'Close to death' hunger striker faces imminent deportation after court defeat


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The Independent Online

A man who is "close to death" after being on hunger strike in immigration detention for three months could be sent back to Nigeria on Wednesday after his case failed in the Court of Appeal.

Isa Muazu says he is willing to die rather than return home. His case that he was being held unlawfully was rejected in the Court of Appeal today after a High Court bid for his release from Harmondsworth immigration removal centre failed last week.

The 45-year-old has been held in detention, as part of a tougher fast-track system, since he claimed asylum in July.

Doctors say Mr Muazu, who describes himself as looking like "a skeleton", is close to death and is not well enough to fly. He now weighs just 53 kilos, despite being 5 foot 11 tall, and has removal directions to be flown back to Nigeria on Wednesday.

Speaking in a cracked voice from his hospital bed, he said: "As long as I'm here I won't eat. If I die then that's it.

"I want the Prime Minister to look at my case and my situation. I need the Government to give me justice and grant my bail so I can survive."

Mr Muazu says he is one of three hunger strikers being treated in a hospital ward in Harmondsworth, near Heathrow airport. His High Court application to be released failed, despite medical expert evidence saying that he was already unfit to be detained last month.

Describing his condition, Mr Muazu said: "It's only the bones now you can see; I'm just a skeleton. I was frightened before but now I'm used to it. I don't look at myself in the mirror anymore because I'm not the person that I know."

He originally claimed asylum in July, saying that he faced persecution from the hardline Islamist group Boko Haram. He first arrived in Britain on an ordinary visitors' visa in 2007 but overstayed and says this is because he is frightened to return home.

The case was fast-tracked, giving Mr Muazu little time to gather evidence. It was refused in August, just seven days after his interview.

High Court judge Mr Justice Ouseley ruled last week that Home Secretary Theresa May was not holding Mr Muazu unlawfully. The judge said that the decision to continue to refuse food and fluids was his to make, adding: "his detention does not become unlawful simply because he is determined on that outcome".

Lord Justice Lewison, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Sir Stanley Burnton all dismissed Mr Muazu's appeal in today's hearing, saying they had "not been persuaded" that last week's ruling was wrong.

Already suffering from kidney problems and hepatitis B, Mr Muazu  urgently needs proper hospital treatment and a hemorrhoid operation But he has refused external medical care until he knows that it will be part of an official release from detention.

He said: "I haven't done anything but I ended up inside. I know Mandela got his freedom this way but I know it doesn't come easy. It's a long walk to freedom and this is the journey I am going on."

Sue Willman, Mr Muazu's lawyer, said: "I consider Isa's hunger strike as a natural response to the Home Office's policy of indefinite detention. At the moment he is not fit enough to be removed and the purpose of detaining people is to remove them."

Eiri Ohtani, spokesperson for the Detention Forum said: "We are alarmed by the Home Office's disregard for life and health of Isa Muazu. We are also concerned that other migrants who go on to hunger strike out of desperation and distress will be treated in the same inhumane manner. It is unacceptable that the Home Office are preparing to allow someone to die on a mattress on the floor of a high security detention centre or in handcuffs on an airplane surrounded by security guards."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We do not routinely comment on individual cases".