Shetland Thai wins fight to return home

SHETLAND was rejoicing last night after the young Thai national at the centre of a bitter deportation battle won the right to return to his adopted home on the islands.

An emotional Sakchai Makao walked to freedom from a court in the north of England after the threat of deportation was dramatically lifted by three judges who rejected a Home Office bid to send him back to his native Thailand.

The 23-year-old lifeguard at a Lerwick sports centre rushed from the court into the arms of his mother, Kesorn, and sister Uthia.

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A clearly relieved Mr Makao said: "I am absolutely overjoyed and over the moon. It has been a very difficult last few weeks but because of the support I have received from home it has helped keep my spirits up.

"I think there are a lot of people to thank for a lot of hard work in the Shetland community, and without them this could not have happened."

Mr Makao, who has lived on Shetland since he was ten and has represented the islands three times at athletics events, was threatened with deportation to Thailand as a foreign national with a criminal record. He served eight months of a 15-month sentence for wilful fire raising in 2004.

He was arrested at his home in Lerwick on 6 June by Immigration Department officials as part of a Home Office crackdown on hundreds of foreign prisoners who were released from jail before being considered for deportation.

But he was released on bail two weeks ago and allowed to return to Shetland, pending yesterday's deportation hearing at North Shields in Tyneside. More than 10,000 Shetlanders, almost half the population of the islands, had signed a petition calling for Mr Makao to be allowed to return to his adopted home.

Mr Makao told the tribunal that he had committed the fire-raising offence following a drinking session after learning that his stepfather had cancer and following the stillborn birth of his then girlfriend's baby.

"I had been stupid and I did what I did and it happened," he told the court. "I have grown up a lot since that incident and I have got my life back."

Judge John Aitken, who chaired a panel of three judges, said they would allow the appeal against deportation and the grounds for the decision would be given in writing later.

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He told Mr Makao: "We are going to allow this appeal and the exact reasons will be given in the letter. The appeal is allowed. You are free to go."

As he hugged his mother and sister outside the court, Mr Makao admitted: "When I listened to the judge I got a big feeling in my stomach and I thought I was going to cry, but I didn't want to cry in front of everyone. I didn't really want to think about going back to Thailand because it would have been really hard to start all over again.

"When I get back to Shetland on Saturday I am just going to go and thank everyone for everything. I think everyone will be there to see me arrive."

Sandra Jamieson, the chair of the Shetland Athletics Association who helped lead the massive campaign on the islands to secure Mr Makao's release, told The Scotsman: "It is wonderful news. I am glad the British justice system didn't let us down. We are really pleased that the court has reached a quick decision and Sakchai is not having to go through any more."

Alistair Carmichael the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland,

said: "The decision to deport Sakchai should never have been made. I believe it highlights the continuing failure of the Home Office in dealing with immigration policy."