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'Close to death' hunger striker loses appeal for ruling that he is being held unlawfully in immigration detention centre


A 'close to death' hunger striker has lost a Court of Appeal bid for a ruling that he is being unlawfully held in an immigration detention centre pending attempts to remove him from the UK.

Lawyers for Isa Muazu, 45, a failed asylum seeker from Nigeria, say he is now “near death” - but the Home Office argues he is “fit to fly”.

Three judges in London heard that his removal is due on Wednesday.

Muazu is detained at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow.

He says he came to the UK “for a better life”, and would “rather die” than face removal. He began his hunger strike in September, protesting that his asylum claim “was not treated fairly”.

Today's challenge was against a ruling by High Court judge Mr Justice Ouseley last week that Home Secretary Theresa May is not holding Mr Muazu unlawfully.

The judge declared that the decision to continue to refuse food and fluids was, in the end, for him to make - “his detention does not become unlawful simply because he is determined on that outcome”.

But Mr Justice Ouseley said his condition should be kept under review after it was argued that his death would defeat the purpose of his detention, which was to hold him pending deportation as an overstayer in the UK.

Mr Muazu's appeal against the judge's ruling was dismissed by Lord Justice Lewison, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Sir Stanley Burnton.

They announced that they had “not been persuaded” that Mr Justice Ouseley was wrong in his decision and ruled that new arguments made on Mr Muazu's behalf during today's hearing had “undermined the correctness of his decision”.

The Court of Appeal judges will give full reasons for their ruling in a written judgment to be given on a date to be fixed.

Mr Muazu has been described as being in a “sorry state”, but the appeal judges heard that he had been certified as “fit for detention”.

It was argued on his behalf by Elisabeth Laing QC that his continued detention was “unlawful and irrational”.

She submitted that the “reasonable step” would be to release Mr Muazu, adding that what was not reasonable, “but rather wholly unreasonable and disproportionate”, was to “continue to detain a detainee until his will is broken, or if not broken, he simply dies”.

Mr Muazu, from Maiduguri in the northeast of Nigeria, entered the UK in July 2007 on a visitor's visa but did not leave when it expired.

He became an overstayer in January 2008 and found work in south-east London.

He said he had sought asylum after members of Boko Haram, a hardline Islamist group, threatened to kill him unless he joined them. He claims two members of his family have been killed by the group.

His application to remain was refused, and he was detained by the immigration authorities for removal on July 25 this year - the day he claimed asylum.

The claim was rejected as “manifestly unfounded” in August . He remained in detention, and he began his prolonged hunger strike in late September.

At a previous hearing, Eleanor Grey QC, appearing for Home Secretary, said granting him any court order could lead to “copycat cases” involving other immigration detainees.

The case is of general importance because of its potential impact on other asylum detainees. It is understood three other similar cases are already in the pipeline for judicial review.

Immigration law experts see the Government's stance as a new hardline approach following the release in June of four asylum detainees who were on hunger strike in protest at their detention.

Additional reporting PA