A Kenyan asylum seeker held at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre had a vital self-help guide confiscated by staff days before a crucial deadline for her case.
Mercy Wanjiku , who fled from torture in Kenya, had three days in which to prepare and submit papers for an oral judicial review and, without a lawyer, was dependent on the advice contained in the guide. The UK Border Agency has since said that there were no legal grounds for the confiscation, although Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre claims it has the right to remove it.
Mercy said, ‘What does it mean when the authorities can change the rules and deny me help to make my case to the Home Office? Are they aiming to deliberately sabotage our legal cases?’
Mercy claims that she was forced to open her mail in front of Yarl’s Wood staff on 8 October and that the Legal Action for Women’s Self-help guide against detention and deportation was then confiscated. She says that a male member of staff told her that he was only following orders by informing her that it was ‘illegal to have the book in here’.
It was only after Mercy, with the help of Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP), made an official complaint to the UK Border Agency and to Serco, the multi-national company who runs Yarl’s Wood, sent letters to her MP and lodged a theft report with the local police, that the guide was returned.
According to BWRAP, the UK Border Agency has since admitted that the guide was taken in direct contravention of the Detention Centre Rules and that there were no legal grounds upon which it could have been confiscated.
BWRAP claims that hundreds of women have relied on the self-help guide to provide crucial information for their cases, having been forced to represent themselves as a result of cuts in legal aid funding. It says that sixty per cent of women in detention attend their appeal hearings without legal representation.
Mercy had been a qualified nurse in Kenya where she had opened a clinic for young girls seeking protection from the threat of female genital mutilation. She claimed that as a result of her work she was kidnapped and tortured by the secretive Mungiki sect, who promote Kikuyu traditions including female genital mutilation, and that she was left for dead on a roadside before being discovered by passersby. Her claim was rejected by the authorities.
As a result of publicity around Mercy’s case, a deportation order against her has been postponed. A legal team has now agreed to look into making a fresh claim on her behalf.
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