Friday, December 14, 2007

Al Bangura Should Stay in England

For those of you who haven't heard, a very interesting (and possibly life-threatening) situation is brewing across the pond right now, one that has crossed the line between soccer and politics and has snowballed over the past few days.

Al Bangura, a 19-year old midfielder who currently is under contract to Championship side Watford FC, is being faced with deportation back to his native Sierra Leone. Bangura fled his country when he was 15 with his country amidst civil war. His father had died and it was the custom of the Poro Secret Society, a voodoo cult in Sierra Leone which he led, that Al, short for Alhassan, was to replace his father in the cult when the time came.

Instead of joining the PSS, who Bangura said threatened to kill him if he didn't join and take part in tribal rituals, including mutilation, he fled to Guinea. There, he met a Frenchman who wanted to sell him into the homosexual prostitution business (Africa is known for human trafficking) and took him to France. From France, he took Bangura to the UK where Bangura escaped again and approached the Home Office to seek asylum, which was granted.

Now that Bangura is over 18 and legally an adult, however, that asylum status has changed, according to Britain's Home Office. The Home Office is essentially the UK's department of internal affairs and ruled in mid-November that Bangura would be deported back to Sierra Leone, pending a hearing at which Bangura could plead his case to remain in the UK. That hearing took place on Tuesday and its outcome did not go in Bangura's favor. A UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal decided that Bangura was exaggerating the risk to his life if he was forced to return to Sierra Leone, and thus the Home Office will now start the process of removing him from the country.

Bangura had 10 days from Tuesday to appeal this decision and his manager at Watford, Aidy Boothroyd, has already said they would be doing so. Many notable figures in England, including Elton John, have come out in support of Bangura and now the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, will get involved. FIFpro, the world representative organization for professional soccer players, is backing Bangura, as is the English Professional Footballers' Association.

Bangura has a fiancee and a son who is not even a month old, and if he was to be deported he would leave them both behind. He paid over $240,000 last year in taxes and has been a law-abiding, tax-paying resident while he's been in England. He's never played for Sierra Leone on the international level so it's not possible for him to get a work permit, so this appeal will likely be his last chance to stay in England and to survive. Watford are using their contacts for whatever possible help they can get and I'm sure they are not alone in the soccer fraternity that is the Football League and the Premier League.

The "should he stay or should he go" debate is a tough one, because there are those who take a hardline on immigration and resident visas and permits and whatever else for security reasons and at a time where the threat of terrorism is always prevalent, I understand their reasoning for doing so. They don't look at cases on an individual basis and they tend to just go by the book; that is, if a person has a legitimate reason and purpose for staying, he can stay, if not, he has to leave. There are those who look at it on a case-by-case basis and apply common sense and rationale to the situation. As Stephane Burchkalter, the general secretary for FIFpro's African division, said, "Football must play its part as an engine of integration and we back their appeal. We expect the government to favour the spirit of the law."

To me, the Home Office and this Asylum and Immigration Tribunal are guilty of the same thing many bureaucracies fall to these days: Red-tape. Bangura has a young family, he's paid his taxes and followed the laws while he's been in England, he fled civil war in a country and region that is really struggling economically. They are almost dehumanizing Bangura and just viewing him as another ritualistic decision they have to make, a simple "Yes or "No" when in actual fact, it is not that black and white; there's so much gray in between. It's ridiculous to deny him a work permit on the basis that he doesn't play for Sierra Leone's national team because he doesn't want to go back to Sierra Leone! He obviously is "working" by playing for Watford (53 league appearances since 2005), he contributes to the economy, and he's supporting a young family. It's easy for those white-collar government officials or whoever sits on these Asylum and Immigration tribunals to make a decision about whether to send a person back to their native country; they have their cushy, upper-class lifestyle and safe existence in Britain, but that person may be going back to his or her death in the country from which they came.

He has said that "I am just praying every night that the Home Secretary will review this and allow me to stay because, inside of me, I know I'm supposed to be here. I would love to be a citizen here. If I was given the chance to be British, I would take it with both hands". There are plenty of people in England who would love to leave their country, I'm sure. England is full of some of the most miserable, unpleasant people in the world and for Bangura to actually WANT to be there, to LOVE becoming a citizen there and not get the chance to would be a disgrace.

The public support and outcry is really growing and I wouldn't be surprised if Bangura wins his appeal and is allowed to remain in England. It never should have gotten this far though; there was no real reason other than a technical, nitpicky rule to even start this process in the first place. That's the sad thing about governments these days, they are more concerned about following procedure and going by the book instead of caring about the people who put them there.

Please, go to http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-al-bangura to "sign" the online petition to help this cause and sway the people who hear Bangura's appeal. The folks there have a goal of 5,000 signatures and as of my typing this post, 4,098 people have signed and it's looking like that goal will be reached.

I hope Al Bangura is allowed to stay in England. Anything else would be a travesty of justice.

1 comment:

keith last said...

"England is full of some of the most miserable, unpleasant people in the world and for Bangura to actually WANT to be there, to LOVE becoming a citizen there and not get the chance to would be a disgrace"...that statement was a disgrace thats for sure, i was enjoying reading your blog up untill i read that !!!