John should be sitting where you are now: reading the Glasgow Guardian, in the library perhaps, maybe over a coffee, taking a break from writing his honours dissertation. Instead, the Glasgow student is in Lagos, Nigeria, with no home, no medication and no money. “The others came back to families” he says, “but I came back to graves.”
John Oguchuckwu fled his native Nigeria ten years ago, after he was tortured and his mother, father and two sisters were killed in the sectarian violence which plagues the country. He has since claimed asylum in the UK based on a fear of persecution and torture. However, John was ‘forcibly removed’ from the UK on 20th July after his appeal in the Scottish high court failed. Friends and family are now very worried about John’s wellbeing as he has a history of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The student’s belongings were seized before his deportation and he was left with just a two-week supply of his anti-depressants. He has no money and lives between hostels in Lagos.
Speaking on Skype, John was tearful and it is evident that this recent trauma has taken its toll:
I feel like I have been thrown away, passed away … My life has been torn apart, I don’t know how to explain it … when I feel low, I cannot do anything.
Shortly after arriving in Lagos, John was found crying in the airport by Johseph Chukwu, who took him to a hostel and paid for him to stay the night. Chuckwu told the Herald that John would not eat or leave the hostel, and that he was crying so much he was violently sick. The kind stranger has since had to leave to return to his family, leaving John alone in Lagos.
John’s ‘Scottish mum’ Elizabeth Jenkins said: “This country has blood on its hands for sending John back.” Jenkins and her family ‘unofficially adopted’ John after hearing about his plight through their church:
I myself being his Scottish mum, plus my daughters and grandchildren, accept him as a member of our family. He is a devoted son showing love to myself plus members of my family. He has proven to be an asset in my family’s life.
John was an active member of his local community and was an extraordinary minister at St. Michael’s Church in the east end of Glasgow. The archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, has spoken strongly in defense of the Glasgow student: “He would be an asset to our country, our community, the parish in which he serves.”
It was thanks to the support of his church and local community, who paid his fees, that John was able to study for a business degree at Glasgow University. At the time of his removal from the UK, John was beginning his honours dissertation and putting together a proposal for a PhD, on migrant entrepreneurs in Glasgow. During his time at university, John was involved with the SRC and was recently shortlisted by the principal’s office for a bursary from the Thomas and Margaret Roddan Trust.
Pauline Donald, head of the ‘Our John’ campaign said that he held his place at Glasgow very dearly: “At university, John was protected from the stigma of being an asylum seeker. He wasn’t John the asylum seeker; he was John the student.”
Prior to studying at Glasgow, John completed an HND at the Central College of Commerce. His former course leader, Arlene Brown, said: “I have no hesitation in recommending him as an asset to this country.”
Under article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, “right to respect of private and family life” and demonstration of having established roots in the UK can be grounds to remain in the country. Whilst the court recognized that John had a well-established private and family life, the judge decreed that he could establish a new life in Nigeria through the church, as he had done in Scotland. Not for the first time in his life, John now finds himself torn from his family, penniless, and forced to try and rebuild his life in a country which is now alien to him.
Students and staff from Glasgow University rallied to assist John, and petitioned the home secretary Theresa May on his behalf, seeking a stay of execution. A number of John’s lecturers wrote letters in support of the student and both the principal and Graham Caie, the clerk of senate, took a personal interest in his case:
The principal, Anne Anderson, and myself wrote a letter to the home secretary before he was deported, asking for his return to Glasgow, but to no avail,” says Graham Caie. “The SRC, students, lecturers, and many more have done all in their power to help him.
Caie is now looking at the the possibility of transferring John’s credits to a Nigerian university to allow him to finish his studies, but he also said that should John be allowed to return to the UK, the university would do everything they could to help him reintegrate.
The SRC contacted students over the summer, urging them to write to Theresa May, and have since been working with Student Action for Refugees (STAR) to raise money to send to John.
Amy Johnson, vice president for student support said:
As part of GUSRC health week, we worked with STAR to organize a ceilidh, to raise money to send to John in order for him to purchase medical supplies. We managed to raise over £300 which was wired to him last week. I intend to keep raising funds at every opportunity.
Speaking on Skype on Thursday night, John expressed his thanks to everyone for all their help and support, saying that it was invaluable to him. The Our John campaign is currently lobbying the Immigration Minister to ask him to use his discretion to bring John home to continue his undergraduate and postgraduate career. In the meantime, they are also desperately fundraising so as to help secure John a safe place to stay and his necessary medications. Donations can be made via Paypal, to [email protected].