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Britain is set on bouncing hunger-strike asylum seeker back to Nigeria

A hearing today could clear the way for Isa Muasu's forcible removal from Britain on 17 December.

Jasmine Sallis
12 December 2013
Isa formal_1.jpg

Isa MuasuAsylum seeker Isa Muazu survived his 104 day hunger strike but remains locked up in Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow Airport. He continues to resist his forcible return to Nigeria. Home Secretary Theresa May and the Home Office have shown they will to stop at nothing to ensure his removal.

Drastic and costly actions to remove him so far have included chartering a private jet, organising three months of sponsored health care in Nigeria, instructing a Crown solicitor the night before the attempted deportation and deploying doctors' reports that did not involve an actual examination of the patient.

The UK government hired a private jet to deport Isa Muasu to Nigeria in the early hours of Friday 29 November, at a reported cost of around £100,000. The next day he was back in Britain, the plane having been refused entry to Nigerian airspace.

On the night of Tuesday 10 December, Muasu was issued with fresh removal directions — for 17 December, on a charter flight with other Nigerian nationals who are currently fighting immigration cases in detention centres across the country.

I volunteer at The Unity Centre in Glasgow. We offer practical support and solidarity to asylum seekers. We are often contacted by individuals who have been detained. Since early September I've been in telephone contact with Isa several times a week. Isa's needs and demands have been consistent throughout his protest; he wants his freedom, he wants to be taken off the detained fast track system (whereby asylum seekers are detained if their claims are deemed straightforward and capable of being decided quickly). He wants no longer to be treated like a criminal. Now, Isa also wants to be given the chance to recover from his dangerous hunger strike without security guards hovering over him when he is finally taken to hospital.

As the jet, privately chartered to deport Isa, was almost back in the UK on Saturday 30 November, a guard showed him his picture in a newspaper article and told him he was "a very lucky man". Isa sipped water upon return, water that he describes as tasting bitter like medicine. The escorts rushed to write down that he had started accepting fluids again. Isa doesn't feel lucky. He made himself grievously ill to gain support for his cause.

In UK detention centres 3000 men and women are locked up without the right to appeal and without having committed any crime. They are locked into their rooms every night, some detention centres locking individuals in their rooms three times a day. Isa says he never wants to hear the sound this makes again, a sound he describes as like chains.

Seeking asylum is treated with suspicion and disdain by the UK government. A punitive asylum policy and an ingrained culture of disbelief make it almost impossible to be recognised as in need of protection. Under international law, it is not illegal to travel to another country by any means necessary to seek asylum from danger or persecution. Yet the UK government treats asylum seekers as though they have committed a crime. The burden of proof is upon them to provide evidence for every aspect of persecution stated.

Every stage of the claims process is a barrier to entry, not a system for fairly establishing who is in need of help. Initial interrogative interviews may last almost a full day with up to 400 questions, followed by sometimes bizarre reasons for refusal, and in many cases a right of appeal only after removal (known as Out of Country Appeal Rights). The system is weighted against the vulnerable people it is supposed to serve.

The detained fast track system, on which all Nigerian men are placed (along with many other nationalities and often women) appears designed to fail. Lawyers may have less than two hours with their clients and are increasingly reluctant to take on detained fast track cases due to legal aid cuts. Those legal aid lawyers who have permission to represent individuals in detention are scarce and tend to take only the most straightforward and winnable cases rather than cases with a 50 per cent likelihood of success, as the law requires.

Hunger striking is one response to injustice. Currently, three individuals being supported by The Unity Centre in Harmondsworth remain on hunger strike without public support. One man is protesting the policy of third country removal under the Dublin II convention; he faces removal to Belgium on 12 December, then certain, immediate deportation to Iran. The others share the same demands as Isa — to be taken off the detained fast track system and given a fair chance to claim asylum. These men are suffering. The first has sewn his lips together and not eaten for 52 days. Another can barely speak yet screams out in the night in pain and frustration.

Isa says he fears that if he is returned to Nigeria, the militant Islamic organisation Boko Haram will kill him, as they have killed other members of his family and friends. When someone fears for their life in their country of origin, a decision to send them there to await the result of their case is barbaric. A hearing scheduled for today will review the decision to certify Isa’s case for Out of Country Appeal Rights. Such certification makes it easy to remove people, and radically restricts their ability to make an appeal at all.

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