Zimbabwean Women on Hunger Strike in Yarl's Wood Removal Centre
"This strike is the only thing we can do. It's better to die than to go back and be detained. I can't go back there because I am a lesbian and I am not allowed there by the government - they call us 'pigs' and 'dogs' - and those with political cases can't go back because they would be imprisoned and tortured or killed. I have proved I am from Zimbabwe, but I am still being held here when I should be released." Thando Dube
Five Zimbabwean women have been on hunger strike for 16 days in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre protesting their threatened deportation to South Africa a country that they are not nationals of.
Like many other Zimbabweans, the hunger strikers fled to South Africa to escape political persecution and torture (and in one case, homophobia) in Zimbabwe. But once there, they suffered further persecution in some cases including rape, imprisonment and deportation back to Zimbabwe. They fled to the UK, using false South African passports in order to escape. Even though they have provided documents confirming their nationality as Zimbabweans, the Home Office has been trying to deport them to South Africa in a blatant attempt to side-step the current moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe following last month's court ruling that returning "failed" asylum seekers to Zimbabwe endangered their lives.
52 deaths attributed to conditions in Lindela repatriation camp
The women face grave danger if they are deported to South Africa. Recent evidence found that Zimbabweans removed to South Africa were detained in the Lindela repatriation camp, notorious for its poor conditions, before being sent to Zimbabwe. South Africa Home Affairs Director-General Jeffrey Maqetuka on October the 28th of this year said: "Since the beginning of the year, at least nine people died in the holding facility and 43 others in the nearby Leratong hospital after referral."
The Zimbabwean women's action follows the two-month long hunger strike by Ugandan women protesting deportations and the conditions in Yarl's Wood, which ended in September as women were either released or found legal representatives to pursue their claims.
Legal Action for Women (LAW) spokeswoman Niki Adams says:
"The government's attempt to remove the Zimbabwean hunger strikers despite the Tribunal's ruling is another example of their determination to deport people no matter what persecution and danger they may face on their return. A shockingly high proportion of the women in Yarl's Wood face imminent removal yet have no lawyer to represent them, and in many cases their asylum claims were refused without all the evidence of the rape and other torture they suffered being properly considered. Women have been dragged off to the airport even though their claims were still being considered in the courts. Our recently published 'Self-Help Guide against Detention and Deportation' is a lifeline for women in this situation but we have just heard that these Guides are being confiscated from women in Yarl's Wood during room searches. It's a grave injustice that vulnerable women are being denied information about how to defend their civil and human rights."
The hunger strikers are demanding that the Home Office recognise them as Zimbabweans and release them immediately from detention.
Lizwane Ndlovu, one of the Zimbabwean detainees at Yarl's Wood who went on hunger strike there over the summer, died last Thursday 10th November 2005. Lizwane had not been well since being released from detention at the end of July, she subsequently fell into a coma, and was hospitalised in Birmingham City Hospital who have confirmed Lizwane died there on Thursday.
Ms Dube left Zimbabwe in 1994 after being physically abused and persecuted by her parents and neighbours for being a lesbian. Three times she was detained in South Africa as an illegal immigrant, once for almost a year. Trying to escape harassment as a lesbian, she started a relationship with a man by whom she became pregnant. But he became violent when he found out that she was a lesbian and attacked her so viciously she still has a knee injury, which stops her walking properly. In 2003 Ms Dube left for the UK, leaving her child with friends. In 2004 she was able to contact her mother who is now caring for her son and has been able to provide documents proving her Zimbabwean nationality. The Home Office continues to dispute this and as a result she has been in detention for over four months.
Patricia and Patience Zondi
Twin sisters Patricia and Patience Zondi left Zimbabwe in 2000 because they were MDC supporters and went to South Africa. Because they had nowhere to live police regularly detained them. On one occasion they were returned to Zimbabwe but went back to South Africa where their boyfriends paid for South African passports and they came to the UK in October 2002. Patricia Zondi claimed asylum in 2003 on the basis of what happened to her in Zimbabwe - she has received no response from the Home Office. Patience Zondi was badly advised to claim asylum as a South African, because those were the only documents she had. On 18 September during an attempted removal to South Africa, Patricia Zondi alleges she was badly beaten and is still suffering pain in her chest and back, and suffering from nosebleeds. She has received no medical treatment for her injuries. Their brother has been granted the right to remain in the UK but the Home Office is still trying to remove both sisters to South Africa, despite the documentation they have now provided about their nationality.
In 2001 when Ms Sibiya was 15 she left Zimbabwe for South Africa with her mother and older sister after the death of her father, an MDC supporter. Ms Sibiya and her sister were regularly forced to have sex with the police in South Africa to bribe them not to send them back to Zimbabwe. Ms Sibiya's mother was deported from South Africa to Zimbabwe earlier this year and she has no news of her whereabouts, but her sister is now suffering from AIDS and is in hospital there. Ms Sibiya arrived in the UK in October 2004 and was detained in April 2005. In May Ms Sibiya was taken to the airport for removal to South Africa and alleges she was badly beaten up. She is suffering from an injury to her right knee which has pins inserted that should have been removed in June. She has not received the medical attention she needs in Yarl's Wood and is now unable to walk without a limp.
In Zimbabwe Ms X was married to a younger brother of a Minister in Mugabe's government, but she secretly supported the MDC. When he found out, he divorced her and government agents looking for her raided her home. The first time she was badly beaten up and her arm broken; the second time one of the soldiers recognized her and agreed to tell his colleagues she was not there as long as she left the country immediately. She crossed into South Africa with the help of MDC supporters who managed to secure a South African passport and she left for the UK from Zimbabwe later the same day. She arrived in August 2002 and her first lawyer advised her to claim asylum as if she was from South Africa; the second lawyer said it was too late to correct this by the time they took her case. In Zimbabwe her oldest daughter (then aged 15) was raped so a friend took her and her other two children to live in South Africa. Ms X started working in order to support her children. She then married a British citizen but suffered domestic violence and abuse from him so the marriage broke down and he reported her to the Home Office. She was arrested and detained on 19 October 2005. Her husband kept all her documents although she has managed to get her birth certificate and other evidence from her brother in Zimbabwe and has given them to the Home Office.
What you can do to help
Legal Action for Women are campaigning for the women to be released from detention. Please fax/write to the Minister for Immigration Tony McNulty requesting the release/temporary admission of the 5 women.
Fax No: 020 7035 4745 from outside the UK + 20 7035 4745
2 Marsham Street
Please notify LAW of any faxes/letters sent:
Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women's Centre
PO Box 287
London, NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 Fax: 020 7209 4761