Ayorkor Botchwey explains why Ghanaian Blind PHD student sacked from Debate in UK

The Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Minister Hon Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey on Wednesday July 22, 2020 appeared before parliament to respond to two questions from the Minority.

The first question was about Mr Ebenezer Azamati, Ghanaian blind PHD student who was expelled from Oxford University debating Chamber in United Kingdom which was raised by Mr. Rickson -Nelson Etse Kwame Dafeamepor MP of South Dayi constituency.

The second question also was asked by the MP for North Tongu, Hon Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa concerning lifting of Visa restrictions and number of Ghanaians to be evacuated from United State of America.

Find the full response from Hon. Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey
Mr. Speaker,
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this question from the Honourable Member.

To begin with, I wish to inform this august House that the unfortunate incident involving Mr. Ebenezer Azamati occurred on 17th October, 2019 at the University of Oxford – St. John’s College during a debate about “whether it was right to feel confident in the UK Government”.

Mr. Ebenezer Azamati is a Ghanaian PhD student, studying International Relations at Oxford University.

Concerned that there was no special provision for disabled persons at the event, Mr. Azamati arrived early at the venue of the debate that fateful day to enable him reserve an accessible seat, following which he left to eat dinner at his college.

Upon return and before the start of the debate, however, Mr. Azamati was refused entry, but eventually gained access after a friend had accompanied him. Shortly after, security officials appeared and manhandled him out of the building. His Union membership card was also confiscated and he was expelled from the Union.

Following the incident the Union’s President, Mr. Brenden McGrath called a Disciplinary Committee meeting where he alleged that Mr. Azamati had behaved violently by thrusting an arm out and used aggressive hand gestures while being removed from his seat.
Subsequently, the Oxford Union African Society launched a petition calling for the resignation of Mr. Brendan McGrath after the latter personally lodged a complaint against Mr. Azamati for violent behavior. The petition requested the following:

An “unreserved apology to Mr. Azamati from both the Union and its President, Mr. McGrath;
The cancellation of Mr. Azamati’s ban and reinstatement of his Union membership;
“Adequate” punishment of the security personnel who assaulted Mr. Azamati; and
Compensation for Mr. Azamati.

Consequently, the Union and its President, Mr. McGrath formally withdrew the charge of violent misconduct against Mr. Azamati and apologized “unreservedly” for the distress and embarrassment caused him. Mr. McGrath also apologized to the African Society for the distress and any reputational damage to Mr. Azamati and eventually resigned as President of the Union.

Following the incident, the Oxford Union indicated it would undertake a “review of all practices, policies and structures”. The Union has since passed a motion for all staff and committee members to “receive mandatory disability, race awareness, and implicit bias training”. Acting President of the Union, Ms. Sara Dube, carried through the Union’s pledge to undertake a “comprehensive review of all practices, policies and structures, followed by the passage of a new disability policy, after consultation.

Mr. Speaker,
I will now proceed to inform the House about steps taken by the Ghana High Commission in the United Kingdom on the incident.

The attention of the Ghana High Commission in the UK was drawn to the incident through a media reportage on 17th November, 2019. The High Commission immediately launched into action with an effort to reach out to Mr. Azamati through the Ghanaian Students Society Representative. Unfortunately, the Mission’s effort proved difficult as our compatriot did not respond to calls or messages. The Mission’s enquiry into why the Ghanaian Society failed to report the incident which occurred on 17th October, 2019 revealed that the Ghanaian Society was also unaware of the incident until 26th October, 2019. This was after a publication in November 2019 indicated that Mr. Azamati had been too traumatized to speak about the issue earlier.
The Mission, in a bid to understand what led to the incident proceeded to send emails to the under-listed persons informing them of the Mission’s preparedness to travel to Oxford for a meeting on the matter:

Helen Mountfied, QC : Lawyer for Mr. Azamati;
Oxford Union Society;
Vice Chancellor of Oxford University;
President of St. John’s College – where Mr. Azamati was enrolled;
Prof. Wale Adebanwi, Patron of the African Society.

Mr. Azamati and his lawyer in their response to the Mission advised of their preference not to comment at the time as the matter was a legal case. They were also not in a position to meet with officials of the Mission over the matter.

In a telephone call to the Mission, the Vice Chancellor’s Office through the Public Affairs Directorate mentioned that the Oxford Union Society was a private club and not a part of the University, and that even though they condemned the actions of security officers of the Oxford Union Society over the maltreatment of Mr. Azamati, it was not in a position to meet with the Mission.

