College campaign gets student freed

Released asylum seeker looks forward to getting back to her studies and marriage

Joseph Lee

Asylum seeker Annociate Nimpagaritse is due to return to college after being suddenly released from a detention centre following a campaign by fellow students and staff.

The 25-year-old studied basic skills at The Sheffield College for two years until she was arrested and threatened with being deported to Burundi last week.

But after staff and students rallied round with letters to the Home Office, a petition and a demonstration, she was allowed to return home. Still without permanent leave to remain, Annociate hopes that she will be able to build a life in the UK after she marries her fiance, Aime, a fellow Burundian whose own asylum application has been successful.

Annociate, a member of the Tutsi minority in Burundi, fled the country in 2005 after her parents were murdered by men she believes were part of rebel forces from the Hutu majority.

But her application to stay in the UK as a refugee was refused and she was arrested ready for deportation.

Annociate was moved between a series of detention centres over two weeks. At most, conditions were good but she said life at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre in Berkshire was bleak.

"It was very bad. I think it wasn't a detention centre - it was a prison. The door was locked and I had to stay in the room all the time," she said. "It was very cold."

Staff and students at The Sheffield College began preparing a 1,200-name petition for her release and wrote to immigration minister Liam Byrne. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and a local MP, and The Sheffield College's principal, Heather MacDonald, were among supporters.

Then last week she heard that she would be released and sent home. "I was so excited,' she said. "I didn't think they were going to release me. They didn't say anything to me, they just told me to write down my address.

"People campaigning for me made a big difference. It's why I was released, I want to stay here, get married and have a family."

Annociate also intends to enrol again at The Sheffield College to study a science access course, with the aim of becoming a nurse.

She said she has not been told the reason for her sudden release, something which anti-deportation campaigners say is common.

Grahame Wroe, the college lecturer who has been at the forefront of her campaign, believes the letters and faxes to the Home Office had an impact. He said: "Surely she has now suffered enough, and should be given the right to stay and be allowed to marry."

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Joseph Lee

Joseph Lee is an award-winning freelance education journalist 

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