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When the penalty for overstaying your visa is death

UK Parliamentarians plead for the life of Nigerian asylum-seeker Isa Muazu.

Lord Roberts at Harmondsworth (Simon Childs www.vice.com)

This morning Lord Roberts of Llandudno met with Home Secretary Theresa May to ask her to show mercy for Isa Muazu, a Nigerian asylum seeker who has been on hunger strike for more than 90 days.

Roberts visited Muazu at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow yesterday. (There is an account of the meeting here). The Liberal Democrat Peer was deeply shocked by Isa’s condition. "He looked as though he was about to die," Roberts said. “We've abolished capital punishment and slavery. But we're allowing a person to die for what is a very minor offence – for overstaying a visitors' pass by a little while.”

Theresa May insists that healthcare is available in Nigeria. Instead of clemency, the Home Office has booked Isa on what we believe to be a special charter flight to Nigeria early on Friday morning.

Independent doctors have assessed him as unfit to be in detention since October and unfit to fly. Isa, 45 years old, weighs just 50 kilos. He cannot see or stand. Slowly his organs are shutting down. He may die on the flight.

Lord Roberts, 40 cross party MPs and Peers and more than 100 award-winning actors, writers, NGOs and community organisations have written to Theresa May asking her to show clemency and to release Isa in the UK so that he can get proper medical treatment and live. Liberty, Amnesty International, Dame Harriet Walter, Juliet Stevenson and Stella Duffy are among the signatories. Their letter, published in today's Guardian, said:

“Many people who end up in detention centres feel anxious, frightened and frustrated. Like Isa, many feel that their asylum claims have not been fairly heard and that they are losing their freedom only for the 'crime' of seeking safety in the UK. We are extremely concerned that Isa may die as a result of a hardened stance being taken towards migrants in the UK. We urgently call for clemency in this case. We ask that the Home Secretary reconsider Isa's case and act quickly to release him in the UK, so that another death in immigration detention can be avoided.”

Speaking on this morning's BBC Today Programme, the EU employment commissioner Laszlo Andor warned that the UK risks being seen as a  ‘nasty country’ because of its policies towards migrants. That is exactly what Theresa May has been aiming for through the introduction of a raft of measures to turn the UK into a hostile environment. We've seen the racist vans, spurious attacks on so-called 'health tourists', and proposals for doctors and landlords to become agents of immigration control.

Over the past two years, the High Courts declared that detention for four people with severe mental health issues was inhumane and degrading treatment. This year the Home Office changed its rules so that releasing hunger strikers from immigration detention required Ministerial approval. Such approval has not been forthcoming.

This past July an English Inquest jury found that Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan man, had been "unlawfully killed" on a plane at Heathrow during a forcible deportation attempt in October 2010. Another killing is underway, this time in slow motion.

Today Lord Roberts and Julian Huppert MP created an online petition urging the Home Secretary to exercise clemency "so that another death or serious harm in immigration detention or during the removal process may be avoided." You can sign the petition here. Please consider writing to your MP to call on Theresa May asking for clemency for Isa Muazu.

About the author

Kate Blagojevic is the Communications Coordinator for Detention Forum - a coalition of detention support and campaigning groups. Kate has worked at the World Development Movement and campaigns against the UK government spending cuts in her spare time.

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