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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK
Struggle of torture victim
Torture victim's injuries
A Zimbabwean victim of torture
BBC News Online recounts the experience of a woman who, after suffering gang rape and torture in Zimbabwe and fearing for her life, was initially refused asylum by the UK government.

For the Cardiff Law Centre asylum team, tales like those of Anna (not her real name) are sadly not unique.

Until recently, Anna was living a normal, family life in her native country, with her husband and young daughter.

Her husband was quite a senior figure involved with the government in Zimbabwe, which meant the family was fairly well-off.

But then Anna was accused of being involved with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and her life took an horrific turn.

Sarah Sugden, immigration supervisor for the law centre, recounted how Anna came to be a client.

There were obvious signs she had been tortured and the secretary of state decided, no, we are not going to grant asylum in this case
Sarah Sugden

"There's a group called the green bombers, or Zanu-PF [the ruling party], and they go around terrorising MDC members because they don't want the opposition around," she said.

"She was accused of involvement and, although she wasn't, her husband left her because he couldn't be associated with such things.

"He ran off and left her all alone with the child.

"She was attacked numerous times, kidnapped, gang-raped by Zanu-PF members, went through the most horrific tortures you can imagine.

Asylum seekers in Wales
Wales total: 2,200
1,200 in Cardiff
700 in Swansea
200 in Newport
51 in Wrexham (before Caia park riots)

"They took her to abattoirs and submerged her in vats of ice and meat.

"They'd beat her, they stripped her naked and walked her though the town naked, and young boys would be touching her.

"In the end, she had no choice but to flee the country because she knew the next time, that was going to be it."

Psychiatric reports

Anna fled to England and then came to Wales. She could not afford to bring her daughter and was forced to leave the child with her sister.

"She went through the usual asylum process and got refused, which seemed quite outrageous," said Ms Sugden.

"We had medical reports and psychiatric reports stating it was quite obvious she was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sarah Sugden and Yasin Ekmen
Supervisor Sarah Sugden and case worker Yasin Ekmen

"There were obvious signs she had been tortured and the secretary of state decided, no, we are not going to grant asylum in this case."

The centre appealed against the decision, but the nature of the case made it quite complicated.

"When she first came here, she didn't want to admit she has been raped, because in Africa, it's a sign of social degradation," Ms Sugden explained.

"If you've been raped and you are a woman, you have to go through a tribal cleansing ceremony, which is quite horrible.

"Women will want to avoid this so they won't admit they have been raped.

"Our client was very lucky as she didn't contract Aids or HIV, which is quite common from the rapes in Zimbabwe."

Because Anna had not mentioned rape in her asylum claim initially, when she finally brought it up, the assessors said it was not credible that she would have kept quiet about it.

"We put forward a very good argument that that is not actually the case," Ms Sugden said.

On the edge

Anna's appeal was adjourned no fewer than six times before it was finally heard.

"By that time she had been worn down to virtually nothing. She was in a terrible state. She was very much on the edge.

"I'd had letters from her saying she couldn't live anymore, that she was going to take her own life.

"The guilt she feels for leaving her daughter behind is quite horrendous on top of everything else that's happened to her."

Anna's appeal was successful - Ms Sugden described it as a "fortunate case".

"A lot of clients, they don't get a good outcome - it's quite tragic," she said.

But Anna's struggle is not over yet.

She has found out that her husband is now going through the courts in Zimbabwe to get custody of their daughter from her sister and, because of his connections, is likely to win.

The centre is now trying through the Red Cross to bring the girl to Wales to be with her mother.


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