Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

May should show Patience for sake of desperate mum

Female refugees are often raped and abused in Nigeria
Female refugees are often raped and abused in Nigeria

Home Secretary Theresa May might be having a hard time trying to deport Muslim clergyman Abu Qatada from the UK. In contrast, so far, keeping Patience Adedayo out has been child's play.

Patience's mother, Theresa, lives in Belfast with her five-year-old son, Joshua. There is nothing she wants more than to have Joshua's older sister come and join them.

But the UK Border Agency won't let Patience in. The nine-year-old waits in Lagos, Nigeria.

Theresa is 29. She has been in the UK since November 2005. Joshua was born in Belfast's Royal Maternity Hospital in February 2008. At the time, Theresa didn't know what had become of her daughter.

Two months after Joshua was born, in April 2008, Theresa was screened by Home Office officials processing her application for asylum. During the interview, Theresa recounted the circumstances of Patience's birth and her removal from her mother when she was three months old.

Theresa had become pregnant as a result of rape by a soldier in a refugee camp. She knew him only by his surname, Okonkwo. When he discovered that she was pregnant he took her to Lagos and lodged her in a rented room. She says she was warned she would be sent back to the camp if she spoke of the soldier, or how she'd come to be there.

When the baby was due, she was taken to the home of a 'native doctor', Mrs Johnston. A friend came with her. Five days after the birth, Okonkwo called and took Theresa and the infant back to the room. But one day three months later, he took Patience out with him saying he was going to the shops. "I never saw my little daughter again."

Soon, Theresa was evicted from the room because the rent hadn't been paid. She went back repeatedly to Mrs Johnston's house, who told her she didn't know where Okonkwo, or Patience, might be. "The following year, with no hope of ever finding my baby, I left Nigeria."

Last year, the friend who had accompanied her at Patience's birth made contact to say she had discovered Patience living with Mrs Johnston's family. Okonkwo had brought her back and paid Mrs Johnston maintenance to have her looked after. But two years ago, he fell ill and died. Patience continued living with the Johnston family.

Theresa contacted Mrs Johnston. "I know she must be a very kind person and must care for my daughter, because she made sure I was her mother before she would give any more details." Theresa and Patience have since become acquainted through the internet.

Last year, Theresa arranged for herself and Patience to be DNA-tested and the results submitted to the Border Agency in support of Patience's application for admission to the UK. The agency eventually wrote to the nine-year-old in Lagos thus: "I acknowledge that you have submitted a DNA test report, which confirms you are related as claimed. I note that when you were three months old you were taken from your mother by your father. Your mother states that she made several attempts to find you... but was unable to do so.

"Your sponsor [Theresa] departed the UK (sic) in November 2006, 18 months after you were taken from her... Your mother has stated that your father has died, but no evidence of this has been submitted.

"Given the above, I am not satisfied that you were a part of your sponsor's family unit at the time of her departure to the UK. I have therefore refused your application."

Theresa has applied in Belfast for legal aid to appeal against the decision. In a statement supporting her application she says: "So many times I looked at my son and thought, 'Oh God, where is your big sister?' At times, I would see girls about the same age and I would suddenly cry uncontrollably... I spent my childhood years being raped and abused in the camps of Nigeria. I knew my fears were real.

"I have been crying with joy on and off since I heard the news. I have been crying with sadness for all the lost years. I have been crying with longing to hold her.

"However, I have faith that life can change and good things can happen. I have faith that my little girl will escape the horrors of my childhood."

Perhaps when Theresa May can find a minute to spare from her pursuit of Mr Qatada she will take a look at how her agency has handled Patience's plea to be allowed to come to join her mother and brother in Belfast.

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