Wednesday, 16 January 2013

18 Year-Old African Swimmer Seeks Asylum in UK after Fleeing Olympic Village to Escape Arranged Marriage to 60 Year-Old Man in Comoros

An 18 year-old African swimmer has applied for asylum in the UK after fleeing the Olympic village during the London 2012 Olympic games to escape an arranged marriage. Ayouba-Ali Sihame, 18, represented the tiny African island nation of Comoros during the London Games and said she fled the athlete's village in London to avoid being wed to a twice-married 60-year-old man.

According to a report by Daily Mail, her mother told her she was being sold and must give up her sporting career just days before she flew to London.

Sihame, who has also represented her country at volleyball, walked out of the Olympic Park after failing to qualify for the 100 metre freestyle semi-finals and coming 48th overall. She spent weeks living rough in the capital before travelling to Dover and attempting to hitch a lift and cross the Channel with a fake French passport. But she was caught by French border control officers and faces being transferred to an immigration centre pending deportation within a fortnight after completing half an eight month prison sentence.

According to her solicitor, Andrew Gurney, Sihame did not realise she was entitled to apply for asylum as soon as she entered Britain. He said she was regularly beaten in her home country and expressed fears that she might be killed if she returns to Comoros.

"Comoros is a strict Muslim country. Ayouba-Ali was beaten from time to time. Ayouba-Ali was allowed to practice swimming, but she had to wear a full swimming costume and always be supervised by her brother. She had gained celebrity status in Comoros – she was one of just seven athletes to come over for London 2012. Her high profile meant her parents could get a higher price for her in marriage. She was told if she did not take part in the marriage there would be violence or death. And she was told that she would have to give up her swimming career when she was married.

"She could not confide in anyone about what was happening, but she managed to speak to a friend and get false French documents. Since the Olympics she has spoken to her brother. He has told Ayouba-Ali that if she returns to Comoros she will be killed because of the shame she has brought on the family. We deal with this sort of offence all the time, but I have never dealt with a case like Ayouba-Ali 's."

Sihame was jailed at Canterbury Crown Court earlier this week after admitting using a false immigration document. She has applied for asylum from her cell but was warned she could be deported within weeks. The court was told that had the athlete applied for asylum in the first place she would have probably been granted leave to stay because of the persecution she faces at home.

Foreign nationals can be granted asylum in Britain only if they can prove that they have a 'well-founded fear of persecution'. Asylum can also be granted under the European Convention on Human Rights if a foreign national can prove there is a 'real risk' they face torture or other inhumane treatment.

The UK Border Agency website states: 'If you do not qualify for asylum but we think there are humanitarian or other reasons why we should allow you to stay in the UK, we may give you temporary permission to stay here.'

Comoros, which is situated between Mozambique and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, has a hard-line Muslim population of around 754,000. The country, which is among the poorest in Africa, is heavily dependent on foreign aid and allows multiple marriages.

We wish Sihame well and pray everything turns out fine for her.

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