Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A picture of grandpa

I remember the first story Mala wrote.

She had only just started walking and was still in diapers.

She brought me a piece of paper.

"Dad," she said. "I've written a picture."

I could see her excitement.

I looked at what she'd written. All I could see were sqiuggles and spidery lines.

"It's grandpa" she said, helpfully. "He has a toothache."

Monday, 15 October 2007

[Blog Review] The Mind of a Working Writer

Emmanuel Sigauke teaches English at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento and is one of the Cosumnes River Journal’s editors. He is also founder and editor of Munyori Poetry Journal, which publishes poems by established and emerging writers from all over the world.

His own poems and other writings have been published in journals and magazines that include Virtual Writer, Slow Trains Journal, Ibhuku and

His blogs, Wealth of Ideas, Chisiya Echoes: New Zimbabwe Poetry and Namatsiwangu give an insight into the mind of a working writer.

Chisiya Echoes is the oldest of the three and is a collection of over 370 poems in English that Sigauke has been writing since February 2006. The second blog, Namatsiwangu, was started in November 2006 and is made up of 10 Shona poems.

Wealth of Ideas, which is the focus of this article, is three months old. So far, it has about 20 posts of varying length. The posts focus on Sigauke’s observations on African literature and poetry.

One of the things that make Wealth of Ideas interesting is that it shows how a working writer can use the blog as a creative tool, as an aid to writing and creativity.

For example, in one of his posts, Sigauke tells us, “I blog my poetry first, which means I create and publish my work instantaneously”.

He emphasizes that the poems he creates in this manner are drafts.

“I am aware that this is some form of drafting. I always transfer the work to a local document for editing. Once the poem sounds polished, I send it to journals,” he says.

He points out that one of the effects this has had on his work is that it has allowed him to produce more poetry than he would have done had he not been blogging.

“Look at the blogged pieces as the raw materials for high-quality poetry,” he says.

Wealth of Ideas also reveals the link that exists between visual images and poetry.

The blog has a small collection of photographs, one of these is of a bird’s nest on a tree in Capitol Park, Sacramento. Sigauke’s brief comment about the nest reads and sounds like a poem. It has the rhythm, the rhyme and the effect of a poem.

“The nest is a poem that no words (even these) can build yet. But what bird, under what influence, would build a nest this close to the ground?” he asks.

Another of the things that is engaging about Wealth of Ideas is that Sigauke uses it as a writer’s notebook or a journal. This gives the reader the feeling of eavesdropping, the feeling of listening in to a person talking to himself, the feeling of watching a mind brainstorming about literature, books, poetry and life.

You see ideas being formed. You see those ideas giving birth to other ideas and possibilities. You get the feeling you are standing over his shoulders and watching him write and you want to tell him, “This sounds good… What happens next?”

One of the reason why Sigauke’s blog entries have this effect is because they are short and packed with concepts, associations and allusions.

For example, in another post he starts off by talking about reading, about how he reads and about the effect that this has on him as a writer. He then talks about John Steinbeck’s description of a fog in The Chrysanthemums and the associations he has been able to make between that description and an event in his own life.

“I am taken back to Chipinge or Rusitu valley; I am reminded of the morning fog there, especially on that day when I arrived at Chipinge bus terminus and found out that all the day’s buses had already left and the next troupe of buses would not arrive until the next day. I slept at the bus rank in the rain. All night I shivered; all night I shared a talk about life with a vendor from Bulawayo who had slept at this place too many times to worry about a little bit of rain.”

If you have been to Zimbabwe or some other parts of Africa, Asia or South America, the scene Sigauke describes will be familiar. You want him to go on. You want to find out how it was for him. You want to find out what happened next.

He does go on in his own inimitable way.

“The fog is what I remember most about the morning of the night the rain pounded me at Chipinge. To the east of the town lie mountain ranges which seem to guard the town from some possible intrusion. On the morning I watched the fog first veiling the ranges, these sleeping lions, then the veil rose to cover the whole valley like the lid Steinbeck describes. It gets better; when the sun arose, the fog vanished, but then some low-lying beastly clouds settled on the peaks of the mountains and spent some hours feasting on the ranges. The longer I looked at the white beasts, the longer the bus delay seemed. I did not leave Chipinge until a day later, after spending another night at the open terminus, soaked on the outside, arid inside. Then from somewhere between insistent night rain and greedy beastly clouds, the self harvested new hope, the beginning of a new journey, already bruised by the grazing clouds.”

