A swimmer from the tiny African island nation Comoros who went AWOL during last summers London Olympics is claiming asylum in Britain.Despite finishing her swimming heat more than 20 seconds behind the winner, the fact that she appeared in the games has made her something of a celebrity in the tiny Muslim island. Never 1 to miss a golden opportunity, her loving Muslim decided to cash in on the fame by driving the price up in some kind of sick marriage auction.When her mother informed the girl that the winning bidder and her future husband was a 60 year old man and she must give up the sport she loved to be a good Muslim wife and serve her future husbands needs. The swimmer did a runner from the Olympic village.
African swimmer, 18, claims asylum after fleeing Olympic village to escape arranged marriage with a 60-year-old man
- Ayouba-Ali Sihame represented African island nation Comoros at the Games
- She fled after failing to qualify for the 100m freestyle semi-final
- Her mother had told her she was being sold and must quit sport
- She attempted to escape to France using a fake passport
By CHRIS GREENWOOD
PUBLISHED: 18:27, 14 January 2013 | UPDATED: 18:29, 14 January 2013
An Olympian fears she will be killed if deported from Britain after living on the streets to escape an arranged marriage.
Swimmer Ayouba-Ali Sihame, 18, represented the tiny African island nation of Comoros during the London Games.
But she ended up in a prison cell after fleeing the athlete’s village in a desperate bid to avoid being wed to a twice-married 60-year-old man.
Her mother told her she was being sold and must give up her sporting career just days before she flew to London.
She said the sportswoman’s ‘celebrity’ status had pushed up her value in the poverty-stricken strict Islamic community.
Sihame, who has also represented her country at volleyball, walked out of the Olympic Park after failing to qualify for the 100 metre freestyle semi-finals and coming 48th overall.
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 faces being transferred to an immigration centre pending deportation within a fortnight after completing half an eight month prison sentence.
She fears for her life after her brother told her in a telephone conversation that she has brought ‘shame’ on the family.
Her solicitor Andrew Gurney said Sihame did not realise she was entitled to apply for asylum as soon as she entered Britain.
He said: ‘Comoros is a strict Muslim country. Ayouba-Ali was beaten from time to time.
‘Ayouba-Ali 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 Ayouba-Ali 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 Ayouba-Ali ‘s.’
Sihame was jailed at Canterbury Crown Court earlier this week after admitting using a false immigration document.
She has applied for asylum from her cell at HMP Bronzefield, in Ashford, Surrey, but was warned she could be deported within weeks.
The court was told that had the athlete applied for asylum in the first place she would have probably been granted leave to stay because of the persecution she faces at home.
Prosecutor Ian Foinette said she was stopped by French border control officers at Dover on October 5, more than two months after she competed at the Aquatics Centre.
He told the court: ‘When her passport was 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.’
Mr Gurney added: ‘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.’
Foreign nationals can be granted asylum in Britain under if they can prove that they have a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’.
Asylum can also be granted under the European Convention on Human Rights if a foreign national can prove there is a ‘real risk’ they face torture or other inhumane treatment.
The UK Border Agency website states: ‘If you do not qualify for asylum but we think there are humanitarian or other reasons why we should allow you to stay in the UK, we may give you temporary permission to stay here.’
Comoros, which is situated between Mozambique and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, has a hard-line 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.
Official records reveal 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.
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