Churches and campaigners for asylum justice in Leeds and beyond are dismayed at the deportation of a member of a Baptist congregation. They say it highlights deep concerns about the fairness of the United Kingdom asylum system.
Ms Grace Cole, who is a qualified accountant, was flown back to Nigeria on last weekend after an 18-month struggle to remain in this country. She had settled in Leeds with two of her four children, and had become a valued member of Moortown Baptist Church and her local community.
The Baptist Times newspaper reports that prior to seeking asylum in the UK, Ms Cole had received death threats in three different areas of Nigeria, and one in the Gambia. Her problems stem from a promise made by her father of marriage to the son of a Muslim imam to whom he was indebted for previous assistance.
Following her father's death, Ms Cole fled from the imam, whose family it is alleged subsequently tracked her down on three more occasions, each time issuing death threats if she did not return. She was also disowned by her family following her conversion to Christianity and refusal to marry the imam's son.
She came to England in 2004 with her husband, who she subsequently left after being subjected to domestic violence. Her battle to claim asylum mirrored some of the problems highlighted recently by West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council.
These included two traumatic 6am calls to transfer her to a detention centre, despite not having been informed that her claim for asylum had been refused, says the Baptist Times (http://www.baptisttimes.co.uk/).
On one occasion Ms Cole's phone was reportedly snatched from her hand by officials as she tried to call her MP. A late bid to grant her discretionary leave on compassionate grounds was unsuccessful.
Hilary Willmer, from Moortown Baptist Church, told The Baptist Times, "Grace was very frightened about the possibility of returning to Nigeria. She is a lovely person who has had a huge impact on the church. The church has been very engaged in her case - when it is some you know and care for, it brings it all home."
Willmer added: "We protested strongly against the way Grace and her children were treated, both with regards to the action taken and how it was done. On a personal note I have been ashamed at the way this family has been treated."
Churches across Britain have been pressing the government for a change of heart and policy on asylum cases.
With acknowledegments to The Baptist Times