A British university student has been stuck in Kenya since September and has been unable to return home because British officials have refused to give him emergency travel documents.
Born in the UK and raised in London, Michael Omidire has had to miss a full semester of university as a result of his protracted struggle to get the paperwork to allow him to travel back to the UK. He was unable to celebrate his 21st birthday with his family in London earlier this month and is unlikely to be able to return to the UK in time for Christmas.
Omidire, who has no connection to Kenya, had traveled there with school friends for a week’s holiday before starting his university semester in Cardiff, where he is a second year economics and Italian student. He traveled out with his Ghanaian passport. When he tried to check in for his flight home, airline staff told him that this was insufficient documentation to allow him on the flight back to Britain.
He assumed he could solve his problems relatively quickly by contacting British consular officials, but three months later he remains in limbo in Kenya, unsure of when he will be able to return home.
“I was born in Britain, went to school in Britain. I am British. It feels like a good idea – I should be helped to get home,” he said by phone from Nairobi. “This is my first time traveling to Africa. It’s been a huge ordeal. I feel I have been treated more like a foreigner than a British citizen.”
Omidire now understands that he made a mistake by traveling without applying for a British passport (although he had previously traveled with his Ghanaian passport when he went to Austria on a school trip), but is appalled at the length of time it has taken to untangle the situation. He is in the process of applying for a UK passport from Kenya but 11 weeks after submitting the application he has been told that his forms are still being checked.
When he contacted the emergency travel documentation team, he was told they couldn’t help. “This comes as disappointing news, but your situation does not meet our exceptional circumstances,” an official from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s document policy team said in an email.
Omidire was born in 2001 in Milton Keynes to a Ghanaian mother and a Nigerian father. As neither of his parents were British citizens, he had to go through the naturalization process to acquire citizenship. He was naturalized and attended his citizenship ceremony this summer. His family had been unable to pay the costs of his naturalization process (currently £1,300) until this year.
Although he has a Ghanaian passport, a digital copy of his open-ended certificate and a copy of his naturalization papers, airline officials told him they risk being fined if they let him on board.
“My assumption was that I could travel on the Ghanaian document. I made a mistake, but I thought it could be fixed quickly. I’m not sure I’ll be able to come back this year,” he said. During the months he spent in Kenya, various British officials gave him conflicting advice, suggesting in different ways that he should apply for a UK visa. apply, apply for a right of abode in the UK, apply for a passport as an overseas Kenyan resident, or apply as a British citizen.
He has spent more than £1,000 on telephone calls to the UK visa and immigration offices, passport office and consular services to resolve his situation.
“The main thing I’ve come to understand is that most people who are supposed to help don’t really care. This could have been resolved in a few weeks,” he said. He said there was an official in the passport office who had been very sympathetic and promised to contact him once the document is approved and sent for printing.
Immigration lawyer Colin Yeo said: “[Omidire] made a mistake, but I have no doubt that if he were a white British citizen stranded abroad without a passport, officials would have resolved his situation by now.”
Omidire has managed to keep up with most of his course in Cardiff by studying remotely from a school friend’s grandparents’ house, but faces immigration fines in Kenya for overstaying his visa for a month. “I’ve never had so many problems. It’s amazing that I can’t go back home.”
A government spokesman said: “Published guidance is clear that applications for a first UK passport from abroad will take longer. All UK citizens wishing to travel to the UK must hold a UK passport or a certificate of entitlement in their foreign passport to prove their right of abode in the UK.”