No end in sight to Kent prison hunger strike

Only one of the asylum seekers being held Rochester prison was still rejecting fluids yesterday, as a fellow hunger striker narrowly escaped death after being rushed to hospital.

Meanwhile, the Prisons minister, Ann Widdecombe, cautiously welcomed an offer of help by the Bishop of Rochester but still refused to negotiate with the detainees. "I do not have a deal to offer," she told Radio 4's Sunday Programme. "But I would welcome anything that would assist them coming off the protest."

Fourteen inmates from Nigeria, Algeria, Romania and Zaire have been on hunger strike in the Kent prison for four weeks, claiming they are being treated like convicted criminals while their asylum applications are processed. They have pledged to continue for another two weeks.

The situation became more serious last week when six detainees started refusing water. A Nigerian pastor, Ejike Emenike, 30, was rushed into hospital to have rehydration treatment. He has now rejoined the six men in the hospital wing of the prison. A further eight are refusing food in the prison wings, according to Home Office reports. "None of them are giving cause for immediate concern," said a spokesman yesterday.

On Saturday, more than 100 protesters gathered outside the prison in support of the detainees. They marched around to the side of the prison, cheering when the detainees shouted for their freedom over the walls.

Brian Dubs, spokesman for the Rochester Hunger Strikers' Support Group and Hackney representative for Unison, the public sector union, said: "We wanted to draw as much attention to these people who are just being treated as though they are criminals. The Government seems to be taking an even harder line. They are prepared to allow them to die."

Supporters claim that many inmates have languished in jail for two years while applications are being processed, and one man is still in Rochester seven months after he signed papers for voluntary deportation.

Margaret Illin, whose husband Mircea was detained in Rochester prison for four months last year before being released, said the detainees are often treated worse than convicted criminals.

"Sometimes [after] they receive a visitor they are forced to undergo a strip search," she said. "When all the time they have not done anything wrong. These people have escaped persecution in their own country and come here where they should be safe, but then they are treated worse than criminals."

Maureen West, whose boyfriend Ben Bakesh Hamel is in the hospital wing, is anxious for information about his health. "It is starting to tell on me now," she said. "I phoned this morning and I know that he is not in hospital but I can't get any more information. I don't know much about the political side of it. But I don't think it's fair. I can't see the point in letting people die."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager / Section Manager - Airport Security

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a critical role within the secur...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45-55k

£20000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is an established, ...

Recruitment Genius: E-Commerce Manager - Fashion Accessories

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Senior / Assistant Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn