Story: Saleema Imam
St Catherine’s Catholic Primary school students are campaigning to keep one of their families in the UK. Mildred Okpara and her young family were threatened with deportation in September and live in fear that they will be deported any day.
The 21 members of the school council, elected from each of the classes, studied ‘philosophy for children’ lessons about human rights. One of the questions they asked was, “Why aren’t human rights followed in every country?”
They then presented an assembly to the rest of the school on what they had learned. They told us it was a difficult subject to explain simply for everyone to understand. They wanted to use the knowledge to support their campaign to keep the Okpara family, whose children attend the school, from being deported to Nigeria.
After the assembly all the children drew around their hands and wrote messages of support for Mildred and her family and why they didn’t want them to go.
“We think it’s important for them to stay as it would be dangerous in Nigeria and they might die,” said one message.
“We want you to stay and be safe,” says another.
The school council then created the banner, pictured above. “We want other people to see what we have written so they can support the Okpara family too,” explained one member of the school council. “We want the government to know that we’ve done this and that other people care about them too.”
Mildred Okpara has been living in Sheffield since 2005. She has been an active volunteer with many community organisations and currently is a familiar voice on Sheffield Live Radio. Her case has recently come to light following a failed asylum appeal which, under a new process, means families can be deported directly from their homes, rather than being removed to a detention centre. This could mean Mildred and her small children face a traumatic forced removal by UK Border Agency Enforcement Officers.
Mildred’s supporters believe that her application for asylum was not dealt with fairly and are working to get her case back into the legal system.
Campaigners explained the details of Mildred's case to the Messenger:
“Mildred Okpara fled Nigeria in 2005 with her two children, then aged three years and 5 months. While still a teenager, Mildred fled from her home village to escape forced female genital mutilation, a practice which is widespread amongst the Igbo, which is the family’s tribe. She met her partner and lived with him until he was abducted and murdered by the Nigerian separatist group, MASSOB (the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra). After her partner’s murder, threats were made to Mildred and her two children resulting in injuries to her baby son – he is still receiving treatment for these injuries.
“Despite evidence of continuing atrocities committed by MASSOB, the UK Border Agency has rejected her claim for asylum. Mildred is convinced that her family will be targeted and killed by MASSOB if they are forced to return to Nigeria.”
If you would like to support the Okpara family, you can sign an online petition at the following address: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/38613.html