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British boy stranded in Belgium returns home after Home Office grants emergency passport

The Independent logo The Independent 10/09/2018 May Bulman

A British-born boy who was blocked from returning to the UK after a holiday has arrived home after Britain agreed to grant him an emergency passport.

Six-year-old Mohamed Bangoura shared an emotional embrace with his mother on arriving at Manchester airport on Monday evening after being stranded in Brussels for more than two weeks. He had been prevented from boarding his initial flight under Home Office orders on 26 August.

The UK government came under pressure to resolve the issue after The Independent revealed the family’s plight last week. Following intervention by a number of politicians, immigration minister Caroline Nokes authorised the issue of emergency travel documents.

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On his arrival, Mohamed was greeted by his mother Hawa Keita, 29, along with his aunties and young cousins, who ran to embrace him when he walked through the arrivals gate.

Speaking to The Independent after her son had arrived, Ms Keita said: “I’m just happy to see my son again and that’s the most important thing for me.

“The last week has been very hard for me. We’ve been speaking on the phone every day.”

a group of people in a room © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Critics have branded the case “truly shocking” and said the act of blocking a UK-born child from returning home was “shameful” and “exactly one of the effects” of the government’s hostile environment policy.

Immigration lawyers said the case highlighted serious problems in UK nationality law.

After being blocked from boarding his flight, Mohamed had to stay with family friends in Brussels. His mother was unable to travel to see him because she doesn’t currently hold a passport.

Abdoul Diallo, a friend of Ms Keita with whom Mohamed had been staying with in Brussels, and who accompanied the child on the flight, told The Independent the process of trying to resolve the issue had been “frustrating” and “exhausting”.

Mr Diallo, who works as a political adviser for the EU, said: “We’ve been going from the police, to the embassy, to the Belgian home authorities responsible for children, to journalists.

Undated family handout photo of Mohamed Bangoura, a six-year-old boy who has returned to Britain after he was reportedly left "stateless and stuck" for two weeks in Belgium. © press association Undated family handout photo of Mohamed Bangoura, a six-year-old boy who has returned to Britain after he was reportedly left "stateless and stuck" for two weeks in Belgium.

“It’s been terrible, it’s been exhausting, it’s been frustrating. I never, ever, in my whole entire life, believed I would be encountered with such a situation. But I’m very glad that today that this boy has been able to be reunited with his mum.

“Some specialists were telling me that it might take more time and that Mohamed should even go to school in Belgium in the meantime.

“Whatever has happened has to be sorted out here in the UK. It was shocking for me that the government, based on fundamental principles of human rights and values, has committed such a massive mistake. But I’m also very glad that they corrected the mistake swiftly.”

Asked what the experience has been like for Mohamed, Mr Diallo said: “He’s been frustrated, especially when the kids in Brussels had to go back to school. He was alone. I was busy trying to sort things out so he had to stay with my mum who’s an elderly lady.

“He was always asking questions: why am I still here? Why am I not back in Sheffield? Why can’t I see my mum?

a close up of a boy and a girl posing for a photo: hawa-son.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited hawa-son.jpg

“I don’t wish any kid at all, on this planet, to go through what Mohamed has gone through.”

Ms Keita, who is of Guinean origin and lives in Sheffield, said last week that the situation had made her feel “dead inside”. She denied Home Office claims that she received a letter in March stating her son’s passport had been revoked.

The letter, which Ms Keita said she saw for the first time by email on 28 August, states that the child’s claim to British citizenship was no longer valid because it had “come to light” that the man she was married to at the time of his birth was not settled in Britain.

But Ms Keita said that this man was her Guinea-based ex-husband whom she was in the process of divorcing. She explained that she had moved to the UK and was living with another partner; a British man and the father of Mohamed.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder and MP Sir Ed Davey sent a letter to the home secretary last Wednesday calling on him to act urgently to bring the child home.

“We feel it is imperative to get this child on a flight back to Manchester right away. His immigration status should be sorted when he is on home soil with his mother Hawa,” the letter stated.

“The lost sleep, lawyers fees and shed tears over this don’t matter right now. All that matters is that we get a frightened six-year-old back to his mother.”

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said it was “almost beyond belief” that the government would preside over a system which blocks a six-year-old born here from returning home.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “A letter was sent to Mohamed’s mother in March advising her that her son’s passport had been revoked.

“We understand that despite this Mohamed was taken out of the UK in July and last Sunday was unable to re-enter as he did not hold a valid passport.”

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