A newly-elected National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland officer has been detained, separated from his children, and scheduled for deportation over an apparent procedural issue with his asylum status, the NUS has said, sparking outcry across the country and capturing the attention of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Lord Elias Mensah Apetsi, a Master’s student at Strathclyde University recently elected to NUS Asylum and Refugee Officer, was detained by the Home Office twelve days ago after a technical failure with a routine monthly asylum checkin, according to the NUS.
The detention occurred after a Leave to Remain application was submitted past the deadline, the NUS said, in what the organisation called a “human error, not of Lord’s making”.
In the days since, Apetsi has been transferred across the country, separated from his two children and forcibly moved from facilities in Glasgow to Lincolnshire to Oxford. He is currently in London, scheduled to be deported from Stansted Airport on Tuesday, on a Titan Airways chartered flight, according to a post from the NUS Scotland President.
Apetsi, a single father caring for a son and step-son, fled from from his home country Ghana to seek asylum and carry out his studies in the United Kingdom, according to comments to The Student by an NUS official. He is currently a student the PGCert Counselling Service programme at Strathclyde, for which he was nominated Student of the Year. He was elected mid-detention to Asylum and Refugee Officer this weekend.
Apetsi’s children are currently staying in Glasgow with their mother, who is not the primary caregiver, according to the NUS official.
Reacting to the events, NUS Scotland president Vonnie Sandlan called the case “shocking”.
“We’re deeply concerned for Lord’s wellbeing if he is forcibly deported,” she said in a statement.
She continued: “This case has affected Lord immensely, as well as his young sons and the many others who are proud to call him a friend. Everyone who speaks about Lord does so of a warm, caring and intelligent man, who has given so much to his university and community. […] Nobody deserves the kind of treatment he has received in this country.”
Several student officers have been in contact with him since his detention. Speaking to The Student, Gary Paterson, president of the Strathclyde Students Association and NUS Scotland Vice President of Communities, said that Apetsi’s absence was not noticed until the organisation’s annual national conference this weekend, during the election for his post.
“We didn’t see him at the conference,” Paterson told The Student. “We just thought he’d missed it or something. It was only after he was elected in absentia that we found out that he was actually in detention, that he was England.”
Upon learning of the situation, Paterson, who has known and worked with Apetsi personally, made immediate plans to head to London, where he and Strathclyde Vice President Diversity Raj Brighton are currently pressuring members of Parliament. Having since made contact with Apetsi, Paterson described him as “extremely worried.”
“He’s been trying to hold himself together: he’s a counselling student so he knows how to respond to the vibe of things,” Paterson said. “I think his only hope at the moment is us, and he’s just extremely worried at the moment.”
Paterson described Apetsi as a “well liked guy” at Strathclyde, who was “a big presence within the mature students association.”
“What Lord does on campus is kind of what we do on a long term basis: trying to make a difference and help people,” Paterson told The Student. “That’s his motivation: he wants to have a positive impact, and that kind of follows his own story as well – his plight of fleeing from Ghana and trying to make a positive impact for his life and for his children.”
The case has set off a groundswell of opposition from both students and politicians. The NUS has scheduled emergency public demonstrations for Monday in Edinburgh and London. A campaign with the hashtag #SaveLord has generated over a thousand posts on Twitter. Campaigners have been busy reaching out to politicians in both Holyrood and Westminster.
Activists argue the deportation would violate Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights – the right to a family life – to which the UK is bound through the Human Rights Act. They also contend the action violates Articles 3, 9, 10 and 18 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which deal with parental responsibilities and separation.
Local politicians have begun to apply direct pressure on Westminster. Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss, SNP, whose constituency comprises Strathclyde, has written an emergency letter to the Home Office in support of Apetsi.
In a statement, Thewliss sharply condemned the actions of the government and called for a reversal.
“This UK government is completely out of line in attempting to remove Lord Apetsi, a student who has proven that he is part of our city through his involvement in the NUS,” she said. “It is wrong that his life can be turned upside down, that he can be separated from his children, and taken for removal. I urge the Home Office to reverse their decision and return Lord immediately to his family and friends in Glasgow.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also expressed his concern. Approached in person by Paterson in the BBC studios Monday morning, the Labour opposition leader “promised to look into it today,” Paterson told The Student.
The NUS has been in contact with SNP MPs Natalie McGarry, John Nicolson, Chris Stephens, Patrick Grady, Carol Monaghan and Anne McLaughlin, and Labour MPs Ian Murray and Andy Burnham, NUS President Vonnie Sandlan told The Student.
Despite a packed Parliamentary schedule, the campaigners expressed hope that the urgency of the situation would cut through.
“Obviously today’s a bit of a busy day with the budget, but we are working with MPs across the aisles,” Paterson said.
A demonstration against Apetsi’s Tuesday deportation was scheduled to take place outside the Scotland Office in Edinburgh’s New Town at 3pm Monday. Over 180 had clicked attending on Facebook at time of publication.