A Nigerian mother and her five-year-old son who were unlawfully deported from Britain were flown back to the UK on Thursday after the British Home Secretary Theresa May lost a last-ditch legal bid to prevent their return.The family won a landmark legal victory last week when a senior immigration judge ruled that Ms. May and her officials failed to give sufficient importance to the welfare of the schoolboy when they put them on a plane to Nigeria in January.
Describing the Home Office approach as “flawed”, the judge ruled that they be returned to Britain by yesterday – and that the government foot the bill.
The case threatens to undermine Ms. May’s election pledge to introduce a “deport first, appeal later” regime for asylum-seekers by setting a precedent that immigration officers must make the welfare of a child the “primary consideration” when seeking a deportation order – even when the case of a parent has already been dismissed.
Lawyers for the Home Office appeared to acknowledge the significance of the case on Wednesay by telling the Court of Appeal they were seeking permission to challenge the ruling to allow the family’s return for “serious policy reasons”. But Lord Justice McCombe threw out an application on behalf of Ms. May to postpone the family’s return, saying it was “impossible” to find any grounds to overturn the original decision taken by the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber.
The Court of Appeal judge also criticised the complexity of Britain’s immigration laws, describing the multiplicity of rules as a “disgrace”.
The failure of the Home Office’s appeal means the mother and child, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were on a plane scheduled to arrive back in Britain yesterday after officials were forced to book tickets or face proceedings for contempt of court.
Campaigners in the community where the mother had settled after coming to Britain illegally in 1991 said they were delighted by the ruling and looking forward to welcoming them home, where they will now make a fresh application to remain in the UK. One friend of the family told UK-based The Independent newspaper, “We’re just delighted”
The woman, referred to as “BF”, and her son “RA” were deported in January despite evidence of her fragile mental health and the risk that the family would end up living on the streets.
The fact that the woman was a single mother with no family in Nigeria would place her in danger of prostitution and her son facing child labour or potential trafficking, immigration officials were told.
The mother fled her native country after her parents were killed in a car crash and paid traffickers to reach Britain after relatives had tried to force her into a marriage. She became pregnant and had her son in 2009.
The Court of Appeal heard that the mother, who applied for asylum in 2010, had her claim repeatedly rejected and at one point was admitted to a psychiatric unit with depression linked to the threat of forced return after she was found to have drunk bleach. Her son was put into foster care for a period in 2013.
Stephanie Harrison QC, representing RA, said: “At the heart of this case is an extremely vulnerable child who has so far avoided permanent damage but [is at risk] if he remains in the situation in Nigeria where his mother is unable to protect him adequately.”
The potential precedent set by the case will require immigration officials to balance the requirements for asylum and migration control against the best interests of a child at risk of deportation alongside his or her parent.
Under the new “deport first, appeal later” system outlined by Ms. May those seeking to enter Britain without prior approval would be automatically sent back to their country of origin unless they could prove that to do so would cause or risk “irreversible harm”.
The Home Office declined to comment on the ruling.