The Home Office has U-turned on a “cruel and inhumane” ruling to deport a victim of modern slavery who was trafficked from Nigeria and forced into prostitution in the UK.
HuffPost UK has exclusively reported on the case of Mary Adenguba Johnson, who was branded an illegal immigrant and told to leave the country despite being married to a UK national and a recognised victim of human trafficking.
But in a reversal of its original ruling - and following HuffPost UK’s reporting on the case - the department has now granted the 47-year-old Manchester woman leave to remain in the UK.
“I thank God,” she said. “I should not have been treated like that by the Home Office. I had no choice, I had to keep fighting. It gave me anxiety, severe depression, nightmares and panic attacks. But I feel relieved now.”
The decision brings to an end 14 years of turmoil for the modern slavery victim who suffers from severe anxiety and PTSD as a result of her traumatic past.
The ruling has also been welcomed by her British husband Barry Johnson, who faced a forced move to Nigeria to remain with his wife even though he has never set foot in the country and it was unclear whether he could legally remain there.
Barry, 71, told HuffPost UK: “Mary should have been given asylum in the first place as a victim of trafficking and particularly as the victim of trafficking within the UK.
“It’s complicated to look at reasons why victims struggle to get out of that situation, but one of them is the fact that the Home Office then prefers to treat them as an illegal immigrant rather than as a victim of trafficking.”
The couple, who met singing in the Manchester Community Choir, went public with Mary’s story, telling HuffPost UK they felt forced to speak out after being denied a right of appeal by the Home Office.
The department argued this was justified because an appeal on a previous asylum case lodged by Adenugba Johnson had been refused.
But the Johnsons’ lawyers said the Nigerian’s circumstances had changed significantly since her previous asylum case and the new application as the wife of a UK national had never been subject to appeal.
Mary told HuffPost UK after 14 years living in the UK, this country feels like her home. She also fears she would be at risk of harm from traffickers if she is returned to Nigeria.
At the time she was tricked into coming to the UK in 2004, Adenugba Johnson was destitute, homeless and vulnerable. Her mother, two sisters and her daughter had been killed in an explosion in Lagos and her father accused her of witchcraft and blamed her for the deaths.
Exposed and alone, she fell into the hands of traffickers and once in the UK endured three years of enforced prostitution before escaping.
Revealing harrowing details of her past, she said: “I was brought in by a generous man named Uncle Kay but I did not know that he was just going to take me to be used as a harlot. So that is how I was put in that situation.”
Her 71-year-old husband also argued his human rights were being infringed as he was effectively being forced from his own country by the Home Office’s ruling.
Shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan MP backed the couple and called for the Home Office to review the “cruel and inhumane” decision, accusing the department of a continuing “hostile environment” policy on immigration.
“I am very happy that Mary will be allowed to stay in the UK with her husband, but she should never have been put through this ordeal in the first place,” said the shadow minister, who is also the couple’s constituency MP in Manchester Gorton.
“It is utterly unacceptable that the government only responded when Mary’s case got media attention. This is part of a clear pattern of high profile cases getting a swift resolution, while the government sweep widespread injustices under the carpet.
“As Windrush demonstrated, Theresa May’s cruel hostile environment is punishing people who clearly should have the right to be in the UK. It must be urgently repealed.”
When HuffPost UK first asked the Home Office about the Adenugba Johnson ruling, the department said it did not routinely comment on individual cases.
But after repeated requests for a fuller response, the Home Office eventually told HuffPost UK it was reviewing the case and was in contact with her legal representatives.
Soon after the Johnson’s received the news from their solicitor that the victim of trafficking had been granted leave to remain.
Solicitor Natasha Willett, of Latitude Law, who has represented the couple, said she is seeing an increasing number of cases in which the Home Office refuses rights of appeal in asylum proceedings.
The Johnsons have called for an explanation as to why the ruling was reversed, warning that not everyone in similar circumstances would be in a position to go to the media or seek publicity for their case.
“What made the Home Office change their mind?” Barry said. “I think it is most likely because of HuffPost’s intervention. It is important to me to be as clear as possible about that because it’s important for other people to be able to learn from what happened.”
He continued: “There was a lot of luck in our case and without that I think Mary would be in Nigeria now and I would be faced with moving to Nigeria. I’d like to know how many people in my position have ended up having to move abroad or have just lost their wife as a result.
″What about all the other people who don’t have luck, who don’t already have a solicitor, who don’t have the money to pay for solicitors. That’s why it’s not the end of the story for me because we have to change the Home Office’s whole policy.”
When contacted by HuffPost UK about the new ruling, a Home Office spokesman said: “The UK Visa and Immigration service successfully processes millions of visa applications each year and is dedicated to providing excellent customer service.
“If evidence about a case comes to light then it will be considered by caseworkers but solely because a case is covered in the media does not mean it will receive a favourable decision.”
The Home Office says home secretary Sajid Javid has been clear from his first day in office that the immigration system must operate in a “fair and humane” way.