Jimmy Thoronka, one of Sierra Leones best athletes, has been released from police custody and taken to Home Office accommodate. The 20-year-old disappeared at the end of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last August and was arrested in London on Friday.
Sierra Leone’s leading 100m sprinter was apprehended by police last week for overstaying his visa. He was held at Walworth police station, where he claimed asylum. He was however released at about 10pm on Saturday night. Speaking to the Guardian in the UK, he said he declined from going home after hearing that his adoptive family had been wiped out in the Ebola crisis.
The death toll from the virus in Sierra Leone is over 3,500. Jimmy said since the Ebola virus had killed his immediate family back in Sierra Leone he could not make it alone, thus he decided to with friends in Leicester before going back to London
“I am so happy that I am free again,” he said on Sunday. “At first I was told that they were going to send me back to Sierra Leone and I cried and cried. I was very scared.”
Speaking after his release, Thoronka said he was hoping for another chance to fulfill his dreams.
“I am amazed that people all over the world have offered to help me after they read my story,” he said. “I don’t know how to thank everyone. If I can make a success of my life as a sprinter my plan is to go back to Sierra Leone and help homeless people. I know how much suffering there is when you are homeless. Last week I had no hope but now maybe I will make it.”
He added that when he was sleeping in the park he believed he had no future. “When I was doing my exercises and running in the park one of the main reasons for doing so was just to keep warm because I was cold all the time.” He has not been working illegally, nor claiming benefits or housing. A spokesperson for the Home Office said on Sunday
Jimmy, who has spent the winter living rough in London, said two plainclothes police officers arrested him as he was hurrying to a park where he had left a bag. He said he was asked about drugs, searched and taken to a police station, where officers brought him tea and blankets.
Back home in Sierra Leone Joseph Nyanda Secretary General of the National Olympic Committee has refuted Jimmy’s story calling it dishonest and untrue.
Meanwhile a campaign has begun to help the promising young runner has attracted widespread sympathy in the UK and from Iceland, Kenya, Ecuador, Argentina, the US and New Zealand. Scores of people have offered accommodation, and supportive messages have been directed at him via social media, including one from the actor Samantha Morton and the model Lily Cole. A gofundme.com campaign set up on Friday has hit a target of raising over $34,000.
Campaigners are appealing to countries across Europe, North America and the Caribbean to offer him a chance to continue his training.