Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 15:36 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 16:36 UK
A Degree of satisfaction

Kurt Barling
By Kurt Barling
Special correspondent
BBC London

Tunde Jaji with Lynne Awbery
Lynne Awbery came to Tunde's rescue

Three years ago Kurt Barling broke the story of a teenager who had been trafficked into Britain to be used as a domestic servant. Now he reports on a dramatic turn of self-made good fortune.

London continues to be a magnet for unaccompanied minors and child traffickers. No-one is clear of the numbers involved but many of these children end up being abused and sexually exploited.

In 20 years of practising my trade as a journalist only a few stories have given me as much satisfaction as a couple of moments in Wimborne Minister last week.

Those moments captured all that is possible in achieving just outcomes when someone has been wronged. They demonstrated that flexible responses from public institutions can stir opportunity and enterprise. They were moments when talent overcame adversity and turned hope into reality. But first let me take you back to where it all began.

Back story

In October 2006 I was approached by a dyslexia teacher, Lynne Awbery, who had herself been sought out by a former pupil. Tunde Jaji was 20. He had been a domestic servant from the age of 10 with a Nigerian family in the London Borough of Haringey.

For the best part of a decade, no-one outside the family who abused him knew of his circumstances. Despite attending Haringey schools for over 12 years no-one questioned the legitimacy of the relationship between Tunde and his carers.

Only when he reached 16 and became a cost to the family because they could no longer claim child benefits did things turn sour.

Threatened with being exposed by the family he lived with, presumably so he could be deported, his story become known to a few trusted friends.

No paperwork

His fundamental problem like many children who are trafficked was he had no paperwork which established his right to be in Britain; in fact he had very little paperwork establishing his true identity.

Read Kurt's earlier stories about Tunde Jaji

That's when Tunde turned to the one friendly face of authority he could remember. Lynne Awbery tried most avenues to help him, but found her path blocked, mostly by bureaucratic indifference, wherever she turned.

There was a very real possibility meanwhile, having passed his 18th birthday, that if Tunde was stopped by the police his status would be questioned and he could be deported back to Nigeria; a country he no longer knew. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds; it does happen.

Confirming his identity

We at BBC London set about trying to verify Tunde's claim that he had been in London for the fourteen year time period that is required for an illegal migrant to regularise their status. We also approached the Nigerian authorities to try and verify his identity.

Despite being at local schools for his entire childhood the local authority could not confirm his status from their written records. Officials got themselves in a bureaucratic muddle insisting they could not find documents dating back the fourteen years.

Even when the local primary school was approached they were distinctly unhelpful. Eventually under duress the school authorities were asked to look at the original hand written ledgers for primary school entries.

The trip to the primary school was a genuine trip down memory lane for him as several teachers recognised him. Tunde was not to be disappointed, and low and behold his name was in the book for September 1992. In late 2006 this proved he had been in the country long enough to apply to regularise his status.

Application to remain

Meanwhile, the Nigerian authorities were able to provide a genuine birth certificate to confirm who he was. It turns out his birthday was on a different day but in all other respects his identity was accurate.

Unfortunately he also discovered his mother had died when he was 18, despite being told she had died when he was a baby.

Armed with this documentation a lawyer prepared his papers and there was an agonising wait whilst the Home Office considered his application to remain in Britain.


Having overcome his severe dyslexia to reach university entrance it seemed as if Tunde would also have to forgo his place because his immigration status could not be confirmed.

The University authorities were extremely sympathetic to his case; they were also impressed with his artistic talent. The Institute of Arts at the University of Bournemouth agreed, in the exceptional circumstances, to allow Tunde to begin his degree in animation. They could see he had spent his entire primary and secondary education in London.

This was a welcome boost for Tunde. The cycle of disappointment and rejection suffered by many refugees can have a corrosive effect on their well-being; at that time Tunde had already started to retreat into his shell.

Ironically on his 21st birthday in 2007 Tunde received a welcome coming of age birthday present; confirmation that he could stay in Britain. He also completed his first year of university successfully.

By challenging the authorities to recognise the legitimacy of his claim of entitlement to stay in Britain, my job as a journalist had been done.


By challenging the authorities to recognise the legitimacy of his claim of entitlement to stay in Britain, my job as a journalist had been done
Kurt Barling

That brings us back to Wimborne Minster last week. The Minster has been a centre of pilgrimage for over 1300 years and is dedicated to St Cuthburga who founded a Benedictine Nunnery in Wimbourne in AD705.

Edward the Confessor founded a college of secular canons on the site. It gives a university graduation ceremony a certain aura and there can be no place more fitting to witness a triumph over adversity.

Amongst the several hundred graduates receiving their honours was Tunde Jaji. He received the news of his degree on his birthday (that's looking like his lucky day).

His Bachelor of Arts with Honours (Second Class, Upper Division) a testament to his talent and determination and the clear thinking of his University tutors and the guidance of those who supported him like Lynne Awbery.

Three years on, with the threat of deportation long gone and now a graduate Tunde can begin to play a full part in London life.

Changing of the guard
17 Jun 09 |  People & Places



Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific