Runners’ plea: Don’t send our Seyfu back to danger zone

He fled a brutal conflict in Ethiopia and is a victim of trafficking

Thursday, 23rd December 2021 — By Anna Lamche

Seyfu-Jamaal-2019-winner-LLHM

Seyfu Jamaal faces the threat of deportation

A TALENTED young runner who fled a brutal conflict in Ethiopia has been told by the Home Office he must leave the UK.

Seyfu Jamaal, 21, came here four years ago as a victim of human trafficking, after ­witnessing the unimaginable horror of a civil war – and now dreams of competing for Team GB.

But his friends have been shocked to learn that his application for asylum has been rejected.

He is one of the most promising athletes at the Heathside club, and fellow runners are now joining appeals for him to be allowed to stay.

Mr Jamaal said this week he had traumatic memories and is currently in the process of appealing the decision.

“I witnessed people being murdered in the desert so that the traffickers could assert their authority. To scare you into submission they beat you and ransom you, buy you and sell you,” Mr Jamaal said.

As recently as November, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency and the UK Foreign Office issued severe warnings against visiting the country.

To reach the UK in 2017, Mr Jamaal travelled for more than a year, passing through Sudan and Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. In the process, he has been recognised as a victim of human trafficking.

Mr Jamaal had no friends or family when he arrived in the UK and spoke very little English. Still a child, he slept rough in the streets until he was referred to The Running Charity, an organisation working with refugees.

The charity encouraged Mr Jamaal to join Heathside, which he said had been a life-changing decision.

“Running removes my stress, my mental problems, I forget, it’s my remedy. When I run I am healthy, I am happy,” said Mr Jamaal.

“There are times you remember the problems, the journey, the traffickers but I feel safe in England. I have never felt unsafe when I have been here.”

Mr Jamaal’s first road race was the Oxford Half Marathon. Up against 10,000 people, he started at the back with the fun runners but ended up coming second.

Next, he won the London Landmarks Half Marathon, beating 14,000 people. He regularly participates in the Highbury Fields park run and continues to compete at elite level with The Running Charity. Surrounded by north London’s running community, Mr Jamaal said he is rooted in the UK. “I am in the place I need to be. I want to follow my dreams. I want to be an international runner,” he added. “I love my nation Ethiopia but I want to run for GB. England has given me so much, it’s my home, my country and I want to run for my country.”

Jacob Howe, Mr Jamaal’s long-distance coach at Heathside, said: “We’re feeling pretty shocked and upset on his part. Clearly, he has come to the UK in difficult ­circumstances, and he doesn’t seem in any position to be going back. We’ll all be very supportive of his asylum claim.”

Alex Eagle, chief executive of The Running Charity, said: “Seyfu’s built up such a strong community and family around him in the UK.

“All younger runners model his behaviour. He is an exceptional runner – he’s so fast he will just disappear, he’ll pelt off. His ability aside – that shouldn’t be the factor of the decision – he’s a young man and he’s built up a huge network around him.”

A petition to stop Mr Jamaal’s deportation has amassed more than 7,500 signatures and will be put before the Immigration Judge presiding over his appeal.

A Home Office spokesperson did not comment on Mr Jamaal’s individual case.

“Human trafficking has absolutely no place in our society and we are committed to tackling these heinous crimes, whilst ensuring victims are protected and receive the support they need through our National Referral Mechanism,” they said.

“The Nationality and Borders Bill will go further than ever before in putting modern slavery victims’ rights into law. For example, victims may be granted temporary leave to remain in the UK so they can recover from their ordeal and help the authorities with criminal prosecutions.

“It will also reduce the risk of our generous safeguards being misused, ensuring that valuable resources go towards genuine victims.”

Their statement added: “The New Plan for Immigration  will seek to introduce a new and expanded ‘one-stop’ process to ensure that asylum, human rights claims, and any other protection matters are considered at the earliest opportunity, and this will be supported by an enhanced legal aid offer.”

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