His account is captivating. It leaves you wanting more. It makes you want to pat Sigauke on the shoulder to get his attention so that you can tell him to go back to it and work on it a little bit more and see if he can’t turn it into a short story or a piece of creative non-fiction piece stands on its own.

All this is part of what’s positive about Emmanuel Sigauke’s blog, Wealth of Ideas.

However, possibly because he sees the blog as a personal platform for ideas he wants to gather and work on later, a personal platform that happens to be accessible to everyone who has access to the internet… possibly because he sees himself as more of a poet than a blogger, Wealth of Ideas doesn’t have the polished feel of his poetry blogs, Chisiya Echoes and Namatsiwangu.

The paragraphing could be tweaked up a little bit more.

The blog is also riddled with spelling mistakes and other typographical errors. This is understandable. It’s a common pitfall of writing on the huff. But if errors of this nature can’t be avoided, you can at least go back to the entries and correct them later. Sigauke does not seem inclined to do that. For example, in a different post he tells us he’s been reading Dambudzo Marechera’s Symetry of Mind when he meant to say Cemetery of Mind.

The most challenging aspect of the blog is also one which sets it apart from a lot of other blogs that talk about literature and writing: Sigauke’s tendency to make very short entries that are densely packed with allusions to a diverse range of concepts. The thing I found particularly challenging about these is that Sigauke does not really define the concepts or adequately relate them to the main topic of each blog entry.

For example, in one of his most recent posts, he writes about Valerie Tagwira’s novel, The Uncertainty of Hope. He suggests that there is conflict between the language(s) Tagwira uses in the novel and the message behind the novel. He says this leads to writing that is “a bit journalistic or anthropological.”

This is an intriguing observation but it’s so raw and undeveloped that a person reading the comment can only respond to it with more questions, questions like, “When a novel is “a bit journalistic” or “anthropological” what does it do? What does it not do? In what way is The Uncertainty of Hope “journalistic” or “anthropological”. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Why?”

Sigauke has promised to answer these and other questions in the book review he’s going to write after he finishes reading the novel. I look forward to reading the review with as much interest as I look forward to more of the entries he will make on Wealth of Ideas.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Notes on Asylum Seekers and the Right to Work

At present, asylum seekers are not allowed to work during the first year of their application for political asylum. They can apply for permission to work after those 12 months but even then permission to work is not always granted.

Those who have had their claims refused are not allowed to work at all. They are given subsistence support in the form of vouchers if they are unable to return to their countries of origin and sign forms to say they are willing to go back to their countries as soon as possible.

Those who cannot sign to say they will go back to their countries of origin are deprived of both the right to work and subsistence support.

Some of the effects of not working and not receiving subsistence support.

Why should asylum seekers should be allowed to work?

Benefits of work or gainful occupation or employment on the health (in the broadest meaning of the word "health") of individuals and communities and conversely,

The effects of enforced idleness/unemployment on the health of individuals and communities

Benefits to the economy
Who has been calling for asylum seekers to be allowed to work?

Asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants and organizations representing them

Health professionals


Friday, 4 May 2007

Crisis in Zimbabwe: Is there a solution?

IMF Deputy Director Siddharth Tiwari described the state of the economy in Zimbabwe as "tragic" and "grim".

"It has faced three, four, five, six years of continuous output decline, a rise [in] prices at these rates over several years, increase in poverty, a decrease in public services, increasing HIV/AIDS rates. It is a tragic situation, frankly, and prospects are grim; they are not bright," he said.

The prospects are so grim that nearly a third of the country's 12 million people have fled, some to escape the poverty and others to escape the way in which the President Robert Mugabe regime deals with dissent. Since coming to power in 1980, the regime has routinely destroyed or appropriated political opponents' homes and possessions and "re-distributed" them to ZANU PF officials and supporters. Dissidents risk losing lives, homes and livelihoods.

