Olympic swimmer who lived rough after Games to avoid African forced marriage could get asylum

January 15, 2013 | by | 0 Comments
Olympic swimmer Ayouba-Ali Sihame

Olympic swimmer Ayouba-Ali Sihame

A teenage Olympian who fled the London 2012 games and lived as an illegal immigrant to avoid being ‘sold’ into an arranged marriage in her home country has been jailed.

Swimmer Ayouba-Ali Sihame, 18, was one of only seven people to represent her country Comoros – the third smallest African island.

But after failing to progress beyond the heats of the women’s 100 metre freestyle she vanished from the Olympic village and lived rough on the streets of London.

A court heard Sihame had effectively been ‘sold’ her to a man 42-years her senior – who already has two wives – by her parents, who wanted to cash in on her celebrity status.

The swimmer, who also represents her tiny French-speaking Indian Ocean island in volleyball, claimed her only chance of freedom was to live rough.

She arranged a fake French passport in the name of Mouniate Mhoussini in preparation for a new life in Paris.

But her false documents were spotted by UK border officials as she tried to cross the channel to France and she was arrested.

Had the athlete applied for asylum through the usual channels she would likely have been granted leave to stay in Britain because of the persecution she claimed to face at home.

The London 2012 Olympic park with the athletes' accommodation in the background

The London 2012 Olympic park with the athletes’ accommodation in the background

But Sihame’s lawyer told the court she had not realised she was entitled to apply for asylum as soon as she entered the UK legally.

Sihame admitted trying to leave Britain using false documents at Canterbury Crown Court and was jailed for eight months.

Sentencing her on January 9, Judge Adele Williams told the sportswoman: “Identity theft in the world which we live now is a serious matter. That is why the courts in the UK take such a serious view of this offence.

“You will be jailed for eight months. You will serve at least half of this.”

Records show Sihame came last in the 100m freestyle heats on August 1 with a time of 1.14.40, more than 20 seconds behind the fastest competitor.

She spent weeks living rough in the capital before travelling to Dover and attempting to hitch a lift and cross the Channel with a fake French passport.

But she was caught by French border control officers who spotted that she was not a woman named Mouniate Mhoussini.

Sihame is currently being held in category A women’s prison HMP Bronzefield, in Surrey, where she has already served half her tariff.

Within less than a week she is expected to be transferred to an immigration detention centre where she will face deportation proceedings.

However, her lawyer yesterday (Weds) confirmed the Olympian had applied for asylum, claiming she now faces death for shaming her family.

Ian Foinette, prosecuting, told the court: “When examined it was realised it was what is colloquially called a lookalike – a document with a photograph which resembles the person with the document.

“She was arrested for trying to leave the UK, cautioned but gave no reply.

“Later on, during the course of her interview, she revealed she had been in the UK from Comoros, representing the country in the Olympics.

“She had then absconded from the Olympic village because she feared that if she were to return to her country she would be required to take part in an arranged marriage.”

Andrew Gurney, defending, told the court: “She had been told she had been in effect sold into an arranged marriage to a man 42 years her senior.

“She says she was told that if she didn’t take part in the marriage she would suffer serious harm.

“She comes from a very strict religious background and suffered regular beatings and she had every reason to believe that if she didn’t take part in that marriage she would suffer serious harm.”

Mr Foinette added that the swimmer claimed that her main concern was having to marry a man who is considerably older at the age of 60.

Sihame was stopped by French Border Control officers at Dover in Kent on October 5 last year after producing false identification documents as she tried to cross the channel.

The court heard Sihame had tried to hitch a lift in a car to cross the channel to France.

The athlete told officials that she believed her “celebrity” status in her devout-Muslim country had inflated the ‘price’ her poor parents could get from her husband for her.

Sihame admitted one charge of possessing false identification on Monday at Canterbury Crown Court.

Under UK immigration laws foreign nationals facing persecution in their home countries are entitled to apply for leave to stay in Britain and can expect their applications to be looked on favourably.

Speaking after the case Sihame’s solicitor Mr Gurney said: “Before Sihame left Comoros to come to the Olympics her mother informed her that she would marry a 60-year-old man who already had two wives.

“Comoros is a strict Muslim country. Sihame was beaten from time to time.

“Sihame was allowed to practice swimming, but she had to wear a full swimming costume and always be supervised by her brother.

“She had gained celebrity status in Comoros – she was one of just seven athletes to come over for London 2012.

“Her high profile meant her parents could get a higher price for her in marriage.

“She was told if she did not take part in the marriage there would be violence or death. And she was told that she would have to give up her swimming career when she was married.

“She could not confide in anyone about what was happening, but she managed to speak to a friend and get false French documents.

“Since the Olympics she has spoken to her brother. He has told Sihame that if she returns to Comoros she will be killed because of the shame she has brought on the family.

“We deal with this sort of offence all the time, but I have never dealt with a case like Sihame ‘s.”

A UK Border Agency spokesperson yesterday (Weds) said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”

Sihame will be held in a detention centre while her asylum application is considered.

Comoros, which is situated between Mozambique and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, has a hardline Muslim population of around 754,000.

The country, which is among the poorest in Africa, is heavily dependent on foreign aid and allows multiple marriages.

Category: News

Add your comment

Libellous and abusive comments are not allowed. Please read our House Rules

For information about privacy and cookies please read our Privacy Policy