Hunger striker near to death agrees to emergency treatment

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The Independent Online
The Nigerian refugee Ejike Emenike, a Pentecostalist pastor, stepped back from the brink of death yesterday as he agreed to emergency rehydration treatment in hospital.

Mr Emenike, 30, has been in detention since last February. He fled Nigeria after being severely beaten in a police cell in Lagos for a sermon criticising the hanging of the dissident Ken Saro-Wiwa. Police placed a heavy object on Mr Emenike's chest and stamped on it.

His is the most critical case of a total of 17 asylum detainees on hunger strike at Rochester jail in Kent. But with five of these refusing fluids as well as food, the protest against being treated like criminals has ensured that the increasingly routine use of detention for asylum seekers has blown up in the Government's face.

Mr Emenike, who began refusing water on Sunday, was taken to Medway Hospital, but only on condition that his lawyers begin an urgent judicial review of his case. Like the other 16, he has been on hunger strike for more than three weeks. He vowed to continue to refuse food as preparations began to fight an adjudicator's decision to deny him refugee status and the refusal of the immigration authorities to grant him temporary admission while his claim was processed.

As Ann Widdecombe, the Prisons minister, defended Government immigration policy in an emergency Commons statement, refugee groups warned that an apparently rising number of detentions of people unlikely to abscond was deterring asylum seekers from fleeing brutal regimes. That would be an effective breach of the United Nation Convention on Refugees.

A further three protesters have come off their hunger strike in return for being granted temporary admission. They had fled from the Serb-occupied republic of Kosovo, where they claimed they had suffered persecution because they were of Albanian ethnic origin.

This change of mind gives credence to growing claims by welfare groups and lawyers that applicants are frequently being treated as likely to abscond, and so locked up, on flimsy grounds. Claude Moraes, director of the Joint Council on the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: "The Government is making arbitrary decisions, often at the stroke of the pen of an immigration official who does not like the look of somebody."

Miss Widdecombe revealed yesterday that among those protesters refusing to take fluids was a person who had served a jail sentence for two convictions of indecent assault against children and was subsequently removed from the United Kingdom and had re-entered unlawfully.

And it was not the case, she said, that large numbers of asylum-seekers were held for inordinate periods.

But at any one time the figure is likely to be 750 to 800 (about 1.5 per cent of all claims), and the refugee welfare council estimates that between 6,000 and 10,000 asylum- seekers are being detained for varying periods over a full 12 months. The cost, according to a recent parliamentary answer, is likely to be more than pounds 20m each year.

Kosovo rumblings, page 13