Operation Murambatsvina, the Government's controversial urban slum clearance programme, created over half a million internally displaced persons and destroyed the livelihoods of close to 10% of the population. Eighty per cent of the country's population is unemployed. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the rate of inflation, which currently stands at over 1,700%, could reach an unprecedented 4,000% this year. The average life expectancy in the country has dropped to 37, possibly the lowest in the world.

The infrastructure is crumbling. Basic food commodities, transport, foreign currency, fuel and power are in short supply. Water treatment plants break down frequently and outbreaks of cholera in urban areas are claiming many lives every year. Nearly a quarter of the population is dependent on food aid in order to survive.

These concerns have led to waves of industrial action, political demonstrations and protest marches. If it is not college and university students, it is women's rights groups, the constitutional reform movement, trade unions, or one or both factions of the main opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who are taking to the streets.

Each wave of protests is dealt with ruthlessly. It starts with public threats of violence by senior government officials and the deployment of the country's secret police, the Central Intelligence Organisation, to harass organisers, civic leaders and political opponents in an attempt to instil fear, to prevent the planning of protests and to stop planned protests from going ahead.

On numerous occasions activists like Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) Secretary General, Raymond Majongwe, have been harassed and severely assaulted by the police for organising peaceful protests. Others -- like civil rights activist and Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) national co-ordinator Jenni Williams -- have been told by the country's security agents that they will pay with their lives if they continue organising and taking part in demonstrations and protests. Others activists, like University of Zimbabwe student leader Christopher Giwa, have died in accidents involving military personnel, prompting speculation that their deaths were nothing short of political assassinations. No public enquiries into their deaths were ever held.

The free hand and impunity with which security agents harass, detain and torture ordinary citizens, trade unionists, civil rights activists and members of opposition political parties is not the only problem. The Government has introduced a battery of repressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) 2002 and the Interception of Communications Bill 2006, which is expected to be passed shortly, in an attempt to curtail citizens' rights to organise, express their grievances or protest against the way they are being governed.

Critics of the regime have to contend with being placed under constant surveillance by the country's security agencies. They also risk being placed under a travel ban: in 2005, the country introduced laws allowing government agencies to withdraw passports from people who threaten the country's national interests and security. People on the government list whose passports are to be withdrawn include opposition political party officials Paul Themba Nyathi and Grace Kwinjeh; human rights lawyers Beatrice Mtetwa and Gabriel Shumba; and journalists Geoff Nyarota, Nqobile Nyathi, Lloyd Mudiwa, Basildon Peta and Caroline Gombakomba.

However, in spite of bans on demonstration and political rallies and in spite of the repressive laws and the heavy-handedness with which security agents in Zimbabwe deal with dissent, industrial action and protest marches are going to continue until a solution is found to the crisis.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom
recently asked: "If it is right to invade Iraq to get rid of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, who was making life hell for the citizens of Iraq, why is it not right to invade Zimbabwe to get rid of the tyrant Mugabe?"

Such a move would be unfortunate. It would only serve to make the situation worse for the ordinary man, woman and child in Zimbabwe and would further undermine the democratic process in the country. It would give credence to Robert Mugabe who accuses the MDC leadership of being puppets of the West and who has repeatedly said that the crisis in Zimbabwe is because of efforts by Britain and the US to overthrow his government. As has happened with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, invading Zimbabwe to get rid of Robert Mugabe would turn him into a martyr and would lead to the unnecessary deaths of innocent and unarmed civilians.

The solution to the crisis rests with the people of Zimbabwe.

For a number of years now, independent newspaper publisher, Trevor Ncube has been calling for a "third way" -- sentiments that have been echoed recently by the International Crisis Group in its March 2007 report, "Zimbabwe: An End to the Stalemate?".

In an interview with Chipo Chinembiri (Institute for War and Peace Reporting, December 13, 2005), Trevor Ncube said: "We should find the middle ground -- that is, we should find the good people in Zanu PF and good people in the MDC. We should find good people from across the board to speed up our nation's aspirations. Let's start afresh."

