Family's UK asylum bid slammed

An attempt by a Malawian family to fight their deportation from the United Kingdom (UK) by claiming they faced human rights abuses back home is hurting the prospects of genuine asylum seekers, say local activists.

The Kachepa family was set to be deported on Thursday, after British immigration officials rejected their claim that they faced persecution should they return to Malawi.

The family's official campaign website outlined the history of their case.

"Verah Kachepa's husband entered the UK legally, with a permit to work as a pharmacist. Finding himself in difficulties he instructed Verah to sell everything in Malawi and, together with the children, come to support him in the UK. Verah and her family arrived to be confronted with the debts that Mr Kachepa had incurred. The family took employment to clear the debts and continued to apply themselves, even after Mr Kachepa abandoned them on the pretext of taking a holiday, though [he] secretly returned to Malawi and entered into a relationship with a former mistress, who is a relative of one of Malawi's most powerful families," the site alleged.

"Even before the family left Malawi, Verah had been subject to violent abuse by her husband. On one occasion she fled to the police for protection, but they immediately returned her to her husband. Since the husband has returned to Malawi, Verah has received threats from him and the mistress's powerful family. Verah's family in Malawi have also been threatened, and one of her sisters and her brother have lost their jobs merely from enquiring what was happening to Verah when her husband abandoned the family in the UK in 2001," the site claimed.

As a result, the Kachepa family did not want to return to Malawi.

However, Malawi Human Rights Commission executive secretary Emiliana Tembo said "any state would really think twice before giving asylum" to the Kachepa family. "I doubt their allegations, I really doubt that they would face rights abuses in Malawi."

This week UK immigration officer Tony McNulty told Verah Kachepa and her four children, Natasha, 20; Alex, 17; Anthony, 16; and Upile, 11, that they had failed in their bid for asylum and would be deported on Thursday.

News reports said Natasha, the eldest child, was engaged to a British soldier, while her mother and siblings were occupied with social work, were studying, or had been offered employment in the UK.

Mrs Kachepa had been offered a job at 'Monkey World' in Dorset, while her son Alex was set to take up a position as a DJ in London.

The family has received widespread support for their campaign from the residents of Weymouth, where they had settled.

But Rafiq Hajat of the Blantyre-based Institute for Policy Interaction noted that "there's a danger that this kind of [tenuous claim] could jeopardise or prejudice genuine claims for asylum".

He added that if the Kachepa family faced any abuse, "it would be at a social and community level; it would not be at an official level". This could include being ostracised by the community, rather than having their rights abused by people in power.

"You cannot equate this kind of scenario with the one of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn [the Nobel laureate imprisoned in Soviet Russia], which was a valid case. But at the same time ... it's important to take a holistic picture - asylum and rights abuse are not one-size-fits-all," Hajat observed.

Tembo described the Kachepa family case as "unfortunate".

"The authorities in Britain must continue to evaluate asylum requests on a case-by-case basis and should not generalise because of this case," she said. "There are genuine asylum seekers as well as bogus ones."