Fighting deportation is one of the hardest legal battles you could face and fighting to return AFTER deportation is near impossible.
In 2007, 12,525 failed asylum seekers people were deported from Britain and 63,140 in total. Of the 24, 550 asylum claims in 2009 73% were turned down one of whom was a young woman from northern Uganda who had sought asylum after being repeatedly raped.
Her case had been pending for 5 years. Every couple of weeks she would report to the police station as all asylum claimants have to do. Each week for nearly 5 years her anxiety would start the week before signing on and become increasingly worse as the day neared. Each time she signed on she would go into a panic that it would be her last and she would disappear. One Thursday in March 2009 she went to sign on as usual and was immediately locked up and then taken to Yarlswood Detention Center.
By Sunday she was back in Kampala despite desperate attempts by her solicitor and barrister to stop the deportation. The struggle to bring her back continues and she remains in the protection of a church in Kampala. Her treatment and that of thousands of other deportees amounts to slow but intense torture, always living on the verge of being caught for simply living.
John ‘Bosco' Nyombi is also from Uganda. He came to Britain in 2002 after fearing for his life as a gay man in Uganda. On arrival in London he made a claim for asylum and after three months the Home Office withdraw their case. Despite repeated requests, the Home Office failed to put this in writing as required. John then found a job but later his application for renewal of his stay was denied so back to court. Again there was no case but from 2004 he was told to report regularly to the police station – the usual procedure for pending asylum cases as I mentioned above. Then on the 9th September he went to sign on as usual and was immediately detained for deportation.
Bosco then describes the day he was transported by force to Heathrow airport by Group 4 Guards [private UK security company]. He was handcuffed, screaming and struggling they dragged him out of the van and punched him in the groin, cuffed his legs and put him on the plane. On the 19th September he arrived in Kampala and was handed over to Ugandan immigration.
Two days before this happened Bosco had appeared in the New Vision which reported him as a gay man. He was ridiculed by the immigration and then the police. With the help of a British diplomat, Bosco managed to return to the UK. In the interview below he tells his story.
The procedure following his seizure at the police station right up to deportation is very typical. In March 2008, Ayo Omotade, a Nigerian on his way home to his brother’s wedding complained to the security guards in a British Airways flight about their handling of a deportee. Ayo was eventually thrown off the plane together with all the other passengers in economy class and he was charged with “of the charge of behaving in a threatening, abusive, insulting or disorderly manner towards crew”. Over a year later after considerable stress to himself and his family, Ayo was found Not Guilty and is presently pursuing a private suit against British Airways.
We rarely get to hear the stories of those deported. They become invisible, lost as they invariably go into hiding in their home countries fearful of being seen or heard. Thousands and thousands of people across the world living in fear of either being deported or after being deported and this is why John “Bosco” Nyombi’s story is so important.
[A longer version of John's story appears in NewInternationalist Magazine]
In March 2009 my solicitor rang me to say that I had won my case. I was given the telephone number of the person to contact who was going to give me the proper document to travel back to the UK. So this guy flew from Nairobi, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda to give me the document. I went to meet him at the British high commission. He told me you have to make sure you are at the airport in the morning because the plane is leaving at 9.50 am. He gave me the travel document on 5 March and the flight was on 6 March.
He told me that when he gets back to Nairobi he is going to talk to somebody at the airport at Entebbe in Kampala, and then he would send me the name and telephone number of that person. So when I got to the airport I could contact that person. And then they would help me to get through. I waited for the text message; I didn’t get anything. In the morning I was still where I was staying, thinking: ‘What am I going to do? What is going to happen?’
Then he rang me to say: ‘You have to leave now and go to the airport because it is late. You just go there and you don’t have to queue up. Just walk in and show them your travel document. Nothing will happen.’
So I just left. They drove me from where I was staying to the airport. When I reached there, I saw that people were queuing up. How could I just walk in? So I stood in the queue. Then he rang back: ‘It is 9 o’clock. Where are you?’ I said: ‘I am in the queue.’ He said: ‘No, you don’t have to queue, just walk in front to the desk.’
