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Last Updated: Monday, 20 June 2005, 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK
Life inside: The asylum detainee
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News website community affairs reporter

The government is under pressure to suspend removal of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers, with their campaigners claiming they will face torture or abuse on their return. Forard (not his real name), a detainee at Colnbrook Removal Centre near Heathrow Airport, describes what life is like inside a removal centre while he waits to be returned home against his wishes.

Forard, speaking by phone from a landing at Colnbrook, says he fled Zimbabwe after he was singled out for attacks by members of the youth wing of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZanuPF party.

He has been refused asylum but has not yet been removed.

There are people here who are mad, they were normal people when they came in but now it's like their brains have been disturbed
Forard

He claims he carries the evidence of torture on his body, although he wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of damaging his case.

Colnbrook is the newest centre and is close to Heathrow to make removals easier. But Forard says he has been there for most of this year after initially being held in Dungavel in Lanarkshire.

"I came here in February and have been here ever since," he said amid the din of a noisy corridor where other people were waiting for phone calls."

"The structure of this building is just like a jail. Inside the rooms there are toilets with no doors. The ceiling is dark blue, close to black and they lock us up at 10pm and they open in the morning at 7.30, sometimes 7.45."

"There is no way you can get out of the room. It feels that there is no air coming in, there is artificial ventilation but it feels like it is blocked most of the time."

"It gets very hot sometimes and I have to fan myself with a newspaper at night and there is no way you can open windows."

Forard described the view from his room as one of razor wire and solid fences. He said there was "nothing much to see, you look from the room to the fence , the way I had seen the inside of a jail on television, this is what I see here."

"In Dungavel the toilets are outside the rooms and you can get out of the room and go to television rooms and you come out and you can play games."

"Your rooms are not locked at night. Here, when they lock, you are locked in and there is nothing else you can do."

'Hangings'

Asked what he would say to those who support the detention policy, Forard said it was not as good as people thought.

He said: "People in here are cutting their wrists and they are burning themselves with boiling water. There are people in [detention centres] who are hanging themselves but nothing is said about this on the outside."

"I have seen these things several times. There are people here who are mad, they were normal people when they came in but now it's like their brains have been disturbed."

"They walk in circles all day, there is this other guy who is like a zombie who doesn't talk and walks like a tree, with little movement."

"I have seen this guy for three months in here and a few minutes ago he upset another man and wanted to hit him and one day he will get himself killed."

Scream

Forard's words were cut short by a loud scream which sounded like it had come from down the hallway. It was one of the men Forard said was now mentally unstable. A few minutes later, as he resumed his story, the same man loudly banged a door.

"This is the frustration that I have been talking about. Sometimes [the man] talks, sometimes he will go and just scream like this, sometimes he will go and slash his hands - he has scars all over his hands."

Forard said he sought asylum with no intention of staying in the UK - he simply followed the same path as other family members who had spent a lot of money organising a secretive and hopefully temporary escape from Zimbabwe.

He says he has every intention of going home once President Mugabe is gone - but until then he does not feel safe.

"I don't think this is an easy country. The process of coming here is not easy at all, raising money to take flights from Africa, false passports and so on."

"I was warned before by other people that the asylum system in Britain is very difficult. My other choice was a country which I didn't have a clue about. But my cousin had made it here and said they would wait for me at the airport; you have to understand that was the reason why."

"The other people who told me about Britain told me the weather is very unfriendly and you should not expect people to have any time for each other, not like in Africa when people greet each other as they pass."

Immigration minister Tony McNulty has disputed some of the complaints about asylum detention.

"I accept the broad pont that we do need to be very sensitive to anyone we detain throuhgout the asylum process," he said. "But I don't accept the point that it's flawed to have detention as part of an asylum system in the first place. It's not the case that people are languishing in the system [as Amnesty have claimed]."

For his part, Forard is still fighting his case and says ultimately he would rather stay in Colnbrook than go home because whatever his conditions in the UK, having no liberty is better than no life at all.

"I will try to resist [removal]. There is no safety in Zimbabwe for me."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Forard tells his story
"People in here are cutting their wrists"



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