Why do they call it the Home Office, when that agency dedicates its resources to expelling, incarcerating, and generally despising precisely those who need help? What kind of home is that, anyway? In 2004, Roseline Akhalu was one of 23 people to win a Ford Foundation scholarship to study in England. That would be enough to celebrate in itself, but Akhalu’s story is one of extraordinary pain and perseverance. Five years earlier, she and her husband were working in Benin City, Nigeria. Her husband was a nurse, and Roseline Akhalu worked for the local government. They didn’t earn much but they got by. Until March 1999, when her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The couple was told that they must go to South Africa, or India, for care, but the costs of such a venture were prohibitive. And so Roseline Akhalu watched her husband die because there was no money.
Now a widow, and a widow without a child, Akhalu confronted a hostile future. After her in-laws took pretty much everything, Roseline Akhalu set about the work of making a life for herself. She worked, she studied, she applied for a masters’ scholarship, and she succeeded.
Akhalu went to Leeds University, to study Development Studies. She joined a local church; she tended her gardens, saving tomatoes that were otherwise destined to die; she worked with young girls in the area. She planned to return to Nigeria and establish an NGO to work with young girls. It was all planned.
Until she was diagnosed with kidney failure. That was 2004, a few months after arriving. In 2005, Akhalu was put on regular dialysis. In 2009, she had a successful kidney transplant, but the transplant meant that for the rest of her life Roseline Akhalu would need hospital check-ups and immunosuppressant drugs. In Nigeria, those drugs would be impossibly costly.
Her attorney informed the government of her change in status, that due to unforeseen circumstances Roseline Akhalu, who had never planned on staying in the United Kingdom, now found that, in order to live, she had to stay.
And so began Roseline Akhalu’s journey into the uncanny unheimlich of the Home Office, where home means prison or exile, and nothing says “compassion” like humiliation, degradation and persecution.
Once a month, Akhalu showed up, in Leeds, at the United Kingdom Border Agency Reporting Office. Then, in March of 2012, without explanation, she was detained and immediately packed off, by Reliance ‘escorts’, to the notorious Yarl’s Wood, where she was treated like everyone’s treated at Yarl’s Wood, and especially women…disgustingly.
So far this is business as usual. Here’s where it gets interesting. In May, Akhalu was released from detention. In September, the Home Office refused her appeal. In November, a judge overturned the Home Office decision. The judge declared that, since Akhalu had established a private life of value to her, to members of the Church, and to a wider community, removing her would violate her right to a private and family life protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judge noted that Akhalu had done absolutely nothing illegal. She had come to the United Kingdom legally and was diagnosed while legally in the country. Most chillingly, perhaps, the judge agreed that to send Roseline Akhalu back to Nigeria was a swift death sentence. Given the health care system and costs in Nigeria, she would be dead within four weeks. Nigerian and English doctors agreed.
On December 14, the Home Office appealed the decision. That’s right. They’re pursuing a case against Roseline Akhalu, despite all the evidence and mounting pressure from all sides. Why? Because that’s what the Home Office does. Want an example? In 2008, Ama Sumani, a 43-year old Ghanaian woman, was lying in hospital in Cardiff, in Wales, receiving kidney dialysis for malignant myeloma. That was until the good old boys showed up and hauled her out and then shipped her off to Ghana, where she died soon after. The Lancet put it neatly: “The UK has committed an atrocious barbarism.” That was January 19, 2008. Five years later, almost to the day…the atrocity continues.