April 03, 2009

Asylum seeker gallery protest

A man heckled from the public gallery at a Town Hall meeting as Sheffield councillors pledged to support a family of asylum seekers facing deportation.

The man, thought to be a member of the British National Party, shouted repeatedly that Priviledge Thulambo (above, centre) and her two daughters, who fled Zimbabwe, had "no right to be here". The unexpected outbursts interrupted Council Leader Paul Scriven who looked stunned before continuing his speech. And Labour councillor Gill Furniss said afterwards that she was "outraged" at the man's comments.

The shouting came as church leaders urged the council to help Priviledge, 39, and her daughters Lorraine, aged 18, and 20-year-old Valerie. Priviledge says she was tortured and raped in Zimbabwe by President Robert Mugabe's men and her husband killed. She arrived in the UK in 2000, her daughters followed in 2004, and they settled in Heavygate Road, Walkley.

But the Home Office has refused to grant the family asylum because their documents said they were from Malawi, a country to which it is safe to return. The Thulmabos insist they are Zimbabwean – and that their Malawian passports were fakes used only as a desperate means of escape.

Jane Padgett, on behalf of 400 campaigners supporting the family, told the meeting: "In 2007, Sheffield declared itself a City of Sanctuary and we are calling on the council to make urgent representations to the Home Secretary. This family were arrested at 7am one morning last December and taken to an immigration centre. They have lived here for several years and made an enormous contribution to our community."

Coun Scriven said: "I personally know Priviledge, after dancing with her at an evening at St Mark's church a few years ago, and hers is a story of horror. Her husband was murdered for being a politician and opposing people in power. That was his only so-called crime. Priviledge has deep strength and compassion for social justice and a belief in Britain's democratic system which is now failing her and her family.

"They are a hard-working family who stood up against the evils in Zimbabwe and they deserve our protection. It will be a national disgrace if the Home Secretary exports them to possible death."

Councillors of all parties agree to write again to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith urging her to stop the deportation.

The Star

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