Hunger strike, which originated from Ireland, has been used for hundreds of years to change policies and social wrongs. Prisoners worldwide have used it to protest the injustice of their arrest and condition and Isa Muazu’s hope of using it to sway his asylum decision is fast failing as UK Home Secretary, Theresa May is refusing to budge.
Isa 45, a failed asylum seeker from Maiduguri, a Northeastern city of Nigeria, has refused food for more than 90 days, with the occasional exception and also refused treatment in hospital, in protest over the way his asylum claim was handled and his lawyers are claiming he “is close to death” and would consent to medical treatment in hospital if released on bail.
Despite his deteriorating health, - loss of vision, severe chest pains and difficulty in breathing, high court judge, Justice Ouseley on Tuesday ruled in favour of the Home Secretary stating that, Isa’s detention is lawful. He further added that Isa’s refusal of food and fluid is still his own decision to make.
“His detention does not become unlawful simply because he is determined on that outcome”, he said.
Isa’s lawyers are not in agreement with the judge and are calling the verdict a “death sentence”
“Our concern is that he is now so near death that there will not be enough time to appeal,” they said.
However, three judges on Thursday unanimously ordered an urgent hearing of the appeal, which will take place on Monday. But they refused to direct his release from Harmondsworth immigration removal center near Heathrow.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay, vice-president of the Court of Appeal, sitting with Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice Ryder, described Isa as being “in a sorry state” and an end of life care plan had been prepared for him at the detention centre.
But the judge insisted he had chosen not to eat, saying, “that is his prerogative and we do not think he is entitled to interim relief”.
Meanwhile, plans to remove Isa from the UK next week are underway, after a recent detention review declared him fit to travel, aided medically.
Isa entered the UK in 2007 on a visitor’s visa but did not leave when it expired in January 2008 and became an over-stayer. He went underground in Southeast London, where he found work using a false name.
In May 2011, he applied for leave to remain but was refused. He then applied for asylum this year on the grounds that his life would be in danger if he returned to Nigeria. According to him, he grew up with members of the dreaded Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and they wanted him to join their cause. He refused and fled. The group then branded him a traitor and exacted revenge on him by killing members of his family.
With constant news of the mayhem Boko Haram is causing in Nigeria, Isa is petrified of going back home, as he is convinced they would not have mercy on him. He would rather die in the UK than be deported to Nigeria.
But he was detained on the same day he made the application while undergoing asylum screening.
Isa claimed he took with him a special diet due to his bad health. He is suffering from hepatitis B, stomach ulcer and a kidney condition, but was not allowed to take the food into the screening centre and was assured at the start of his interview that he would not be detained.
He was subsequently detained and no provision was made towards his dietary and health needs.
He was refused asylum on the August 7, on the basis that his claim was “manifestly unfounded” and he began his hunger strike in September.
Though Isa’s story is moving and automatically evokes sympathy, the UK’s zero tolerance for illegal immigrants and their ploys to avoid removal, have harden the system and tougher verdicts are being handed out even where a milder verdict is merited.
Seeking asylum in the UK is complicated because the Home Office needs to be sure the claim is not bogus.
Seeking asylum at the port of entry gives a claim more credibility than overstaying on a visa before applying for asylum, as is the case of Isa.
Though Isa’s lawyers claimed that he never engaged in any criminal activity, by gaining employment through misrepresentation, overstaying, and impersonating someone else, he has indeed broken the law and the government could be seen to reward the very actions they are condemning.
In July this year, 17 detainees at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre were released on bail after staging hunger strike. One of them was a Nigerian, Samuel Sorinwa, who refused liquids for, at least, 11 days.
Speaking on the risk of “copycat” cases, Eleanor Grey QC, for the minister, said granting him any interim order could lead to “copycat cases” involving other immigration detainees.
Theresa May and the courts seem ready to use Isa as an example to deter other detainees willing to use hunger strike to manipulate the system.
Call for compassion to the Home Office seems futile as Isa waits for Monday when his fate would be sealed. His supporters are hoping he would still be alive till then.