Human Rights, Public Law, Asylum & Immigration

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Medical Justice founded by an ex-detainee and a doctor

14 March 2012

Harris Nyatsanza – a Zimbabwean geography teacher, MDC activist, and human rights campaigner – was detained at Harmondsworth detention centre  in 2005.  He and a group of roughly 100 Zimbawean detainees in various immigration removal centres co-ordinated a mass hunger-strike in 2005.

The Harmondsworth regime recognised Harris’ psychiatric condition by placing him on 24-hour suicide-watch, but failed to provide any actual psychiatric care. They also failed to take any action using the Home Office procedure on dealing with Harris’ allegation of being a torture victim.  Even after Harris became too weak to walk during the hunger-strike, Harmondsworth detention centre management continued to refuse to take Harris to hospital.

It was only after involvement from Dr Frank Arnold, an independent doctor alerted to the hunger strikers’ situation by asylum rights campaigners, and the serving of a High Court order, that Harmondsworth transferred Harris to hospital on the 28th day of the hunger-strike.  On arrival at hospital, Harris was so dehydrated that medical staff had trouble finding a vein in which to insert a drip. Harris was guarded by detention custody officers at his bedside. During the subsequent 3 weeks Harris spent in hospital, it was discovered that the Home Office has no policy on the care for and re-feeding of hunger striking immigration detainees.

“Dr Arnold quite literally saved my life. It was a miracle to get help from outside like that.  I’m devastated that many other detainees didn’t get the help they needed.  That’s why, as soon as I could start walking again, I and some other ex-detainees spoke to Frank about setting up an organisation to help those we’d left behind in detention.”

Harris Nyatsanza

Frank, Harris, other ex-detainees and the asylum rights campaigners who visited them in detention brought together a handful of activists – doctors, lawyers, asylum seekers and detention visitors for a “campaign” meeting.  Due to the lack of funds, and the fine weather, this first meeting was held in the open air in Hyde Park !  The group called itself Medical Justice.

Harris’ solicitor – Medical Justice supporter Jovanka Savic of Sutovic & Hartigan Solicitors – made a fresh asylum claim on behalf of Harris, which was eventually accepted and Harris was granted status.

Despite having been made destitute and kept in “limbo” for years, Harris campaigned with many groups for asylum rights and change in Zimbabwe.  We have grown from having no staff and an income in 2008 of £5,228 to having 3 full-time and 3 part-time staff and a pool of about 45 independent doctors visiting detainees. Medical Justice is a company limited by guarantee and became a registered charity in 2009.  We have an office room in a shared building in London.