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Monday, December 02, 2013 

Isa Muaza: no sense of shame.

There are more than a few reasons, it must be said, to doubt Isa Muaza's case for asylum.  Arriving here in the UK from Nigeria on a visit visa in 2007, rather than pursue an asylum claim immediately he instead worked under a false name, only applying for leave to remain in 2011.  He finally claimed for asylum in July of this year, and was swiftly refused under the fast track system just 13 days later.  Muaza's case revolves around the threat he says he faces from Boko Haram, the jihadi group whose attacks in the north of the country have killed in the region of 1,600 civilians over the past four years.  Muaza says he fled after he was given the choice of either joining the group or being killed, and says two members of his family were murdered by its members.

While Boko Haram was formed in 2001 and has been active over the past decade, whether it was acting in the ways claimed by Muaza in 2007 is a lot more difficult to ascertain.  Reports suggest at that point the group was mainly focusing on targeting the police, while members also disengaged from society and went to live in camps in remote areas.  It also doesn't explain Muaza's decision not to claim asylum straight away, although one factor could be Boko Haram was barely known outside of Africa until the beginning of the current decade.

It's also not been made completely clear by much of the reporting that while there are significant concerns over Muaza's mental health, the government has not refused to have him admitted to hospital (para 40 of this ruling).  Rather, they say Muaza's actions are against his detention as a whole.  The state also disputes Muaza's claim that he has hepatitis B, as there is no record of his either being tested or immunised against the disease. Muaza's original complaint was that he couldn't eat the food at Harmondsworth due to his medical condition, which also includes kidney problems.  His refusal of food developed out of this complaint, and while he had still not been seen by a psychiatrist when Justice Stewart gave his ruling in the middle of October refusing interim relief, an assessment by Dr Hartree of Medical Justice suggests that he most likely has schizophrenia.  Hartree added that she believes it "unlikely that IM [Muaza] is making a conscious, calculated protest against detention", rather that it is a symptom of his psychosis.

Something that's not disputable is regardless of how this state of affairs was arrived it, it is the height of inhumanity to subject someone who has been refusing food for over 100 days to deportation, let alone the farce the Home Office's attempt to fly Muaza back to Nigeria turned into.  Unable to get a man strapped to a bed onto a Virgin Atlantic flight, the decision was made to charter a jet.  Despite taking this incredibly extravagant decision, estimated to have cost somewhere in the region of between £95,000 and £180,000, they apparently failed to either inform the Nigerians of their plans or to persuade them they should take a man near to death back into their custody.  Refused entry to Nigerian airspace, the jet made turned round and stopped over in Malta, before making its way back to the UK.  A nice little earner undoubtedly for the charter company, an disgraceful fiasco for those of us in whose name the deportation was authorised.

As with other cases, the reasoning behind the deportation is apparent enough: out of sight, out of mind.  Who cares if Muaza dies within days of being returned, as long as someone causing such a problem is got rid of?  Apparently secondary was any concern that the stress of the deportation could result in Muaza's death, rather suggesting that if any lessons were learned after the death of Jimmy Mubenga, they've been forgotten extremely swiftly.  The Home Office's change in policy from previously releasing those who had been refusing food for a lengthy period is easy enough to understand if not agree with, but it seems not to operate on a case by case basis: if Muaza is refusing food due to psychosis rather than as a protest, he should have been seen by psychiatrists as a matter of urgency.  Even if not psychosis, to refuse food for the period of time Muaza and others have done after their claims failed is the epitome of desperation.  Many of us bitch and moan about the state of the country; others so want to stay here they are prepared to risk death to do so.

The Home Office's actions in this instance have been self-defeating in the extreme.  Keeping someone in an immigration detention centre costs an estimated £120 a day, or £43,800 a year, around £6,000 higher than that of a prison place.  Even if the chartered plane cost 95 grand rather than £180,000, that still would have paid for Muaza to be kept in custody for a further 2 years.  Instead of attempting to treat his psychosis or try to deal with his determination to die rather than return to Nigeria, the decision was made, despite the risks, to make him someone else's problem.  It backfired spectacularly.  With reports suggesting Nigeria is now willing to accept Muaza and the Home Office having long been unburdened by any sense of shame (or concern for taxpayer's money), the odds are the deportation will be attempted again.  Whether Muaza survives it or not doesn't seem to factor in to the equation.

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