Lord Roger Roberts: Please try to prevent the imminent death of a seeker of sanctuary

Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Lord Roberts of Llandudno

Yesterday I met Mr Isa Muaza who, until last night, was due to be forced on to a plane to Nigeria this evening. Though his removal directions have been moved – and set – for 29 November he remains at death’s door.

Isa is a failed asylum seeker who has been held in detention at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre. The case is one of enforced removal, although very little real force will be necessary in his case. He has been on hunger strike and has lost 40% of his body mass. He is close to death.

Isa was not well when his period of detention began, immediately following rejected leave to remain and failed asylum bids. He suffers from Hepatitis B, kidney problems and stomach ulcers. The failure of the conditions of detention at Harmondsworth to meet his dietary and health needs was his first cause to reject food. Not then a grand, well-publicised, considered political gesture but administrative inadequacy. From this sad and banal inception his strike has continued in protest at what he argues are the inhuman conditions at the centre for all detainees.

Perhaps the death of seekers of sanctuary like Isa will become as mundane as the administrative system he has been condemned by. Staff at Harmondsworth IRC have been warned to expect the death of those who engage in hunger strike as a form of protest as the Home Office enforces a clampdown on what it deems to be a form of‘playing the system’. As Isa told me yesterday that he’d ‘rather die than be deported’, I suggest it’s the system that’s playing him and his life.

Perhaps though the Home Office will take account of those voices that have come out against such disregard for human life – voices that put life before administrative convenience or short-term political point-scoring; voices that condemn Theresa May’s vision of Britain as a ‘hostile environment’ for so-called illegal immigrants.

To borrow the words of one Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and holocaust survivor, ‘No human being is illegal’. Sadly, what should be the guiding principle of an immigration system in any civilised society is instead a small reminder of a compassion that we are quickly losing and, perhaps, we have already lost.

Writing to Theresa May MP (for the third time) yesterday evening, in a letter co-signed by more than forty other MPs and Peers, I argued that the decision to continue Mr Muaza’s detention and pursue his imminent deportation is deeply flawed. Despite compelling evidence to act otherwise, including a medical examination which deemed him unfit to fly, his ongoing detention and removal contradicts expert advice and shows no regard for the intrinsic value of his life. I have appealed to Ms May to show clemency and free Mr Muaza who is now on the verge of death.

This letter has, at the time of writing, gone unanswered. There are other avenues by which a Peer may raise an issue s/he feels is of the utmost urgency, amongst them Private Notice Questions and Topical Oral Questions. Despite several attempts, leave has not been granted to me. Julian Huppert MP has similarly been denied Urgent Questions in the Commons. Although a judge indicated on Monday that Isa’s appeal would be dismissed, no formal decision has been issued and the matter remains sub judice. Though I’m glad that Isa’s lawyers are seeking judicial review (or an injunction preventing removal) I cannot raise the case directly in the House – a depressingly grim case of ‘Catch 22’.

However, I am pleased to report that a Government e-petition (founded by Julian Huppert MP and myself) is now live.  Please do sign and please share.

Even before this protest began – and before he ever came to the UK – Isa Muaza was a deeply vulnerable person. He fled Nigeria fearing for his life at the hands of the terror group Boko Haram, a group he says have already killed several members of his family and as he told me yesterday, if returned this week he will have no one to meet him off the plane. He is penniless, blind and incapable of standing on his own. In his current state this on its own is a death sentence.

In deporting Mr Muaza on Friday the Home Office seems to be seeking to avoid another death in immigration detention. But the Home Secretary cannot – and should not – escape responsibility for her actions. In this case, for forcibly detaining a man the system so evidently could not care for. Those held in the thousands of beds in immigration detention centres across the UK are some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Striking out at them is not the sign of a strong immigration system, but a desperately weak one.

I call for clemency in this case. The Immigration Minister, Mark Harper MP, insists Isa has no legal basis to remain in the UK. But I urge you all to act quickly in persuading the Ms May to release Isa, at the very least, so that another death in immigration detention may be avoided.


Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.


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