An Open Letter – Addendum

Posted on: 28th February 2013

This blog post is an Addendum to the open letter regarding Mary’s case posted last month.

To Whom It May Concern

Re: Mary N.

DOB 23/01/1945

Shortly after writing my last letter, I received some deeply sad, if not altogether unsurprising news. Mary sent me a text message with her new address – Yarlswood Immigration Removal Centre. One crisp February morning she was simply picked up by the police and taken to the main removal centre for women in the UK, in a small town just outside of London.

The Home Office will soon be applying for a travelling document and putting Mary on a plane to Malawi. She will be returned to the small town in a poor, remote region of the country where she has no chance to receiving the life-saving antiretroviral treatment she needs to survive. As Mary’s immune system withers away under the strain of HIV, her body will succumb to opportunistic infections that will eventually kill her. Over the next several months, she will face a slow and painful death, a death that is all the more tragic for being completely unnecessary and altogether preventable. If this is not considered ‘inhumane and degrading treatment’ as enshrined by the Human Rights Act, what is?

The treatment to save Mary’s life is available and fully within our reach, and yet we are sending her back, to a certain death. This is because the threshold to be able to get leave to remain based on health grounds is extremely high. As long as the treatment is theoretically available in the country you are being removed to, even if it is evident that it is not available in the area where you live, or given your circumstances, that you would never be able to afford it, it is not enough grounds to be granted stay in the UK.

Such was the case of Ama Sumani, who died after being deported whilst undergoing life-saving treatment for cancer and renal failure, which she did not have access to in her country of origin, Ghana. Lin Homer, then chief executive of UKBA maintained in the face of such deaths, that “repeated judicial rulings had found that deporting those undergoing medical treatment did not amount to inhumane treatment, even if the person involved later had a relapse or died .”

The complete lack of empathy and concern for another human being that allows such atrocities to go on permeates our entire society and is fully enshrined in legislation going all the way up to Strasburg. We cannot point fingers at individuals – at the UKBA official that picked up Mary from her homeless day centre and told her to collect her belongings; the judge who will never get the chance to hear Mary’s case in court, but would turn it down if s/he did, because it does not meet the high threshold for Article 3 cases.

Antiretrovirals are theoretically available in Malawi. Even in the face of compelling evidence that Mary will never be able to access them due to geography and lack of affordability, resulting in a painful and certain death, she would not be granted leave to remain in the UK due to the state of our current legislation. It would be unfair and also completely inaccurate to blame individuals carrying out decisions that we as a society condone and implicitly support by not voting them out.

Body & Soul and our probono legal colleagues have been thinking hard about how to get Mary out of detention and submit an application for leave to remain, but we know from the outset it is a losing battle. What we need in order to make sure that deaths like Ama’s and Mary’s will not be in vain is an outcry from the general public saying not in my name. A cry with enough ferocity and momentum to see a change in the way our country interprets ‘inhumane and degrading treatment.’

I will finish by reflecting on a recent article I read about rats demonstrating pro-social behaviour for the sheer sake of it. After several sessions, a free rat learned to intentionally and quickly open a restrainer that was trapping a cagemate. Rats freed cagemates even when social contact between them was prevented. When liberating a cagemate was pitted against chocolate (!), rats opened both restrainers and typically shared the chocolate.

Are we too blinded by talk of limited resources and austerity measures to recognise a cagemate in need of help? How is it possible that we have constructed societies and livelihoods that are so complex and obtuse that they blind us to our most biological instincts, those to help another being in distress? When it comes to empathy, how did we get surpassed by rodents?!

Yours faithfully,

Livia Ottisova

Head of Adult Programmes

Body & Soul

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