Politician's son driven by despair to join hunger strike

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Motomoko gazes at the ugly grey carpet with weary eyes. The Zairean student is starting the third week of a hunger strike in protest at being held in detention while his application for political asylum is considered.

'I have been treated like a prisoner since I arrived in this country. I would rather die than for it to continue any longer,' he said calmly. The son of a prominent opposition politician who was killed for his criticism of Zaire's president, Mobuto Seseseko, Motomoko arrived in Britain fearing he was next on the death squad's list after his home was ransacked.

In March 1993, Motomoko - who asked for his identity to be withheld - arrived at Heathrow airport and told his story to immigration officials. Instead of a sympathetic response, he was sent to a detention centre while his case was considered.

Since then he has been held in a succession of jails and institutions, the latest being Campsfield House near Oxford. He has had no contact with his family and although he hopes his wife and two small children are safe in Namibia, he does not know whether they are alive or dead.

When a hunger strike began at Campsfield, Mokomoto, his patience exhausted after his request for asylum was turned down twice on appeal, agreed to take part. At its height, 219 detainees, including Nigerians, Indians, Ghanians and Pakistanis at 10 centres and prisons, joined the protest, although some have since dropped out.

Speaking in the hesitant English he has picked up during his incarceration, Mokomoto said he intended to continue his fast. His motivation was not to force the Home Office into allowing him to stay - rather, he simply could not tolerate his situation any longer. 'The uncertainty of not knowing how long I will have to stay here, and my worries for my family, are destroying me,' he said.

Detainee support groups such as the Community of Zairean Refugees in Great Britain (Corezag) and church organisations send volunteers as often as they can afford to. Such visitors provide welfare rights advice, toiletries, and, where possible, magazine articles and newspapers in the detainee's own language.

Campsfield, opened in November after a pounds 5m refurbishment, is regarded as one of Europe's most modern detention centres, with a sports room, library and free association. But the complex, run by Group 4, still feels like a prison.

Tannoy announcements regularly sound in the starkly decorated visitors' room which is monitored by the surveillance cameras used throughout the complex. The atmosphere is repressive and authoritarian.

Mokomoto feels bitterly betrayed by his experiences at the hands of British officialdom. 'I only came here to save my life. I have committed no crime, yet I have no freedom.'

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