSV Media Clubhouse in Princes Street and at Ipswich Community Radio, was told he would be put on a flight back to Togo via Addis Ababa on Monday.

“I've never cried that way before. The whole night in Harwich I did not sleep,” he said.

But before he could be removed from the country his solicitor provided proof that Mathias still had another avenue of appeal available to him, leading to his release after about 24 hours in detention.

Mathias' claim for asylum is based on his assertion that if he were to return to his west African homeland his membership of the democratic movement Dzadzakudza would lead to him being killed.

“If I had stayed in Togo I don't know if I'd be alive today. There are many people who disappeared,” he said.

Following the Home Office's initial rejection of his claim for asylum, and a subsequent refusal to accept a fresh claim, Mathias and solicitor Liz Norman were in the process of applying for a judicial review in his case.

Ms Norman, an immigration solicitor with CLC solicitors in Kensal Rise, London, criticised the government for detaining Mathias, a former science, physics and chemistry student at the University de Togo in the capital Lomé.

She said: “They had the legal authority to do it because as an asylum seeker he can be detained any time but they just did something completely contrary to common sense.

“They had to go to the trouble and expense of setting removal directions and actually detaining him.”

IMMIGRATION solicitor Liz Norman believes Mathias Edoh Agbenokoudji has an “extremely compelling” case to be allowed to remain in the UK.

“He has managed to amass what I think is some compelling evidence,” she said.

“Of the cases I've seen his is one of the stronger ones. He is quite definitely not one of those people who is putting something in as a last ditch effort to claim something to which they do not have an entitlement.”

However the government has rejected all Mathias' claims and says it is safe for him to return to Togo, despite his name appearing in a Togo newspaper article about Dzadzakudza.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said today: “We have been clear that when someone is found by an independent judge and by the appeals process not to need international protection, they should return home.

“We prefer people whose asylum claims fail to leave the UK voluntary, but if necessary we will enforce their return.

“We would not remove someone with an outstanding appeal.”

Bruce MacGregor, eastern region manager for CSV, called on the government to allow Mathias to remain in Ipswich.

“I seriously think that without him we would not be able to keep the media clubhouse open,” he said.

“We can't speak highly enough of Mathias - his IT and media skills are phenomenal.

“Mathias has been a huge asset and has done much for the local community. He volunteers more hours than a full time job. I would fear for his life if he returns. We can't let that happen.”