'Deportation would be like death sentence' - asylum seeker thanks Sheffielders fighting his corner

Pride Mbi Agbor
Pride Mbi Agbor
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An asylum seeker battling deportation to his native country, which he describes as a 'death sentence', has hailed the support of Sheffielders fighting his corner.

Pride Mbi Agbor was detained earlier this year and was hours away from being sent back to Cameroon, where his father was killed for his political beliefs and he believes a similar fate would await him as a member of the English-speaking opposition to the government there.

Sarah Eldridge, coordinator at City of Sanctuary Sheffield

Sarah Eldridge, coordinator at City of Sanctuary Sheffield

But the 33-year-old, who has called Sheffield home since 2013, earned a reprieve after the city rallied to his cause and more than 2,000 people wrote to the Home Office asking it to reconsider over fears for his safety.

Pride believes his case shows how sympathy for the plight of asylum seekers and refugees is growing in Sheffield, 10 years after it became the UK's original City of Sanctuary.

"Being sent back to Cameroon would be like a death sentence," he said.

"It's thanks to my MP Paul Blomfield and to the people of Sheffield, who wrote so many letters on my behalf, that I was released. I'm very grateful for their support.

"I think people are coming to realise the truth about asylum seekers. We're not lazy, we're just not allowed to work; and we're not here for the benefits, because we get only £35 a week."

The City of Sanctuary movement began life in Sheffield as an attempt to challenge public misconceptions about asylum seekers and refugees, who have often risked their lives fleeing war zones and persecution, and make the UK a more welcoming place for them.

A decade later, the country is home to more than 80 Cities of Sanctuary, and Sheffield is marking the anniversary during Refugee Week with the Migration Matters Festival, a week-long artistic celebration of the city's diversity, which is due to end tomorrow.

Sarah Eldridge, coordinator of City of Sanctuary Sheffield (COSS), believes hostility towards those seeking refuge here is gradually eroding.

A key part of that, she believes, has been talks by asylum seekers at schools across Sheffield, where she says students are often shocked by the realities of the hardships they have endured.

"Invariably when people meet asylum seekers face-to-face they empathise and want to do something to help," she said.

She believes a new welcome centre for asylum seekers and refugees due to open in Sheffield next month is proof of the growing solidarity with those seeking sanctuary here. It has been funded by public donations, with an appeal reaching its £70,000 target in one month.