James Fallah Williams

James Fallah Williams, front right, with members of charity RAPAR, which is campaigning for his right to stay in the UK

Credit: BAC Photography
Journalist and human rights activist James Fallah Williams, who is fighting deportation from the UK to his home country of Sierra Leone, has ended a 19-day hunger strike after the UK border agency (UKBA) invited a submission from him regarding his case.

Williams went on strike earlier this month, in protest against the UK border agency's refusal to communicate with both his MP Andy Burnham and his lawyers.

But last week the UKBA invited a submission from Williams in relation to his case and acknowledged receipt of it on Friday morning, prompting him to end his hunger strike.

In a statement announcing the end of his protest, Williams said he had undertaken it "because of the UKBA's abject failure to engage in any legal means to resolve the matter that I was compelled to begin my hunger strike".

"I want to remind you again that the decision to first begin and then maintain this hunger strike for 19 days was taken by myself entirely, without any pressure whatsoever from any organisation or individual. Similarly then, my decision to end my hunger strike is made by my own free will and because I am satisfied that the demands that I set out the outset have been met.
 
"The submission of these documents is not the end of my story and I intend to continue my campaign until due consideration is given – and seen to be given – to my rights to private life and my rights to personal safety in the UK.
 
"I believe in democracy, just laws and human rights for all. As a journalist and human rights activist I believe in standing up for the truth and I will continue to do so wherever I am."

He told BBC Radio yesterday that he was "prepared to go as far as possible" in his protest.

"Oppression comes in different forms, and these forms are not only confined to autocratic countries, but also institutions within democracies ... I have worked in the UK for 13 years and paid my taxes, and people were shocked by the way I was treated by the UKBA."

He said he has now started his recovery after 19 days without food.

The UKBA's decision to review the case means that it will communicate with Williams' lawyers, who are being sponsored by the National Union of Journalists, and provide him with a caseworker.

The agency refused to comment of the facts of the case, but did issued the following statement: "Mr Fallah-Williams' application was carefully considered on its individual merits. Since the initial decision, he has submitted further evidence, which we are currently reviewing."

The agency is obliged to give a decision within 16 days of receiving the submission, but were unable to comment on whether this timetable would be adhered to in this case.

Fallah-Williams fled Sierra Leone in 1995, during its decade-long civil war, and headed to the Gambia with a church group. He left the Gambia for England in 1997, obtaining a student visa, and in 2008 applied for asylum.

No decision had been made over Williams' application by April 2010, when he took up a paid position with Manchester Refugee Support Network (MRSN) after being granted permission to work. But in October 2010 year the UKBA revoked that right. Nineteen days after that the agency informed him that he was unsuccessful in his asylum application and gave him 28 days to leave the country.

The UKBA decision stated that Williams had lived in the country for 12 days illegally, which he claims is incorrect.

NUJ legal officer Roy Mincoff, who has worked closely with Williams on his case, told Journalism.co.uk that the union was "hopeful but the UKBA will realise that it's earlier decision was flawed".

"He has been in the country for many years now, legitimately, and we think it would be quite wrong for him to be excluded now."

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said in a statement: "The NUJ continues to call on the government to urgently intervene in the case and allow James to remain in the UK.

"We are pleased that James can now recover from the hunger strike and carry on the fight to stay here."

Williams has been supported in his fight against deportation by hundreds of people in his Leigh constituency, with a petition for his right to remain in the UK gaining 300 signatures. Charity RAPAR has also launched an online petition, which currently has 485 signatures.

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