I am reeling from the fact that a government with Liberal Democrats in it is on the brink of crossing a major humanitarian line. Not content with standing by while Isa Muaza starves himself to death in protest at his treatment within an immigration detention centre, tomorrow morning they are planning to deport him. He can barely stand, and as this report from the Guardian states, he has numerous health problems. If he survives the flight, what are they going to do to someone in such a weakened state? Dump him in the arrivals lounge and head back home? What reputable airline would do that? This one, Air Charter Scotland, apparently.
Lord Roger Roberts wrote a heartbreaking post on Liberal Democrat Voice yesterday describing his visit to Isa, who has now not eaten for 90 days, and making the case for clemency.
Even before this protest began – and before he ever came to the UK – Isa Muaza was a deeply vulnerable person. He fled Nigeria fearing for his life at the hands of the terror group Boko Haram, a group he says have already killed several members of his family and as he told me yesterday, if returned this week he will have no one to meet him off the plane. He is penniless, blind and incapable of standing on his own. In his current state this on its own is a death sentence.
In deporting Mr Muaza on Friday the Home Office seems to be seeking to avoid another death in immigration detention. But the Home Secretary cannot – and should not – escape responsibility for her actions. In this case, for forcibly detaining a man the system so evidently could not care for. Those held in the thousands of beds in immigration detention centres across the UK are some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Striking out at them is not the sign of a strong immigration system, but a desperately weak one.
So what does a fair society do when faced with someone on hunger strike? There are some people, like Theresa May, who think it’s just a way of playing the system. For three months? To the point of a long drawn out horrible death? For me, it’s the sign of a very sick system that nobody going through it has any confidence in it to treat them fairly.
We need to be working on prevention. Isa originally started his hunger strike because his clinical and dietary needs were not being met. Taking someone’s liberty is drastic enough. We don’t need to have their dignity too. If someone is being detained, which should not be a common thing at all, they should have all the support and health care that they need and the respect as a fellow human being that they deserve.
We generally are pretty helpless in these situations, but that doesn’t mean we should sit and do nothing. There are times when we should make our voices heard and this is one of them. Here are 3 things you can do:
2. Tweet or email Air Charter Scotland and ask them not to transport Isa Muaza.
3. If you are a Liberal Democrat party member tweet or email Tim Farron, Party President, to ask him to continue to press Nick Clegg to intervene. He has met with Nick’s team today and urged them to do so and he has also signed Julian and Roger’s petition. The more people he can say are annoyed about this, the stronger his case will be. Although, bluntly, it shouldn’t take us being annoyed to move Nick to action on this.
We already knew that the asylum system was inhumane and put people through horrid indignities while not giving vulnerable people enough time to get representation and present their evidence properly. It was bad enough under Labour, and the Conservatives have, seemingly unchecked, made it worse. What are we there for if not to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves? We need to start making a tangible difference, and soon, to the way people are treated. It’s already bad enough that a Liberal Democrat minister has been restricting access to Legal Aid so that women can’t get legal representation, for example, if they are trying to get a place in a mother and baby unit. That’s heartbreaking enough, but we’re talking about a matter of life and possibly imminent death here.
Liberal Democrats are there to protect people from the excesses of the state. I accept that there are limits to what we can do when we make up just a fifth of the Government and I know that Labour and Tories have no such concern, but we need to do it firstly because nobody else will and secondly because it’s right.