Soft-spoken Isa Muazu, 45, from Nigeria, has been on hunger strike for almost 90 days. He is dangerously ill and yesterday an application to the High Court for his release so that he could get medical treatment was rejected. Initially Isa started refusing to eat because the food in the detention centre was not suitable for his medical condition but now it has widened into a general protest against the conditions of his detention and the way he has been treated at the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre.
At this point Isa is determined, he is speaking out about the treatment of detainees and is not ready to relent despite being on his deathbed.
Isa’s life has been deemed worthless when put against the UK’s immigration system. Yesterday’s High Court ruling of his case concluded that because he had been determined as mentally able to choose whether or not he eats, maintaining his detention is lawful despite the fact that his life is almost over.
Isa has been holding strong to his hunger strike and is determined that his voice be heard.
Part of the problem is because he puts up a mentally stable front and speaks in a soft and polite manner it seems as though he has not been taken seriously. Isa’s future is grim, even if released he feels he will be hospitalised for a number of months to recover. Damage to his organs is likely to be severe considering pre-existing kidney problems, poor health and rapid weight loss. At this point if he is not released he could die within a few days.
I have been supporting Isa for the last three months and have been talking to him every day since before he began his hunger strike. He has been in touch with Unity since the beginning of September when he was complaining about the diet he was expected to eat. When he first made contact it was to discuss his treatment in Harmondsworth and much needed medical and dietary attention.
He advised me that he had many medical problems that were not being treated or recognised by Harmondsworth staff. We discussed these, he explained he had kidney problems, stomach ulcers and haemorrhoids and because of these pre-existing health issues was having trouble obtaining food in the detention centre that he could digest. Isa informed me that when he went voluntarily to his screening interview in Croydon to claim asylum he took food with him in plastic containers because he always travels with specific foods. This includes kidney beans, liver and steamed vegetables. Isa explained his dietary needs even before he was detained but these were not given due consideration.
A lot of contact was made with Harmondsworth IRC regarding Isa’s needs and dietary requirement. Faxes were sent and phone calls made. At one point a member of Harmondsworth staff told me sarcastically that ‘we do not have children in here’ as if Isa’s dietary concerns were childish and not reasonable like a child having a tantrum.
Given that religious dietary requirements are recognised and accommodated in the detention centres it does not make sense that medical dietary requirements are not treated with the same level of importance.
He regularly quotes to me his blood sugar levels and weight losses even before his hunger strike began in shocked tones that people can treat him in this manner. He regularly tells me ‘can you believe it Jasmine that they will let someone suffer like this?’
After the High Court determination yesterday Isa texted me this morning with ‘Dear Jasmine good morning I should have text you last night but was so devastated by the court judgement, I lost lots of tears last night the more I think about it. Its a really difficult moment I have been through…’
While writing this article I’ve just read that Isa has lost his vision, is suffering from severe chest pains and cannot breathe properly. He has never complained once to me about any of these problems. He is always thankful, grateful and concerned about my well-being. I can’t help but feel that because he has been so uncomplaining that I myself have not even understood the severity of his health deterioration until it is almost too late. It is clear Isa is strong and determined but this is not in an aggressive way. He has never raised his voice in anger he would simply speak in disbelieved tones, now he can barely whisper.
We are aware of three other Harmondsworth detainees on hunger strike who have been recently released from detention and we’re supporting another individual also from Nigeria who remains inside, distressed, unstable unable to converse clearly and according to other detainees regularly screaming out in pain. Isa, however, lies calmly on a mattress on the floor, he is always polite when we speak on the phone and always asks about the health and well-being of Unity staff and other individuals in detention. This does not mean Isa should be ignored, he faces very real persecution by Islamic militant group Boko Haram is returned to Nigeria and he fears for his life; he fears to the extent that he is risking his life here in the UK as he strongly feels he will be killed if returned.
At first in detention, Isa was surviving on cornflakes and hot water as this was all that was available that he could process. After weeks of this he decided he could not continue to eat a sole diet of cornflakes and discontinued eating all together. Isa was told he could go to the dining room before others to have first pick of the food he wanted but nothing was suitable. Isa’s requirements have been belittled.
Isa is being urged by his supporters to accept hospitalisation as the recent High Court decision given yesterday was not in his favour.
Home Office rules are that detainees can only be detained where there is every reason to believe their deportation is possible in the foreseeable future. In Isa’s case he is now recognised as not fit to travel. He also cannot be deported if he dies, an argument recently made by his solicitors at his court hearing. The question arises as to exactly what the Home Office want to achieve by keeping Isa in detention. They disregard his life in favour of their new even harder immigration stance. The UK condemns other countries for human rights abuses but what is worse than condemning someone to death I do not know.
Isa has sent me what sounds like a final text as I am writing this piece ‘am so grateful to have people who care for me and my well being, am so grateful…thank you.’
I have never met Isa in person. Two weeks ago I went to Harmondsworth to try and visit him and some of the other detainees Unity have been supporting. I called him to say we were there. We waited for 45 minutes in the Visitors’ Area and he didn’t turn up. I asked the guard who called through to the Medical Centre and then told me that Isa wouldn’t be coming. The way he told me made me think Isa had died. I was really upset. I’d been told at the reception that Isa would be able to come and see us in a wheelchair.
When I got outside again and my phone back I found out that Isa had been waiting to come to the Visitor’s Room but no-one had told him I was there. The guards had conspired to stop him from seeing us.
We want to see Isa win, he does not deserve to die on the floor of a detention centre for no crime.
The Unity Centre
Jasmine is a University of Glasgow graduate where she studied for an MSc in Equality and Human Rights. She’s been a volunteer caseworker at the Unity Centre for one year. She’s Australian and 25 years old.
Run by a collective of volunteers The Unity Centre is a migrant solidarity centre which has been providing practical support and solidarity for asylum seekers in Glasgow since 2006 especially for those facing difficulties such as detention or destitution.
URGENT: Some of us in Unity are travelling down from Glasgow tonight to vigil outside Harmondsworth from tomorrow morning. If you can please come and join us…