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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

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