A Zimbabwean lesbian protesting against her detention without trial in a Bedfordshire asylum centre has ended her 33-day hunger strike.
Thando, an asylum applicant, aged 29, had been protesting against her six-month incarceration in the notorious Yarls Wood asylum detention centre near Bedford.
“She is not a criminal. Thando was the victim of homophobic violence in her native Zimbabwe. She fled to the UK to escape beatings and arrest because of her sexuality,” said Kizza Musinguzi, African Affairs spokesperson of the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender human rights group, OutRage!, which is backing Thando’s asylum claim.
“Thando had been made very ill by her month-long hunger-strike. She was transferred to Bedford Hospital.
“Having won the right to a bail hearing, Thando took the decision to end her hunger-strike,” Mr Musinguzi said.
“Yarls Wood has been condemned by human rights campaigners for its repeated abuse of detainee’s rights.
“In early December, human rights campaigners persuaded an independent doctor, Frank Arnold, to examine Thando in Yarls Wood. He assessed her condition as very poor.
Dr Arnorld recommended that she be taken to hospital immediately, in order that she could gradually be reintroduced to food and receive special nutritional supplements.
“Yarls Wood initially refused to comply,” he revealed. “Eventually, Yarls Wood relented and she was hospitalised.
“Thando has now received medical treatment and is slowly recovering. Last week, she was transferred from hospital back to Yarls Wood. But the asylum detention authorities are still not following medical advice and giving her the special vitamin supplements she needs to aid her recovery.
“We are backing Thando’s bail application and her bid for asylum in the UK. It would be criminal to return her to the hell-hole that is Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe,” said Mr Musinguzi.
Thando – Background Briefing
by Kizza Musinguzi, African Affairs spokesperson OutRage!:
All through school Thando was interested in nursing and studied for her Red Cross certificates and became a trainee nurse.
Thando realised she was lesbian when she was 17. When her parents learned about her sexuality, they subjected her to severe beatings and turned her in to the police. Officers warned her to renounce her lesbianism, otherwise she would be arrested.
Fearful of further beatings and arrest, she escaped to South Africa in 1994. She had to cross the border illegally because she had no valid travel documents and South Africa often refuses Zimbabwean asylum seekers. Thando was twice arrested as an illegal refugee and put into South Africa’s notorious Lindela repatriation camp. Many Zimbabwean refugees are incarcerated there.
South Africa does not normally accept Zimbabwean asylum seekers and often deports them back to Zimbabwe.
Conditions in the Lindela camp are appalling. The food is poor and many detainees get food poisoning. Some die. Women are crammed up to 30 to a room, even women who have children or are pregnant. The blankets are dirty and are not washed from one person to the next.
Twice Thando got out from Lindela camp with the help of friends who bribed the guards. The second time she met a man and, in desperation, went to live with him.
After a year of staying with him, he found out she was a lesbian. The beatings started on a regular basis, sometimes daily. He forced her to go out and work as a prostitute. After a year of enduring these beatings, one day he attacked her with a broom stick and beat her so severely that her leg was damaged and she was taken to hospital. Thando still has problems with her leg and was taken from Yarls Wood to Bedford hospital three months ago for treatment on the leg.
After the beatings, she managed to escape from her tormentor and went into hiding.
Thando was afraid of being arrested by the South African police and put back in Lindela camp or, worse still, being arrested and deported back to Zimbabwe.
Fearful of such a fate, Thando was helped out by a friend's boyfriend, who paid for a ticket for her to come to the UK. Since she did not have a Zimbabwe passport, the only way she could get to the UK was on a false South African passport.
Since leaving Zimbabwe, Thando’s father has died. Through the help of her sister, who explained Thando’s lesbianism, she is now reconciled with her mother, who sent Thando her Zimbabwean birth certificate to confirm her nationality (which was being disputed by the Home Office).
Thando has been held at Yarl's Wood asylum detention centre for six months.
When she first arrived in the UK, she was refused entry. She did not know she had to ask for asylum immediately on arrival. She was returned to South Africa. Her friend got her another ticket two weeks later and this time she knew what to do. She asked for asylum on arrival. Since then, she has been held in Yarls Wood asylum detention centre.”