By LUQMAN ONIKOSI
I grew up in northern Nigeria but left nine years ago after becoming disenfranchised. I felt that the elite that run the country were deliberately underfunding education and the health system to undermine young people from humble backgrounds so that they do not have the opportunity to change the country. I left for the UK to study at the University of Sussex, where I completed an undergraduate degree in economics and international relations, before embarking on a master’s degree. I had an audacious dream to return to Nigeria and use the knowledge I acquired at university to fight for social justice.Getting to the UK in the first place was not easy. Like the majority of people who apply to visit or study in the UK from an African country, my initial application was rejected and it was only after three appeals that the Home Office finally granted me permission to study here. Had I not been so passionate about education I may not have persevered with fighting against all the roadblocks the Home Office placed in my path.
In 2008, while in the UK, I began to feel unwell. After a series of tests I was diagnosed with the blood-borne virus hepatitis B. I have no idea how I contracted it although it might have been from sharing razor blades back in Nigeria. Tragically my two brothers also contracted the disease and died from it. It is hard to describe what a huge impact their loss has had on my life. Everything changed after I was diagnosed. Unfortunately my condition is quite advanced and so my only option for long-term survival is a liver transplant. In the meantime my condition needs to be closely monitored. The treatment I need to keep me alive is not available in Nigeria. My student visa expired in 2011 and I applied to remain in the UK on medical grounds. Since then I have been involved in a series of unsuccessful appeals with the Home Office who issued me with a deportation notice earlier this year.
The Home Office is tightening immigration rules all the time. My university cannot support me to finish the final part of my master’s because if it does so it will be in breach of the immigration rules and might have its licence revoked. In 2013, a campaign was launched to appeal to the Home Office to let me remain in the UK. Some of the students at the university who support me recently occupied one of the university buildings in protest against my threatened forced removal from the UK. I am not a health tourist who has parachuted into the UK in search of free NHS treatment. I became ill part-way through a legitimate course of study and a legitimate stay in the UK approved by the Home Office. The thought of returning to Nigeria to my mother, who has already endured the emotional and psychological torture of losing two sons so that she can watch her third son die too, is unbearable.
I now consider the UK to be my home. I have laid down roots here and have incredible support from friends, colleagues and tutors. Thanks to my excellent experience at university I am well placed to work hard and get skilled employment here. I have so much to contribute: I have drive and ambition, I want to work and pay my taxes and make a positive difference to the UK. If I return home my deterioration will be rapid and I will not survive as the medical treatment I need to keep me alive is not available there. The Home Office exercises discretion about who it decides can stay and who it forces to leave. In my case, it has the power over life and death. I am appealing to the Home Office to let me stay and be a useful and positive member of society here. In short I am asking the Home Office not to send me back to my death but to save my life.
Note: This article was first published in GUARDIAN UK.