Journalist asylum-seeker attempts suicide hours before planned deportation

Home Office delays flight to Cameroon but is not backing down on decision. Protesters plan new appeal on medical ground as Marishka Van Steenbergen reports

Sheffield asylum-seeker Bernard Mboueyeu is receiving medical treatment after drinking cleaning fluid just hours before he was due to be deported to Cameroon, where he fears persecution and jail.

The removal flight, reported in the Guardian Northerner yesterday, has now been cancelled and Mboueyeu remains at Campsfield House immigration centre where he is now on 24-hour suicide watch. Supporters say this is the second time that he has tried to take his own life.

Mboueyeu’s wife Sharon, who lives in Wincobank, Sheffield, said Mboueyeu drank three cups of ‘cleaning fluid’:

I’m devastated, I can’t believe it has come to this. He’s just not that kind of person. It must have been a last resort for him.

The UK Border Agency can still deport Mboueyeu with 72 hours’ notice. However, supporters have asked the Medical Justice Foundation to assess Mboueyeu’s health. He cannot be removed if doctors say he is not physically or mentally fit to fly.

Mboueyeu fled his homeland of Cameroon, in 2007 after he was allegedly beaten up and tortured by the ruling regime for supporting opposition groups. The treatment followed his arrest by President Paul Biya’s security forces for taking photographs of students being attacked during protests in 2006. Supporters say that the journalist, who was working for a newspaper in southern Cameroon at the time, was stripped naked, beaten up and kept in jail for forty days.

Sharon said that she spoke to Mboueyeu yesterday:

His words to me were that he’d rather die than go back and face torture and death anyway.

Mboueyeu married charity worker Sharon in 2010 but the Home Office is insisting that he returns to Cameroon to apply for a spouse’s visa. His supporters say that if he is returned, he could be arrested, face torture, or be locked up indefinitely.

Before Mboueyeu was detained by the UK Border Agency on 10 July, his solicitors were preparing a case for a hearing on 9 August. Sharon said that she contacted Immigration Minister Damian Green after hearing of the self-harm attempt. She said:

I’m hoping Damian Green will make the right decision. We’re not asking for Bernard to be given leave to remain, all we’re asking is for him to be given an opportunity and to be allowed to keep the court date so that the judge can make the decision.

However, former Cabinet Minister David Blunkett said late yesterday:

I was very sad to learn of Bernard Mboueyeu’s attempt to harm himself and the trauma that his wife Sharon and all those who care about him have been experiencing.
 
This has been a very prolonged and complex case and I’m sad for all of them that we appear to have come to the end of the line.
 
At the last judicial review the judge made it clear that he would not provide a stay on removal instructions but there is an outstanding further attempt at judicial review on 9 August.
 
As a consequence I approached the Immigration Minister Damien Green to ask for a stay on that removal until this further judicial review had been heard.

 
Blunkett received a response from Green soon afterwards stating that it would not be in the public interest to stop Mboueyeu’s deportation. Green said:

The new immigration rules entered into force on 9 July 2012 and account has been taken of Parliament’s view in general on where the public interest lies.

The UK Border Agency have considered the grounds for Mr [Mboueyeu] Djikeugoue’s renewed application and is satisfied that his removal is entirely in line with the recent clear statement by Parliament on how the proportionality balance should be struck and that in this case it weighs in favour of the public interest.

I would consider intervening in removal proceedings only under the most compelling and compassionate of circumstances which I am not satisfied exist in this case. Consequently, I am not prepared to intervene in this matter and arrangements in place for the removal of Mr [Mboueyeu] Djikeugoue will therefore proceed.

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Political asylum seeker fears torture and detention if deported

Sheffield journalist married local charity worker two years ago, but must return to apply for spouse’s visa in Cameroon where he faces persecution. Film by Joe Bream and Marishka Van Steenbergen

An emergency protest has been held outside Sheffield Town Hall in support of Bernard Mboueyeu, who fears persecution and jail if he is deported to Cameroon first thing tomorrow, Monday 16 July.

Mboueyeu, who is currently being detained at Pennine House in Manchester, was arrested by the UK Border Agency on Tuesday morning. This is the second time he has been held, after being released and allowed to return to Sheffield just six weeks ago.

Mboueyeu fled his homeland of Cameroon in 2007 after he was allegedly beaten up and tortured by the ruling regime for supporting opposition groups. The treatment followed his arrest by President Paul Biya’s security forces for taking photographs of students being attacked during protests in 2006. Biya has been in power since 1982.

Supporters say that the journalist, who was working for a newspaper in southern Cameroon at the time, was stripped naked, beaten up and kept in jail for forty days. Mboueyeu’s wife Sharon, who lives in Wincobank, Sheffield, says:

They cut his feet with machetes – he’s still got the scars on his legs.

Mboueyeu married charity worker Sharon in 2010 but the Home Office is insisting that he returns to Cameroon to apply for a spouse’s visa. His supporters say that if he is returned as planned early tomorrow morning, he could be arrested, face torture, or be locked up indefinitely.

Shaffaq Mohammed, Sheffield’s Liberal Democrat Leader, who was at the Town Hall protest, says:

Mboueyeu has offered to return voluntarily to Cameroon if the Home Office guarantees his safety but the Home Office have refused to make that guarantee.

We think Bernard’s safety is at grave risk, if not his life. All because a bureaucrat would like a piece of paper to be sent from a foreign country.

Commenting on a 2009 Amnesty Report on Cameroon, Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa said:

Cameroon has a horrendous record of gross human rights violations, including torture and killings, against dissidents and members of opposition. Political opposition is not tolerated in Cameroon. Any dissent is suppressed through either violence or abuse of the legal system to silence critics.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson says:

Our rules are very clear, when someone has no right to be in the UK we expect them to leave voluntarily. If they fail to do so, we will seek to remove them.

Cllr Mohammed says that whilst in Sheffield, Bernard was making a great contribution to the city.

He volunteered with the Royal Society for the Blind and another charity called Aspire. Two years ago, when the devastating floods hit Pakistan, one of the first people outside the Town Hall was Bernard. He helped to highlight the plight and to raise thousands of pounds.

Sharon says:

He’s my husband, he’s a step-dad, he’s a granddad and it’s so wrong that they’re quite happy to take him away from us and not allow him to have a family life.

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