Opelo Kgari: The Christian woman facing deportation after living the UK half her life

Opelo Kgari was on her way to yoga with friends when she was suddenly taken to Yarl's Wood detention centre and threatened with deportation without warning.

She came to the UK aged 13 with her mother, who was a victim of torture in their home country of Botswana. She went through the British schooling system in Stoke-on-Trent before applying the University of the West of England.

Now aged 27, Kgari has been in the UK 14 years. But for the last 12 weeks she has been in Yarl's Wood detention centre, struggling to prove her right to stay in Britain. Although not a prison, the facility acts very much like one, holding up to 400 residents while their immigration claims are considered. 

With her fate in the hands of unnamed and unseen Home Office officials, it is easy to imagine the effect her unexpected confinement is having on both her and her mother, who is also fighting deportation.

'It is taking its toll,' she tells Christian Today.

TwitterOpelo Kgari is a member of Swan Bank Methodist Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

'Everyone is in despair because of how the Home Office deals with their situation. It seems like they really don't care. That is the general feeling when you walk around here,' she says, speaking from inside Yarl's Wood.

'There is always a glimmer of hope that things will turn around things will get better.'

But so far they have not and Kgari has now been held in detention for longer than the proposed legal limit of 28 days.

'When you think about the fact that there is something out there stuck in an office who has never met you and will never meet you, and they are the one dealing with me then you think "Oh..."'

It is that thought that drove Kgari along with more than 100 other women in Yarls Wood to go on hunger strike protesting at the 'inhumane' conditions. They called on the Home Office to end its 'offensive' practices which they said leave people 'breaking down psychologically' after being detained for immigration reasons.

'I just want to go back to my friends and community,' she tells Christian Today.

Neither Opelo nor her mother Florence were given any indication they were about to be detained, she said. After living in the UK for more than half Opelo's life, they were forced to prove their right to remain. This involved regular check-ups with the Home Office to prove, as Opelo put it, they wouldn't 'do a runner'. It was on one of these visits, en route to the gym with friends, that she was suddenly taken.

Both mother and daughter have received vocal support from their local church, Swan Bank Methodist, in Stoke-on-Trent, and also from local Anglican clergy.

The bishop of Lichfield, Michael Ipgrave, was joined by the bishop of Croyden, Jonathon Clark, as well as Ali Johnson, associate pastor at Swan Bank and Paul Parker of Quakers in Britain, in condemning their detention as an 'injustice'.

'We hope that immigration minister Caroline Nokes will intervene in the case of Opelo and Florence Kgari – a mother and daughter who have lived in the UK 14 years, since Opelo was just 13,' they wrote in a letter to the Guardian. 'A decision to allow them to stay would be a step towards a more humane immigration system based on our shared Christian values of fairness and decency.'

On top of this nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for their release.

Change.comOpelo Kgari has lived in the UK for more than half of her life.

Kgari said it was a source of strength for both of them that so many people they didn't know were supporting them.

'It just amazes me that we are not alone in this. It gives me great hope that hopefully good will come.'

However despite the support, earlier this month Opelo was suddenly put in a van and driven to Heathrow airport to be put on a flight back to Botswana. With hours to spare her deportation was halted. It is thought the U-turn only came after a personal intervention by immigration minister Caroline Nokes, after she was contacted by Ruth Smeeth, Opelo's local MP in Stoke-on-Trent.

'It seems the Home Office don't seem to know what they are doing,' Opelo tells Christian Today.

'They seem to be doing everything they can to make the numbers and get rid of as many people as possible,' she adds. 'But we are more than a statistic they have to deal with. There is a face behind each file and a person and a life that means something to someone.

'I often wonder where the humanity is.' 

Opelo's fate still hangs in the balance with the Home Office saying she did not need the UK's psherotection. Although a court has issued a last-minute injunction preventing her immediate deportation, if overruled  could still be deported. 

Lifestyle