The Oxford Union Society in their response to the Mission’s invitation for a meeting apologized unreservedly for the distress caused Mr. Azamati. They informed the Mission that discussions with Mr. Azamati were ongoing to pursue an amicable solution to the matter and, hence, could not meet officials of the Mission which they believed could prejudice discussions.

After all attempts to meet with relevant officials of the University and Mr. Azamati himself over the incident had failed, and in view of the legal turn the matter had assumed, the Mission proceeded to issue a Press Release in which it condemned in no uncertain terms, the mistreatment of Mr. Azamati by the security officials, especially when they knew that he was visually impaired. The Press Release also called on educational institutions and affiliated organisations in the UK to treat Ghanaian students with utmost respect and dignity.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you.

QUESTION 2:

Mr. Speaker,
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this question from the Honourable Member.

Mr. Speaker,
It will be recalled that on 1st February, 2019 the U.S Ambassador to Ghana, Her Excellency Stephanie Sullivan announced that on the advice of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State and pursuant to section 243 (d) of the U.S Immigration and Nationality Act, visa restrictions had been instituted on some categories of Ghanaians effective 4th February, 2019 on the basis of claims that Ghana was unreasonably delaying the return of its nationals ordered to be removed from the United States of America.

Specifically, the restrictions involved the suspension of the issuance of A3 and G5 visas for domestic staff of Ghanaian Diplomats and limited validity of B1/B2 visas issued to Ghanaian officials of the Executive and Legislative branches and all officials on government payroll as well as their spouses and children under 21 years of age.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration initiated discussions with American officials for an immediate resolution of the matter.

To this end, I undertook an official visit to meet with the Under Secretary General for Political Affairs and other officials of the US State Department, as well as officials of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

During the meeting, I proposed the following as a roadmap for the consideration of the US authorities to resolve all issues related to Ghanaians cited for deportation to Ghana:

Group Interviews of the identification/verification process and use of phone interviews where physical interviews would be difficult due to distance and cost of travel;
Agreed timelines of seven (7) to ten (10) days for the issuance of the Travelling Documents after a positive identification;
Designation of Liaison Officers on both sides;
Designated communication channels;
Feedback on requests that cannot be determined within the agreed timelines;
Structured process to facilitate collaboration on both sides; and
Periodic review and regular consultations between both sides.

The proposed roadmap was acceptable to the US side, and it was decided that both sides hold further consultations in a manner that was mutually beneficial to both countries.

Meetings were also held with the Assistant Secretary of State of the United States in June 2019, following which the two sides agreed to resolve all outstanding issues by instituting the following:

Nomination of Focal Persons to bridge the communication gap as that was highlighted as a challenge between the two sides during my meeting with US authorities in Washington DC on 2nd April, 2019;

The US side informed the meeting that they had considered the proposal by Ghana on conducting the interviews on weekly basis for persons in detention and others;

Both sides agreed on a six (6)-month validity of Travel Certificate since the three (3)-month Travel Certificate affected the period required for preparation towards their removal;

Agreement to continue the phone interviews already in existence;

Establishment of regular consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration and the US Embassy in Accra and to designate Focal Persons for regular interactions and updates to resolve all outstanding matters; and

The submission of outstanding list of persons to be deported by the US.

Mr. Speaker,
The Ministry continued to hold regular consultations with officials of the Consular Section of the US Embassy in Accra as well as between the Liaison Officer and the Focal Person at the Ghana Mission in Washington. A total of five meetings were held between May and December, 2019 till the lifting of the sanctions on 16th January, 2020.
Mr. Speaker,
I will now proceed to provide information on Ghanaians that have been deported so far.

Mr. Speaker,
During the period of the sanctions, 125 Ghanaians who had been ordered to be removed from the United States were deported. Currently, interviews for persons cited for deportation are ongoing as agreed between the two sides. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issuance of Emergency Travel Certificates to facilitate their removal have been deferred until borders are re-opened.

It should be noted that both sides put in place modalities intended to facilitate and ensure that a procedure was followed in the identification and issuance of the appropriate travel documents in accordance with Ghana’s obligations under international protocols. It is important to state that whenever there was the need for specific interventions on humanitarian grounds, health or family, that was done by engaging the relevant US authorities.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your attention.