By Cheryl Gallagher
In the run-up to the 2001 elections in my country in East Africa, I was campaigning for an opposition group when some government soldiers kidnapped me in front of my children. I was raped and tortured and they starved me. After about a month, one of the soldiers accidentally left the door open and I escaped. I decided that I had to leave the country with my children.
After we had been in England for a few years, we were woken up at 5am by a loud bang at the door. A man shouted: "Open up! Immigration." We'd had no warning we were going to be deported. We were caged in the back of a van like prisoners and they wouldn't let me take my medication for depression.
When we got to the airport, the immigration escorts told me I had to hand over my eight-month-old son. They just grabbed him. I was pulling his legs and they were pulling his arms. In the end I let go because I didn't want to hurt him. Then they threw me on the floor and handcuffed me. One officer was kneeling on my back and another was kneeling on my head. My son was screaming so they threw him in the van, banging his head on the side. Then they said we weren't going because we had missed the flight.
Three weeks later there was another loud bang at the door. I didn't even get out of bed; I knew who it was. This time they took us to a detention centre, where you are basically a prisoner; they make you feel as if you've killed somebody.
We were taken to the airport again; what I didn't realise was that my lawyer had got an injunction preventing us from being deported. The immigration escorts started to drag us towards the plane. They were pulling my hair and my braids were dropping out. Once we were on board the plane, I heard them tell the other passengers that we were criminals.
The baby was crying so much that one man got up and said: "Why don't you give the baby to his mother!" The leader of the group took off my handcuffs and gave the baby to me. I asked them to get me the baby's food and one of them said, "Oh my God, we've left everything in the van". When we arrived, the airport immigration officers were staring at me - my trousers were torn, I was soaked in sweat and bleeding from my wrists.
About two months after I was deported, I was abducted again by government soldiers. Again, they tortured and interrogated me. They put me in the boot of a car and were taking me to be killed when they had a puncture. One of the men opened the boot to get a spare tyre but he didn't close it properly. I jumped out and escaped while they fired shots after me. My friends managed to get some money together to get me out of the country again, but I had to leave the children behind.
I was finally granted asylum in 2007 and my children joined me in 2008. I'm so grateful to the organisation Women Against Rape (womenagainstrape.net) - they stayed in touch with me, and told me to try to get compensation for the illegal deportation and abuse we had suffered. We eventually won a substantial six-figure sum - but nothing makes up for the way we have been treated.
When I finally saw my second youngest son at the airport, he walked straight past me. It took him a month to believe that I was his mother. I never want to be separated from my children again.
I'm now involved with the All African Women's Group at Crossroads Women's Centre, and I write to women in detention centres, because I know how much support from the outside means.