A victory of sorts

Katie Coyne reports on how a unique alliance of trade union leaders and campaigners halted the deportation of Alphonsus Uche Okafor- Mefor.

April 1, 2007
7 min read

What does a successful anti-deportation campaign look like and do they really work?

It certainly helps to get an alliance of trade union general secretaries backing the cause. And this is exactly what is happening in the case of Alphonsus Uche Okafor- Mefor, who was detained on 26 February when he reported at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate at Reliance House in Liverpool. Without any prior warning Okafor-Mefor was told he would be deported within 48 hours.

Within this time a campaign was quickly organised to oppose the deportation. The union leaders involved include Paul Mackney of UCU (the University and Colleges Union), Mark Serwotka of the PCS (Public and Commercial Service Union), Jeremy Dear of the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) and Bob Crowe of the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport). They wrote to Liam Byrne, the minister for immigration, backing Okafor- Mefor’s bid to remain in the UK and seeking his release from detention.

The fact that he has so far not been deported is regarded as a victory of sorts, even though he is still in detention.

Okafor-Mefor, a Nigerian asylum seeker, is a political activist who helps organise refugees in Liverpool. Before his detention he was due to speak at a trade union conference organised by the No One is Illegal coalition against immigration controls. The conference had attracted widespread union sponsorship.

According to Paul Mackney: ‘This coming together of general secretaries of major trade unions in support of Alphonsus is unique. And it shows that the labour movement is committed to the defence of refugees and others threatened by immigration controls.’

Okafor-Mefor claimed asylum in the UK in 2005. He is an Igbo, an ethnic group based in the south eastern region of Nigeria once identified as Biafra, and belongs to MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra), which is campaigning for an independent Biafran republic. He was detained and tortured after attending a MASSOB meeting and since coming to the UK has continued to highlight the persecution of the Biafran people and the murder of MASSOB members and Igbos by the Nigerian government. MASSOB members active in the anti-deportation campaign on his behalf issued the following statement: ‘Mr Okafor-Mefor is a MASSOB leader who has taken a key role in this peaceful struggle and, if he is deported back to Nigeria, unequivocally his life will be in danger.’

The No One is Illegal group attributes the Okafor-Mefor campaign’s success so far to the wide range of active support that has been mobilised on his behalf, including trade union support at local branch and trades council level as well as nationally, together with the work of Okafor-Mefor’s legal team and a public protest at the airport.

Stephen Cohen from No One is Illegal argues that protests of a more public and ‘militant’ flavour, as opposed to ‘passive paper’ campaigns, work best. He points to the case of Sakchai Makoa, who was caught up in the foreign prisoners row last year. A campaign launched and supported by one in three Shetland islanders (where Makoa lived) held huge sway.

This was noted by the immigration judge, DJB Trotter, who wrote in the appeal case notes: ‘They are not merely substantial in number but, so far as the individually written letters are concerned, intense in their appreciation of the problems faced by this Appellant and in their support of him. Representations by petition are inevitably of a lesser effect but representations by action are also important.’

As to whether anti-deportation campaigns in general work, Emma Ginn, a campaigner from the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), says simply: ‘I know lots of people who wouldn’t be here today without a campaign, and more and more are springing up around the country.’

To download an NCADC campaign guide, visit What does a successful anti-deportation campaign look like and do they really work?

It certainly helps to get an alliance of trade union general secretaries backing the cause. And this is exactly what is happening in the case of Alphonsus Uche Okafor- Mefor, who was detained on 26 February when he reported at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate at Reliance House in Liverpool. Without any prior warning Okafor-Mefor was told he would be deported within 48 hours.

Within this time a campaign was quickly organised to oppose the deportation. The union leaders involved include Paul Mackney of UCU (the University and Colleges Union), Mark Serwotka of the PCS (Public and Commercial Service Union), Jeremy Dear of the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) and Bob Crowe of the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport). They wrote to Liam Byrne, the minister for immigration, backing Okafor- Mefor’s bid to remain in the UK and seeking his release from detention.

The fact that he has so far not been deported is regarded as a victory of sorts, even though he is still in detention.

Okafor-Mefor, a Nigerian asylum seeker, is a political activist who helps organise refugees in Liverpool. Before his detention he was due to speak at a trade union conference organised by the No One is Illegal coalition against immigration controls. The conference had attracted widespread union sponsorship.

According to Paul Mackney: ‘This coming together of general secretaries of major trade unions in support of Alphonsus is unique. And it shows that the labour movement is committed to the defence of refugees and others threatened by immigration controls.’

Okafor-Mefor claimed asylum in the UK in 2005. He is an Igbo, an ethnic group based in the south eastern region of Nigeria once identified as Biafra, and belongs to MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra), which is campaigning for an independent Biafran republic. He was detained and tortured after attending a MASSOB meeting and since coming to the UK has continued to highlight the persecution of the Biafran people and the murder of MASSOB members and Igbos by the Nigerian government. MASSOB members active in the anti-deportation campaign on his behalf issued the following statement: ‘Mr Okafor-Mefor is a MASSOB leader who has taken a key role in this peaceful struggle and, if he is deported back to Nigeria, unequivocally his life will be in danger.’

The No One is Illegal group attributes the Okafor-Mefor campaign’s success so far to the wide range of active support that has been mobilised on his behalf, including trade union support at local branch and trades council level as well as nationally, together with the work of Okafor-Mefor’s legal team and a public protest at the airport.

Stephen Cohen from No One is Illegal argues that protests of a more public and ‘militant’ flavour, as opposed to ‘passive paper’ campaigns, work best. He points to the case of Sakchai Makoa, who was caught up in the foreign prisoners row last year. A campaign launched and supported by one in three Shetland islanders (where Makoa lived) held huge sway.

This was noted by the immigration judge, DJB Trotter, who wrote in the appeal case notes: ‘They are not merely substantial in number but, so far as the individually written letters are concerned, intense in their appreciation of the problems faced by this Appellant and in their support of him. Representations by petition are inevitably of a lesser effect but representations by action are also important.’

As to whether anti-deportation campaigns in general work, Emma Ginn, a campaigner from the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), says simply: ‘I know lots of people who wouldn’t be here today without a campaign, and more and more are springing up around the country.’

To download an NCADC campaign guide, visit www.ncadc.org.uk/campaigns/guide.htm

The No One is Illegal trade union conference against immigration controls was due to be held in London on 31 March 2007. Find out more: www.noii.org.uk

The No One is Illegal trade union conference against immigration controls was due to be held in London on 31 March 2007. Find out more: www.noii.org.uk


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


2