I went and talked to a woman who was supervising the queue about what was happening. She said: ‘Where is your passport?’ And I said: ‘I don’t have a passport, I was given this travel document.’ Then they started querying about it and said: ‘Oh, you are John Bosco. Oh, now you have even changed yourself.’ Because the cut of my hair, it was like a skinhead, they were thinking I was trying to disguise myself.
She said: ‘Where is your air ticket?’ The ticket was ordered from the UK and it was a photocopy. So I gave them the copy. They gave me my ticket. Then they told me to go to the immigration desk where they also started to ask me questions and took a picture of me.
At 9.50 I was still there being questioned by immigration. Then the UK government officer who gave me the travel document rang me from Nairobi and said: ‘Where are you? Are you on the plane?’ The Ugandan immigration official shouted at me, saying: ‘I am talking to you and you are on the phone.’ I tried to explain but they pulled the phone from me and said: ‘You have to talk to us. You think you know better. We can even now stop you from going. And you can be arrested, because we know what you are doing. It is illegal in this country.’
It was confusion; you don’t know what to do. You want to do the right thing, so that people can understand, but they think I try to do wrong things. It was really hard to tell what I could do.
By 10 o’clock I was lucky, I was on the plane. I sent a text message to this UK official and said: ‘I’ve managed it, I’m on the plane.’ And then he said: ‘OK, I’m going to ring the UK immigration officer to inform them that you are on the plane and they will be expecting you at Heathrow.’ I talked to my solicitor. She said: ‘I’ve talked to the Home Office. They are not going to arrest you. Nothing is going to happen and your friend is going to pick you up at the airport.’ When I was in the air, I thought: ‘OK, I’ve made it now, hopefully this is the end of all the problems.’
We landed at 4 pm. I took my travel document to the passport control desk. The gentleman at the desk said: ‘What’s this?’ And I said: ‘It’s a travel document.’ He said: ‘Where is your passport?’ And I said: ‘I don’t have a passport, that’s why I was given this travel document.’ He asked me: ‘Why do you have this travel document?’ I tried to explain that I had been deported from the UK to Uganda and now I’ve been brought back. The man just shouted: ‘Why the hell on earth would we deport you to Uganda and then bring you back?’ I just said: ‘I don’t know, because I was told it and I was given this travel document. So if you don’t believe me, you have to check with immigration, because I was given it by the UK official in Nairobi.’ Then he told me ‘We don’t know anything about you, we don’t have any paperwork about you.’
He told me to sit down there. Four o’clock, five o’clock, six o’clock. Then 7 o’clock, they came to me and said: ‘We don’t have any paperwork. We are going to detain you.’ I was thinking: ‘OK, as long as I’m back in the UK. I didn’t forge this travel document. I was given it by a UK immigration official. I got the ticket from here. My solicitor knew about it, so it’s not like I’ve smuggled myself into the country.’
They took me to this group which controls the detainees. They call it G4S. ‘We have this gentleman. He was deported last year, and this is what has happened.’ They said: ‘No, we can’t take him now, because the picture you took when you were deporting him is different to the way he is. You have to take another picture.’
They had to bring me back to the control desk. I sat there until 9 o’clock. Then at 9 o’clock they got someone who could take my picture and I was taken to the detention room at the airport. They started asking me questions again, checking me. They told me they don’t have the place yet, but they will look until they can get somewhere where they can take me to sleep at night.
I was in that room from 9 o’clock until 1 o’clock in the morning. That’s when they told me: ‘We are taking you to Tinsley House detention centre, where you are going to stay until Monday, until they can sort out your case.’ Because it was a Friday evening there was no way to contact my solicitor. I was driven from the airport at 1 o’clock and got to the detention centre at 3 o’clock in the morning. There they started searching me. By the time they got me a room to sleep it was like five in the morning. I had not eaten anything at all, I had not had anything to drink.
