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Football, PR and the tricky issue of immigration February 6, 2008

Posted by BCME UK in Social media, Sport.
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By Matt

Al Bangura, footballer, fiancé, father, and hero to this particular blogger, has been spared deportation to his native Sierra Leone. Arriving as a sex-slave at the age of fifteen, he escaped and built a life and career from literally nothing. Spotted playing football is Cassiobury park, one of Hertfordshire’s largest open spaces, he was signed up by the glorious Watford FC who he has since gone on to captain and play for 65 times.

On Monday 14th January, Al Bangura won his appeal against an Asylum and Immigration authority decision to revoke Al’s right to work in the UK which would have resulted in deportation. Watford Chairman Graham Simpson said “We always knew we had a strong case and despite our setbacks we knew we had to fight for what we believed to be right for this young man. Al will now continue to contribute to our society, which I know he feels a debt of gratitude towards.”

The case would not have been brought to the attention of the public without the media coverage that followed the original decision to deport one of Watford’s youngest stars. A host of articles in major nationals The Times, Guardian and Telegraph has provided awareness for the young man’s plight, that many ordinary genuine asylum seekers to not receive.

The positive PR generated by Watford Football Club was ably assisted by representatives of the Football League and other clubs; most notably Plymouth Argyle who, following recent tension rich encounters which did supporter relations more harm than good, showed their support at half time during the December meeting of the Championship sides at Watford’s Vicarage Road.

The media’s eagerness to write about the issue in a time when immigration and asylum are prevalent in the news is a positive step in the right direction where reporting such stories are concerned.

In today’s Independent there is a similar story of Damilola Ajagbonna. A ‘remarkable’ immigrant, his contributions to British society have been honoured by the Church of England and his academic record has won him places at Cambridge and Sheffield universities. He now faces deportation to his native Nigeria after the Court of Appeal dismissed his final appeal. The 19 year old came to the UK with is mother 8 years ago and has been appointed as an adviser on youth issues to Unicef by the United Nations. Despite all of his achievements, Damilola now faces a return to Nigeria, away from the life he has created for himself in this country.

The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal would not comment on individual cases and it would seem that without the same media PR coverage afforded to Al Bangura, Damilola’s almost identical story has come to a very different conclusion.

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