High court lets woman on hunger strike stay in UK
Monday 4 July 2005 08.43Â BST Last modified on Wednesday 16 September 2015 15.10Â BST
Just as the Live 8 concert was reaching its climax on Saturday night a British Airways jet was due to leave London for Harare. On board should have been a 26-year-old Zimbabwean woman, Patricia Mukandara, who has been on hunger strike for 11 days in protest against her deportation.
But in a day of drama at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, where she is being held, a dozen other Zimbabwean women barricaded themselves in her room as she refused to accompany immigration officers back to what she called “the lion’s den”.
The centre was put on a “lockdown” alert and all visitors were told that no detainees could be seen that day. At 8pm staff in riot gear entered and the women were dispersed. Ms Mukandara and another detainee, Spiwe Zondo, were taken to Colnbrook detention centre.
But in a last-minute intervention, just an hour before takeoff, her lawyer won a high court injunction stopping her removal.
Ms Mukandara, a failed asylum seeker, is one of up to 100 Zimbabweans on the hunger strike in a number of detention centres. They are protesting at the lifting of a ban preventing people being returned to their country against their will.
Her solicitor, Jovanka Savic, said the order had been made by Mr Justice McCombe after lawyers argued that the situation in Zimbabwe was unsafe for deportees from the UK.
“In this case the judge decided the removal was inappropriate and has given an order that it be stayed,” she said. “There was no reasoned thinking behind the Home Office decision in November that the ban on deportations should have been lifted.”
It had been reported that de portations were being put on hold until after the G8 summit.
Kate Hoey, the Labour MP who recently returned from a clandestine visit to the country, said: “This attempt to deport this woman to Zimbabwe was a shameful act by a Labour government.
“To do it on the same day they support something like the Live 8 concert shows outrageous hypocrisy. It puts Charles Clarke [the home secretary] in the position of trying to send someone back to what is at the very least likely to be imprisonment and torture.”
In an interview with the Press Association Ms Mukandara said: “I am so weak I can hardly walk. I have not eaten for 11 days and I have not had any fluids for four days.
“I am so confused. One minute you are told the deportations have been stopped. I can’t believe they want to send me back to the lion’s den.”
She claims her father, a manager for a white farmer, was killed by Zanu-PF supporters of Robert Mugabe during a farm invasion in 2000.
She fled to the UK to seek asylum and claims she has since heard that her two brothers have been killed.
The first was beaten to death as he returned home from work, she said. The second fled to South Africa but was deported, tortured in Harare’s maximum-security Chikurubi prison and died later from his injuries, she claimed.
She has been in detention for more than six months and three previous attempts were made to deport her before the intervention of her MP, John Austin. “These deportations should be suspended,” he said.
Human rights groups in Zimbabwe claim that people returned from the UK are being paraded on television and that moves are being made to change the law to allow them to be tried as traitors.
Ms Mukandara’s legal team must present their full arguments by tomorrow and the government has 21 days to respond. A Home Office spokesman said he would not comment on individual cases.