By Lisa Matthews of Right to Remain. Right to Remain is a member organisation of the Detention Forum.
Marie Therese, a survivor of ritualised torture in Cameroon, campaigned for justice in her asylum case with the help of Right to Remain’s supporters. Marie Therese wrote, movingly and powerfully, about the shocking things she experienced in Cameroon, and the continued abuse she faced in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. She described her experience in Yarl’s Wood as being “humiliated, assaulted, abused, tortured mentally, physically and emotionally”.
No safe haven
Marie Therese was tortured and beaten by her family in a tribal ritual for converting religion, targeted by the church for refusing to marry an elder, and verbally abused by her new husband’s family. She fled to the UK and sought asylum.
After such a terrible ordeal, Marie Therese had hoped she would find understanding and sanctuary in the UK. Unforgivably, she experienced quite the opposite.
For nine month they have robbing me everything : my personality, my health, my dignity and freedom even my sleep.
After claiming asylum, Marie Therese Nana was detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Traumatised by her experiences in Cameroon, and having to flee her country, she was feeling very unwell. She was not prepared for what followed:
I was in my room so poorly and I punched the emergency button because I needed help and I wasn’t well, to my surprise the Officers came and shouted at me and I tried to apologize but he was so aggressive against me until his colleague began to try to calm him down.
Both went out and later on, the man came again and started shouting at me, telling me that we will get it tomorrow on your removal, I apologized and he went out, after both came again in my room and compelled me to follow them and I managed to walk and it took me times to follow them to the healthcare due to my poorly condition.
This was not the end of Marie Therese’s ordeal. In August 2012, she was issued with removal directions.
I was called in the manager office who says you have a removal direction for tomorrow, we will move you to another unit, but I wanted to remain in my unit. Then He call four officers who came and grasped me, and one of them twisted my neck, I can’t forget this horrible moment, what to me is a torture, they twisted my hand back and handcuff me backward, they carried me like a luggage and I screamed because they were hurting me.
Marie Therese was subjected to yet further abuse in October 2012, during another removal attempt, when she was manhandled and taken ‘like luggage to prison’ while wearing only a night dress. She was locked up for several days, still only wearing a nightdress.
About 4 am, four other officers came carrying me out of the prison, dumped me on the floor in another room and put me handcuffed frontward, one of the officer squeezed my mouth trying to open it, I dont no what she wanted to do but I felt myself treated unhuman and I was so humiliated, they carried me in the van and drove to the airport, in the van, I was so poorly and was very cold because I was only in a night dress, when we arrive on the checking point, they carry me like a luggage and put me on the floor, I was so shocked because I was in night dress and they were laughing and mocking at me, they didn’t even give me the opportunity to go to the toilet, after checking they carry me back to the van and drove to the plane, when we arrive, few minute later they said my flight has been cancelled and we came back to Yarl’s Wood. I felt unhuman because I can believe this attitude coming from human being like me, taking me with night dress and barefooted. When I came to Yarl’s Wood, officers at the reception refused to let me go back to my room with my night dress and compelled me to change before going to my room, I felt deeply so bad because they took me to the airport night dress and now they are refusing me to go back in my room in night dress. When I came back in my unit, officer were gathered in their office and laughed and mocked after me.
They started monitoring me day and night. I could not sleep because of the light on during the night and the door widely open. Having shower was the worst because under shower the officer open the door of the bathroom and watched me naked. Even others detained could watch out of the corridor, because all the door was opened, I asked the female officer to get in the bathroom so that I can shut the door, because I felt humiliated, I was being looked at by officers both males and females and other detainees passing along the corridor. She refused and continued to watch me naked drying myself. This happened for two days until I stopped taking showers. I cannot drink freely because I fear to go toilet because a man officer is there just to observe me. During this oppression UKBA sent me removal directions for 11th February knowing that I have a judicial review hearing on the 21st of February.
I have thrown myself into the den of a lion. Am I a HUMAN BEING? I ran from my country to save my life and I just want to seek asylum. After destroying me mentally now they plot to send me back to my killers.
Justice, at last
Many supporters wrote messages of support to Marie Therese, while she was experiencing this horror in detention. Emails and letters came from far and wide, and Right to Remain (then known as NCADC) passed these on to Marie Therese. They meant a great deal to her, and kept her spirits up.
After the degradation of detention and the violent attempt to remove her, Marie Therese then had a long, agonising wait while the Home Office reconsidered her case after judicial review proceedings were initiated.
In June 2014, Marie Therese got in contact to give us the great news that she had finally been granted refugee status. She said:
please pass on my gratitude to all those who have been encouraging me and supporting me through their mails and prayers.