Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Watford player's deportation threat lifted

After facing a frightening deportation back to war-torn Sierra Leone, Watford’s Al Bangura has been issued with a work permit and can stay in England after all.

Late last year, the Hornets midfielder was sensationally told to leave the UK after four years and with 16 Premier League appearances last season.

Bangura had fled the inter-ethnic violence of Sierra Leone as a 14 year-old after witch doctors murdered his father and threatened his life, and then was almost forced into child prostitution in both France and England by an older man who granted him passage from Africa.

Happily, he escaped from his potential enslaver, claimed asylum in England, made it as a professional footballer age 17 and became a father, before the shocking announcement this winter that he had to return to his homeland.

“It’s not the end of my career if I go back,” Bangura had warned. “It’s the end of my life.”

“It’s horrible news for all of us,” Watford captain Jay DeMerit told Soccerphile about the deportation threat, before yesterday’s announcement.

“For this thing to happen is extremely unfortunate and we don’t really understand why. Maybe they are trying to make an example of him. As teammates we will do anything we can to help.”

In a heart-warming show of support, Watford’s players and fans wore t-shirts in opposition to his extradition and happily yesterday the UK govt. announced he had indeed been granted a permit and could stay.

Bangura’s initial appeal against deportation failed, after which local MPs and Home Office minister Liam Byrne were involved as the case was given national publicity.

“We thought he had a great appeal,” said DeMerit, “and with a son having been born here and all that comes with living and working in the UK, we can’t get our heads around it. We thought he had everything going for him. We are all concerned for him as he might end up having to return to dangerous circumstances. I hope we can get it all turned around.”

Happily it was, and yesterday’s six-man panel in Sheffield made the only common-sense decision available, to issue Bangura with a work permit, which the player's lawyers hope can soon be turned into permanent residency.

“We’re all very happy, but most of all we are delighted for Al and his family,” said Watford chairman Graham Simpson.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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