Pius Fadoyin has been in the UK for 10 years, after coming here on a student visa but his son Enoch was born in England.
Enoch is receiving the highest level of support at his mainstream primary school in south London through a statement of special educational needs, while his head teacher has said in a letter supporting the family that it would cause Enoch “significant stress and anxiety” if he was to move school.
Their local health trust has recommended that Enoch has “close supervision at all times” because he has little awareness of danger, that he receives speech and language therapy, and has suggested that any change to his routine is likely to be “particularly stressful and upsetting”.
But despite Enoch’s support needs, his family – Pius, his pregnant wife Kemi, Enoch and his younger brother Elijah – have had their permission to stay in the UK refused and been told they must return to Nigeria.
Pius said that Enoch would face extreme levels of discrimination if he was forced to live in Nigeria, as people with autism are often treated as “outcasts”.
He said he had heard of several cases of children who had died after being poisoned, because it was believed they were possessed by evil spirits.
Earlier this year, a paediatrician at the National Hospital in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, told a Nigerian news agency that in some parts of Nigeria autism was blamed on witchcraft and the influence of “evil spirits”.
Pius said he feared for his son’s life if the family were deported back to Nigeria.
But he has also told the government that returning to Nigeria would deprive Enoch of the support he is receiving in the UK.
He said: “Taking the child to my country would result in denying him the care, medical treatment and support he is getting from the UK government, as these are not available in my country.”
He also pointed to the “hostile political and social atmosphere” in Nigeria, with sectarian violence, kidnappings and even children being burned alive by religious extremists.
Because of the stigma Enoch would face in Nigeria as someone with autism, his father believes he would be more at risk than other children.
The family’s children’s services department in Southwark has written a letter in support of their application to remain in the UK, warning that Enoch “needs to be present in this country with his parents to be able to continue to get the support he needs that his parents and other professionals can give”.
A Home Office spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases, but added: “The Home Office only returns individuals if both we and the courts are satisfied they do not qualify for protection and have no legal basis to remain in the country.
“When someone is found not to have a right to be here, we expect them to leave voluntarily. If they fail to do so, we will seek to remove them.”
11 July 2013