By Ian Herbert The Independent: 17 September 2005
Like any father, Manuel Bravo wanted the best in life for his son and he left him in no doubt about how he might find it. "Be brave. Work hard. Do well at school," was the daily mantra as Antonio set off for West Leeds High School.
The last time Antonio, 13, heard these words, he and his father were confined in the Yarl's Wood detention centre for asylum-seekers in Bedfordshire. On Thursday, in despair at his imminent deportation and the expulsion of his son, Mr Bravo took his own life. It is believed he hanged himself while Antonio was present. It was an act that will no doubt haunt the rest of Antonio's life. But for Mr Bravo, hemmed in by Britain's asylum laws, it was a final, astonishing act of paternal love. If he had remained alive, his son would have been returned to Angola with him. Now that Mr Bravo is dead, Antonio at least will have a chance to achieve their joint dream of building a successful life in Britain.
Mr Bravo hanged himself on his 35th birthday, less than 24 hours after he was taken to Yarl's Wood with his son pending their deportation to Angola. The Home Office indicated yesterday that Antonio is now unlikely to be deported before his 18th birthday, so enabling him to complete his schooling in Britain. He will then be able to apply for asylum.
Mr Bravo's death highlights the desperation many feel as the Government pursues an increasingly stringent asylum policy. "When those are his last words to his child, it gives a sense that he might have planned things out that way," said Emma Ginn of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns.
Mr Bravo, pictured as a younger man on the front page, and his wife, Lydia, had high hopes that they and their two sons - Antonio and Mellyu - would be granted British citizenship when they fled the city of Bie in war-torn Angola four years ago.
Making his case for asylum, Mr Bravo said his father, Lucas, had been a leader of the Association of the Youth Democracy (AJDB), founded in 1998 to challenge President José Eduardo dos Santos's regime. Government warnings resulted first in the arrest of him and his father, then the murder of his parents in August 2001. He described leaving Bie disguised as a woman, meeting his wife and sons in Luanda and arriving at Heathrow in October 2001. He was moved to Leeds where he found support from the Rev Alistair Kaye, vicar of Christ Church in Armley.
Mr Kaye was present at Mr Bravo's asylum tribunal hearing in October 2002, at which the Angolan represented himself after his solicitor failed to turn up. "He was told he would get the result of his asylum application within a month but none showed, despite me writing to the Immigration Service," Mr Kaye said yesterday. "It was a deeply depressing period of limbo for him." Mr Kaye finally received a letter from the Home Office on Thursday morning. Twenty minutes after reading it he was told Mr Bravo had died.
Mr Bravo's fear of returning to Angola was heightened in October when his wife went back, taking Mellyu (now aged nine) with her to care for a niece who had been orphaned. She was arrested and jailed for two months. Mother and son are now refugees in another African country. She has been made aware of her husband's death.
Mr Bravo's progress in English was slow and he found British life harder to adjust to than his son. He craved the administration work he had trained for which would bring him an income, once asylum was secured.
He had been deeply upset by by a clash with youths after the July 7 bombings. "He stopped them abusing a woman wearing hijab and they followed him back to his house," said Mr Kaye.
The first sign that his time in Britain may be over came on Tuesday when two Immigration Service officials arrived to check on his presence in Armley. He contacted a solicitor's practice, which charged him £300, according to Mr Kaye, and was told to prepare for the worst.
At 6am on Wednesday, police called to remove him. His neighbours in Paisley Street say officers knocked for 20 minutes before breaking the door down and removing him and his son. They were to be sent back to Angola on Thursday. " The solicitors who had taken the £300 ... said they could not help as they had not undertaken a first interview with him," said Mr Kaye.
The vicar returned to Leeds last night after securing Antonio's return from foster parents with whom he had been placed in Bedfordshire.
"The knowledge that he can return to Leeds, a place where he felt at home, seems to have calmed him," said Mr Kaye, who accompanied the boy to the mortuary. "Manuel left a note, though I have not seen it. He felt an injustice had been done. He had received no result from his request for asylum. That means his removal to Yarl's Wood was illegal. He has been let down by the Home Office, the immigration authorities and the solicitors."
The Home Office said it would not comment on individual cases, but said the Prisons Ombudsman would investigate the death.