A leading anti-war activist and UK resident of 29 years speaks about the machinations of the Home Office and the campaign to reinstate his indefinite leave to remain
I’ve lost count of the number cases I’ve heard of people falling victim to the UK’s draconian immigration rules: cases detailed in countless petitions, news articles and personal stories. Each one is an outrage. And let’s not forget that Theresa May, as Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016, was the principal architect of these rules. But when a friend and fellow activist becomes the Home Office’s latest target, the true nightmarishness of the situation is brought home.
Explo Nani-Kofi, a leading figure in the antiwar movement, who spearheaded Stop the War’s campaigns against US and UK proxy wars and covert operations in Africa, and currently editor of Another Africa is possible, has lived in the UK for most of his adult life. He’s now fighting an attempt to cancel his indefinite leave to remain as the Home Office seeks to deny him the right to be in the country. I spoke to Explo about his case and the ongoing campaign to get his indefinite leave reinstated.
At the moment you’re fighting for your indefinite leave to be reinstated. Can you tell us how you arrived in this situation?
For the past 29 years I’ve been living in this country. In 2010 I went back to Ghana for the first time. I have to make sure that I don’t stay outside the UK beyond two years. And over the years, I’ve never stayed beyond that two year limit - I’ve always made arrangements to be here on time. And this time as well, I made arrangements early enough. On the 17th of August I booked a ticket because I knew I had to be here by the 5th of September. And on the 19th of August a friend transferred money for me to pay for the ticket. Now it’s been proven that the money arrived in the bank, the Ghana Commercial Bank, on the 20th of August, 6.17am. But the bank denied that the money had arrived. On the 23rd of August they said the money hadn’t arrived, on the 24th of August they said the money hadn’t arrived, 30th of August they said the same thing - the money hadn’t arrived. So it means that the bank intentionally blocked the money, for whatever reason…
Why do you think that might have happened?
A month before that, I got money transferred to the same bank. And the very day I got the money, I bought a ticket, and went to Cameroon as a guest of the Union of Populations of Cameroon (UPC, a left wing party and the oldest political party in Cameroon). I don’t know whether because it was a political trip that the bank - or the authorities in Ghana and the bank together - started monitoring my account, so that when I had a similar amount of money transferred again, they might have expected I was going to make a similar trip. So it was just a sabotage. In effect, the suspicion that I would buy a ticket again would have led to that sabotage. But for whatever reason, it is unfair. And without the money being blocked, I wouldn’t have been in this situation.
So the bank blocked your money meaning you weren’t able to pay for your ticket to the UK?
I had booked the ticket - all I needed to do was to pay for the ticket that I had booked. I was even using UK travel agencies - people talk about attachment to the country - and the bank blocked my money. And by the time I got hold of money to replace the amount that had been blocked, the ticket had been sold. That is a situation beyond my control. I tried to get another ticket. But the earliest one I could purchase, at that time, was the one I eventually got, flying out on the 5th of September, which meant I was ten hours later than the two year limit. I thought they would have used their discretion at the airport, because the two year time limit happened when I was still travelling, when I was in the air. I thought that the residual discretion they have used for other people could be used. I have been told of a case where somebody came three months later than the two year limit, and not just ten hours as I did, but was let into the country without any such problems as I am having. And if it can be used for an overstay of three months, why not for ten hours?
So you were stopped by the border force at Heathrow Airport - then what happened?
First they made me wait for some time. Then they decided to go and search me. My suitcase was searched. My personal documents and all these things - we’re supposed to have privacy when it comes to personal correspondence - they looked through everything. Then they picked out a number of political speeches and correspondence, and my notebook, which they took with them - I don’t know if they went to photocopy them - before returning them to me later. After that they detained me at the airport, and during the detention they interviewed me. I tried to explain to them that this was the situation. I told them that I have evidence to show there is correspondence between myself and the travel agency, between the bank, and all that. I could see they were not very interested in that...
What did they ask you about then?
They asked why I was late. They kept insisting that I was late. They only concentrated on the idea that I was late and why I hadn’t gone to the High Commission in Ghana to report on the first day that I couldn’t get here on time. That is the only thing they concentrated on, and their correspondence up to now has focused on the same thing
Since then you’ve been in touch with a solicitor. What’s the latest situation?
First, they’ve allowed me to stay for 6 months - exceptional leave to remain. I’m not allowed to work, or to get any state support. The letters from the Minister (Caroline Noakes MP, Minister of State for Immigration) say they are going to make a final decision, but they insist that I have broken the rules by not arriving within the two year period, and that when they make a final decision they will let my representative know.
How did you react when you first heard the decision, and how are you feeling about it now?
I was shocked. I’ve been in this country for 29 years. I’ve even handled immigration issues for other people. So I knew about things that other people have gone through. I didn’t think that mine was a very serious case. I didn’t expect the action of the border force because I knew conditions under which I’ve led other people’s campaigns, or intervened on their behalf, and they are still living in this country. So I was very surprised that for only 10 hours over the two year limit, the residual discretion was not used. I was really, really surprised.
So my friend who I was going to stay with, he contacted Jeremy Corbyn’s office, and also Diane Abbott’s office. They made efforts through Jeremy Corbyn’s office to cancel the first removal order, to allow me to stay for 7 days so we could pursue the case. And the comrades of Counterfire and Stop the War Coalition raised money for me to get a solicitor, and with the intervention of the solicitor they’ve given me this 6 month period to rectify the situation. They’re also saying they’ll come back to me with a decision - which is very contradictory: saying that they’ll allow me in to rectify the situation, then saying that they’re still attending to the case as it stands, and that they will let my solicitor know the decision.
And what do they want you to do to ‘rectify’ the situation?
That is what is not very clear. Because while they’re saying I’ve been allowed into the country to rectify the situation, the Minister has said in two letters that the case is under consideration and they don’t know how long they will take to come to a decision. So these two things are in conflict.
And in terms of all the confusion and the bureaucracy, and the anxiety it must be causing, why do you think it’s happening like that?
I think it’s part of the hostile environment. The only thing that can make them respond is public pressure. Unless there’s public pressure, the Home Office will just go along with it. Which is why we’re mounting this campaign.
What do you think people can to do help the campaign?
Right now, people can write letters to their local newspapers. People should also contact their local councillors, their MPs, Peers - all these people can be contacted. In their workplaces people should contact their trade union representatives; in the community, people should contact community leaders. We need to get all these people to come on board so that we can present a letter to the minister. We also need media coverage. Because without public pressure, I don’t think the authorities are going to budge. It is only when there is public pressure, and they see the public knows the unfairness which is being done, that Home Office will respond. We can use local newspapers to call on people to sign the petition. Getting elected representatives to support, right from council level to Parliament. Getting workplace leaders, trade union leaders. Getting even heads of various spiritual or religious organisations. All those people, we need a very broad coalition of people, and also to come up with public meetings and press conferences so that the message can go around - that is what will actually pressure the Minister.
Alistair Cartwright edits Different Skies, an online magazine and collective for experimental writing. He writes about cinema and the city. Alistair is a stalwart of Stop the War and a member of Counterfire.
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