Ugandan women vow to fight on as hunger strike claims victims
24 October 2005 (IRR)
By Bianca Brigitte Bonomi
6 September 2005, 4:00pm
An on-going hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre has resulted in two women being taken to Bedford hospital, after five weeks of starving themselves.
Sophie Odogo and Enid Ruhango are currently being given fluids and a hospital spokesman has described their condition as ’very weak’. The hunger strike began at the end of July, with over thirty Ugandan women committing themselves to the drastic action, following months of what the detainees refer to as ’torturous’ imprisonment. The women, many of whom are HIV positive, are protesting against their imminent removal. In Uganda, they were subjected to a catalogue of abuses,including rape, beatings and imprisonment, and they fear that if they are deported, they will again face danger.
Hospitalised victim Ms Odogo fled to the UK after being repeatedly raped and tortured, whilst Ms Ruhango was raped by Ugandan soldiers and is HIV positive. Despite Home Office assurances that medical treatment is available in Uganda for the deported women with Aids, experts have shown that money meant to be funding HIV/Aids treatment in Uganda has ’disappeared’.
One of the detainees, Ms Grace Namanda has been diagnosed as HIV positive and has fallen ill since being in the UK. She was granted asylum on the grounds that the treatment that she requires is not available in Uganda, yet this decision has been challenged by the Home Office, which claims that the provision of Aids treatment in Uganda is adequate and free. However, in a recent interview with a doctor from a Ugandan hospital, conducted by Channel Four, it was revealed that the medication required by victims such as Ms Namanda and Ms Ruhango would not be free and much of the aid sent to Uganda does not reach patients.
In addition to protesting against deportation, the women are also seeking to highlight the ’poor’ conditions in the Yarl’s Wood centre. The spokeswoman of the group, Harriet Anyangokolo, who was released after thirty-three days of hunger strike and who has now secured legal representation, has criticised the conditions in the detention centre on BBC Radio’s Women’s Hour, claiming that the combination of a lack of medical and legal aid, racism, bad food and sexual intimidation has exacerbated the women’s trauma and has led to suicide attempts. For example detainee Gloria Chalimpa, a woman who has suffered years of repeated rape in Uganda and who was abducted as a child and trained as a soldier,has attempted suicide several times in Yarl’s Wood and is suffering from depression.
According to Legal Action for Women, since the publication of its information booklet For Asylum Seekers and their Supporters - A Self-Help Guide Against Detention and Deportation in June, Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape have been inundated with calls from women in detention. They say that women are being deported regardless of the validity of their claim, in order to boost government deportation figures, and have called for the threat of removal to be lifted pending the reconsideration of the women’s cases. Cristel Amiss from Black Women’s Rape Action Project told IRR News that, following the publication of an article in Sunday Vision, Ugandan officials have access to the names of individuals involved in the hunger strike, and the women are now terrified at the prospect of being deported.
She also revealed that in certain cases expert reports were not commissioned by lawyers to document the women’s accounts of their ordeals or to assess the effects that these experiences had had. A Home Office spokeswoman has refuted these accusations by stating that: ’People are removed only if all appeals have been heard and dismissed.’ ’There is free legal advice available to everybody that claims asylum at all points of the process.’ But the Ugandan women allege that their cases are not being reconsidered and that they are not receiving adequate legal aid. As a result of new rules which dictate that asylum seekers usually have to pay for any appeals, one woman has claimed that she was asked to pay £1,500 in legal fees. In another case it is alleged that a woman discovered that she had been represented by a translator and not a solicitor in court and, when a new solicitor issued legal proceedings, officials attempted to deport her in spite of this appeal.
This woman remains on hunger strike, after being taken to Dungavel Detention Centre in Scotland. Four other women remain on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre and spokeswoman Harriet Anyangokolo has stated that the women will continue to fight for their rights and against deportation.
For more information contact: Legal Action for WomenCrossroads Women’s Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU. Tel: 020 7482 2496 Fax: 020 7209 4761 Mob: 07980 659 831 or email: law at crossroadswomen.net.