A Nigerian scholarship student with late-stage cirrhosis of the liver has condemned Theresa May’s refusal to grant him leave to remain in the UK on medical grounds as a “death sentence”.
Luqman Onikosi, 36, was studying at Sussex University when he was diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2009 – a disease which led to the deaths of two of his brothers.
Active in student politics, Mr Onikosi gained a prestigious position working at the Nigerian embassy after completing his studies. But when he became too ill to work, his application for leave to remain in the UK on medical grounds was rejected.
“I’ve paid international student fees and taxes,” he said. “The British Government does not see me as human but as dispensable. They have used me as like an orange and sucked everything out of me and now they are going to send me back to Nigeria to die.”
Doctors have expressed concern that if made to return to Nigeria, Mr Onikosi could die within six months from organ failure. Treatment of his condition requires constant monitoring of liver function, which cannot be done in many parts of Nigeria. If given leave to remain, he hopes for a life-saving liver transplant.
The bleakness of his situation, exacerbated by a lack of communication from the Home Office, led Mr Onikosi to attempt suicide last year. He found out his appeal to remain in the UK had been rejected while completing his post-graduate dissertation.
“I slid into depression,” he said. “I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t feel I was in charge of my life any longer. I felt powerless.”
Growing up in Nigeria, Mr Onikosi viewed Britain as “the pinnacle of civilisation”. He came to the UK to fulfil his part in a plan he had made with his younger brother. He was to study politics and his brother, science. They would then combine their expertise to help to guide resource-rich Nigeria to a brighter future. However, his brother was diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2009 and died a year later.
When he first became ill, Mr Onikosi wrote to the Home Secretary Theresa May and Damian Green, immigration minister at the time, pleading to stay, before receiving pro bono legal assistance. Now his case may go to judicial review, costing tens of thousands of pounds. A fundraising campaign launched last week with the hashtag #DontDeportLuqman and aimed at raising just over £1,500 for an initial legal consultation, had overshot its target by more than 50 per cent.
Hepatology experts expressed hope that if Mr Onikosi were forced to return to Nigeria, he could survive if given treatment. However, he believes his illness is too far gone.
Caroline Lucas, Mr Onikosi’s MP, who has supported his bid, called on Ms May to “show some basic humanity”.
“It is outrageous that Luqman is set to be deported despite his serious medical condition,” she said. “He has worked, paid taxes and volunteered here in the UK, yet he is being treated with contempt by the British Government.”
A Home Office spokesperson said all cases are considered on their individual merits, and in line with the immigration rules, adding: “The individual’s application was fully considered and has been through the appeal process. An independent immigration judge found he has no right to remain in the UK.”
Explainer: What is cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver caused by continuous, long-term liver damage. It can be caused by alcohol misuse, hepatitis – as in Mr Onikosi’s case – or a disease called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis that causes a build-up of fat in the organ. Cirrhotic damage cannot be reversed and eventually becomes so extensive that the liver stops functioning. The organ performs more functions than any other, including detoxification of the blood and regulation of glycogen. Each year in the UK, around 4,000 people die from cirrhosis and 700 people with the condition need a liver transplant.