Detained Zimbabwean moved to psychiatric clinic

PORTSMOUTH, UK – A 24 year-old Zimbabwean man who has been languishing at an immigration detention centre in Portsmouth for over a year now, awaiting deportation, was last week moved to a psychiatric clinic.

There are fears that Tatenda Jera might be suffering from bouts of depression, anxiety and general mood disorders. Tatenda came to the UK in 2000 when he fled Zimbabwe’s political troubles.

He got into trouble with UK authorities in July last year when he was arrested for not paying fines. He accumulated substantial fines for not paying fares on London’s public transport network in 2008.

When he appeared in court he was sentenced to serve two weeks in jail. He only managed to serve one week after which he was taken into custody by the UK border agency for violating his visitor’s visa. He immediately claimed asylum but his applications have been denied three times.

A fellow Zimbabwean who was detained with Jera at Haslar detention centre, Victor Chadoka, alerted SW Radio Africa to his plight.

‘Authorities here believe he had fallen into a deep fog of depression and anxiety. I think the signs were there for all of us to worry, as he was sleeping excessively, not eating, lethargy and hopelessness,’ Chadoka said.

Experts define depression as a psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness, and thoughts of death as a final means of peace and tranquility.

‘Tatenda is a young man who has been in detention for 18 months now and I think being behind the walls has been a crushing and devastating experience, not only for him, but his family as well,’ Chadoka added.

Chadoka, a well known cartoonist is also awaiting deportation. He has published on the internet satirical cartoons denouncing Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF regime.

On any one day, over 2,600 people, most of them asylum seekers,are locked up in detention camps and prisons in Britain, without trial and without time limit and with no automatic right to bail.

Britain imprisons more migrants, including refugees and children – over 20,000 a year – for longer and with less judicial oversight than any other country in Europe.

The decision to detain and the decision whether or not to grant asylum are arbitrary. As a result, innocent people are punished, not for anything they have done but apparently because the government believes (without evidence) that this will deter others from exercising their right to claim political asylum in Britain, or simply from travelling to the UK.

What has resulted from this unjust policy, widely condemned as it is by migrant, refugee, human rights and humanitarian, trade union and other organisations?

Hundreds of thousands of people have been detained without charge or conviction, without time limit, without judicial oversight, often without reasons given in writing, and with inadequate access to legal support. The Home Office reported in October 2005 that 99.6% of asylum applicants in detention in Harmondsworth had been refused. At Yarl’s Wood 93 out of 94 people applying for asylum who were subjected to the ‘fast-track’ system (because they were from supposedly ‘safe’ countries) were rejected.

Children are being imprisoned (with one or both parents). Individuals and groups of detainees have made countless protests – letters, petitions, hunger strikes and major revolts at detention centres (just a few examples: Campsfield in 1994, 1997 and (three times) 2007, Yarl’s Wood in 2002, Harmondsworth in 2004, 2005, 2006 (twice), 2007, 2008). At least six times all or part of a detention centre has been closed as a result of damage. Three trials (Campsfield 1998, Yarl’s Wood 2003, Harmondsworth 2008) have failed to nail a single detainee on charges of riot, arson and conspiracy to cause criminal damage.

Eleven young men have killed themselves while in the care of UK detention centres. Many more asylum seekers have killed themselves in prisons, and dozens more in the community. On 30 March, a man detained under immigration powers was found hanged at Pentonville prison.

According to the government, in the ten months to January 31st 2006, 185 people in detention attempted self-harm, requiring medical treatment, and 1,467 were considered to be a danger to themselves and put on self-harm watch. The devastating effect of detention upon the mental health of detainees was described in ‘Detention of Refugees’, an editorial in the British Medical Journal on 4 February 2006.

Television programmes have exposed the racism of detention guards. Beatings of people being deported have been well documented, by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Medical Justice, Asylum Aid and others, again on television, and in a series of articles in the Independent newspaper.

Detention is one aspect of government immigration and refugee policy that we are trying to combat. Needless to say, we connect with many groups with similar broad interests but a different particular focus. SW Radio, plus barbedwirebritain.org/