A father-of-four who was nearly deported because he didn’t look like his passport photo has thanked friends and family in Eastbourne after his release on Thursday (September 17).
Atterbell Maplanka, 36, from Eastbourne, was detained by the UK Border Force at Heathrow Airport on September 9 while returning from his mother’s funeral in Zimbabwe.
Officials said they did not believe he was the same man as in his passport photo after he had gained nine stone since the photo was taken in 1999.
Mr Maplanka, who works as a housing support officer in Bexhill, was then held in a detention centre and threatened with deportation on two occasions by the Home Office before he was released.
He said, “I’m very happy to be home but its been hard. I still break down in tears every now and then. My daughter was in twice last night just to check I was still here.
“They call it a detention centre but it’s a prison, there is no doubt about that. In many ways you would be better off as a prisoner as you know what you’ve done and how long you are in for. I had no idea what I had done or how long I would be there for.
“You think you are going to be in with hardened criminals but they are nothing like that. My room-mate, an Indian man, was very upset and confused. I had to try to calm him down. I think he had just been married.
“In this country we treat people as innocent until they are proven guilty. It’s true for murderers, rapists and terrorists but not migrants. If they think you are a migrant then you are guilty until you prove otherwise.
“I was OK because I could hire my solicitors and take it to judicial review but its scary to think about how many other people must have been a victim of this.
“I was detained on the ninth and they were already trying to deport me by the 10th. They had booked the ticket, all without calling anyone to check who I am.
“At the end they just opened the gate and said I could go. They didn’t even apologise.”
He was finally released after an intervention by Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell.
She met Mr Maplanka by chance after running into him in an Eastbourne shop on Saturday (September 19).
She said, “He gave me a big hug and said how grateful he was that he was now free and back with his family,
“It was a really super end to the story and it was great I could help. I managed to track down the Minister for Security and Immigration James Brokenshire and got him to put Atterbell under his direct authority.
“Pretty soon afterwards, after a few chase up calls, common sense prevailed and he was released.”
Mr Maplanka, who has been living in the UK for nearly 15 years, had been granted permanent leave to stay in 2003.
He now lives in Eastbourne with his wife Bibian and two of his children, aged six and 14.
He said, “In a way something like this shows you who your friends are. I was surprised, very pleasantly surprised, to find out how many people had been involved in trying to help me.
“I’ve lived and worked in Eastbourne for a long time and I’m very grateful to the friends I’ve acculmated in that time.”
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