Watford footballer Al Bangura has been granted a last-minute reprieve from deportation to Sierra Leone after immigration minister Liam Byrne ordered an independent panel to consider his case for a work permit.
Bangura was granted asylum from war-torn Sierra Leone four years ago when he was 15 – but the Home Office initially insisted his right to remain here expired when he turned 18.
However, pressure from 4,000 signatures to a petition including football fans from across the UK as well as local Labour MP Claire Ward persuaded Byrne to offer Bangura another chance.
Work permits are usually granted to players who have completed a number of matches for national sides ranked in the top 70 by football’s governing body FIFA. Sierra Leone is at number 156, and Bangura has yet to be capped for his country.
However, he claims he could face assassination if he returns to his homeland after he refused to succeed his late father as the head of the Soko tribe. Immigration officials believed the claims are exaggerated.
But Ward said: “We’ve won a concession from the Home Office that Watford Football Club will apply for a work permit as an exceptional case, without Al having to leave the UK.
“This work permit process will be subject to an independent panel because Al currently doesn’t qualify for a work permit through conventional channels. Byrne has offered us this exceptional opportunity, which has created another avenue for Al to remain here with us.”