‘You have been released’
I had to let my friends know what was happening as they were expecting me. But because it was a weekend, there was nothing they could do.
On Monday, I rang my solicitor. She said: ‘Don’t worry, we are going to sort this out. What they did was wrong. They were not supposed to detain you. It is a case of forced imprisonment. Because the judge had ordered you to be brought back. There is no point in arresting you again.’
Then an immigration officer came to me and said: ‘We are going to remove you from this detention centre, back to Haslar in Portsmouth.’ I said: ‘OK, yes, that’s fine.’ Because I was thinking, if they move me back to Haslar, because it was close to where I used to live, it would be easier for my friends to visit me.
As I was picking my bags to go to the van, another immigration officer walked in and said: ‘Can I see John Bosco?’ And I said: ‘Yes, I am here.’ He told me: ‘You have been released.’ The people at the detention centre said: ‘No, we can’t release him from here, because we have signed him out to go to Haslar. So he can go to Haslar and be released from there.’ But the immigration man said: ‘No, he has to be released from here.’
They had to put me back on the system as if I had just come back to the detention centre. And then I was released.
When I was released I was told I was not entitled to any benefits, I was not entitled to work and I had to sign at the police station every Wednesday. And they told me to stay at the address which was provided by my friend and my work colleague.
Friends helped me out. I slept on my work colleague’s floor for months. People from my church used to give me some money. Where I was staying was seven miles away from the police station; so they gave me money to get the bus ticket there. But I was not entitled to anything from the government. I won my case for refugee status in June.
When I won my case, I got my papers through to stay in the country and because my former boss had kept my job open, I was allowed to come back to work.
A curse in Uganda
My brother was killed when I first left the country in 2001. Because when I left the country, he went looking for me. He was arrested, beaten up, and then he died. I’ve not heard from my mum since 2001. When I was deported back to Uganda, I couldn’t contact her. Because, you know, in Uganda, they don’t accept gay people. They think it’s a curse.
This new bill is going to make the situation even harder. It’s terrible. So even if you are gay, you’ve been persecuted, you’ve been through a lot, you have to think of other people in the same community. It’s really, really hard for them. Even for friends with whom you don’t have a relationship.
It’s terrible, because nobody can understand, even if you explain. They don’t really understand. I wish sometimes I could just get a chance to talk to my mum and explain. And I think if I explain to my mum she would understand
Sometimes it makes me cry and I feel sorry for the people who are in Uganda. Sometimes I don’t feel safe even here, because some members of the black community can’t even accept those who are here. I had some friends who used to come to my house, I used to cook for them. But as soon as they knew that this gay Ugandan is going to be deported, they didn’t want to talk to me. Everybody disappeared. So you can imagine if in the UK people can be like that, how it is in Uganda or other African countries.
It’s sad, because now I am in a world where I have friends but I don’t have relatives. So when people talk about their families, you just look blank. If they ask: ‘Have you heard from your mum?’, what can I say. Sometimes I say: ‘Yeah, yeah’, just in order to keep the conversation going.
It’s hard for me, but what about those who are still in Uganda? There is no freedom. There’s no freedom of speech, you can’t say anything. All the time, they say in Uganda that there are no gay people. If there are no gay people, who am I? Because nobody taught me, I didn’t go to a school where they teach people to be gay. Now they are saying: ‘They are recruiting people.’ Those are the words they are using. You can’t ‘recruit’ somebody to be gay. You can’t tell somebody, this is a group you can join. It is not a matter of joining. People really don’t understand.
In Uganda, they can arrest you as a gay person, but they will never accuse you of being gay. They will find something else. They will say that you are idle and disorderly. They can arrest you for that. They can say you are trespassing. They find a lot of things just to put you into prison. When the reason why they arrested you is because you are gay. And they don’t charge you with anything, they just put you in prison.