A refugee who has been forced to live a hand-to-mouth existence since fleeing to Britain in the 1990s is to apply to fight for what he regards as his country by joining the Territorial Army.
Ikenna Ezegbe-Akpunonu, known to his mates at the Old Mid-Whitgiftian rugby club at Sanderstead as Ikay, was recently granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK until January 2015. It ended a two-year wait for an official decision which, had it gone the other way, would have seen the 35-year-old facing deportation to Nigeria.
Now, he is able to find regular work, possibly in IT, and to fulfil one of his lifetime ambitions – to sign up for the British armed forces. He says that he feels “more British than some British people”.
A lack of status had previously stopped Ezegbe-Akpunonu from signing up to serve in the Royal Navy.
Likely to be as fearsome a force on the battlefield as he as a lock forward on the rugby field with Old Midwives, when Ezegbe-Akpunonu lost his right to work in the UK he became dependent on his friends from the rugby club, who took him in and provided him with food and shelter.
His rugby team mates’ support only increased when Ezegbe-Akpunonu was told by an immigration judge that had he not played by the rules he would have found it find it easier to secure residency in the UK. Only his friends’ intercession saved him for deportation, with just hours to spare.
“I don’t know how to re-pay these people,” Ezegbe-Akpunonu said.
It does seem that some people at the rugby club have a few ideas… Russ Jones at Old Mid Whitgiftians says that, “Ikay has continued to play an active role in the rugby club and is waiting to do a referee and coaching course, as he wants to give something back to the community and club through being more involved with the juniors.”
Jones thanked club members for all the support given to Ezegbe-Akpunonu. “From the letters you have written to your MPs, to the day you all turned up at the club to show support when Andrew Pelling (the then MP for Croydon) came up to find out about the case, to the donations some of you put in for Ikay’s legal funds, to even providing Ikay with a roof over his head when he lost his permit to work…
“It has all made a difference and it has made me proud to be associated to this great club surrounded by so many great people.”
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