It remains to be seen whether this third way will be found any time soon.

An earlier version of this article was published in the Labour Left Briefing's April issue.


Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Under Siege: Zimbabwe's Human Rights Defenders; Trevor Ncube

In December 2005, Trevor Ncube, who publishes South Africa's Mail & Guardian, Zimbabwe's Independent and the Zimbabwe Standard, spent a week virtually under country arrest when security agents in Zimbabwe seized his passport. He couldn't leave Zimbabwe legally because he had no passport

Ncube believes the security agents, who he says now rule the country, wanted him to do just that: Leave Zimbabwe illegally so that they could level criminal charges against him and take over his newspapers.

"They want my newspapers. They want the Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard," he says. "They have been unable to do with us what they have done with Ibbo Mandaza's newspapers and what they have done with the Financial Gazette, namely to control them through the C.I.O. buying into them through the backdoor.

"They know I stand to lose a lot if I am unable to return to South Africa. They think I will leave the country illegally so they can have something to pin on me. Then they can specify me and my newspapers and that way take over my business."

Trevor Ncube travels regularly between South Africa and Zimbabwe to run his newspapers. He publishes the only independent newspapers in Zimbabwe as well as South Africa's Mail & Guardian. He now has the uneasy distinction of being the first target of an escalating crackdown by the government against civic groups, nongovernmental organizations and other critics.

"If they think they can stop me from speaking against injustice, corruption and misgovernment by taking away my passport, then they are mistaken. It will not stop me," Ncube says.

But in a country with some of the most repressive media laws in the world and where journalists are under the constant scrutiny of security agents, it is really only a matter of time before his newspapers, too, are either banned outright or taken over by the country's dreaded secret police, the Central Intelligence Organization (C.I.O.).

Over the past five years, the Zimbabwean government has routinely persecuted, detained and harassed journalists in an attempt to deter them from reporting on violations of human rights, economic woes and political opposition to the regime.

Repressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (2002) which make it a crime to practice journalism without a government license, have been written into the statute books.

Many of the nation's most prominent reporters have been forced into exile and are now living in South Africa, other African nations, the United Kingdom and the United States. At least 90 such journalists are known to be in exile, making them one of the largest groups of exiled journalists in the world. Some of the exiled journalists left as a direct result of political persecution, others because the government's crackdown virtually erased opportunities in the independent press.

Speaking at a conference of his Zanu-PF party on Dec. 10, President Robert G. Mugabe vowed to take "stern action" against civic groups, nongovernmental organizations and other critics of his government. A resolution was later adopted at the conference welcoming moves to seize the passports of people "who go around demonizing the country."

"We want the security people to draw up a list of people like that and withdraw their passports," it said.

A list of people Zanu-PF sees as traitors has been around since Zanu-PF came into power in 1980. It has constantly been revised and the punishment the party meted out to its enemies has been changing with the changing times.

Journalists Geoff Nyarota, Nqobile Nyathi, Lloyd Mudiwa, Basildon Peta, Caroline Gombakomba and others are on the current list of people whose passports are to be seized if they try to enter or leave the country.

The travel ban follows an amendment to the constitution, ratified in September, that allows the government to restrict the right to freedom of movement by denying a passport to anyone wishing to travel outside the country "where it is feared or believed or known that the Zimbabwean in question will, during his or her travel, harm the national interest or defense interest or economic interest of the state."

Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa justifies withdrawing passports from critics of the government.

"There are people who gallivant across the globe calling for sanctions against the country. Those are the ones we are targeting. I don't want to mention names because they know themselves. If you are one of them, you are in for it," he says.

The ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs are also deliberating on additional regulations that will make it mandatory for Zimbabweans to apply for exit visas if they are to travel outside the country.

Chinamasa does not deny or confirm that the government is considering imposing exit visas.

"Are you afraid?" he asks, instead. "Whether we introduce the visas you are talking about is not the issue. The issue is that we should not allow saboteurs to go round the world badmouthing the country."

Trevor Ncube says there is nothing new about what the Mugabe regime is doing.

"This is about a regime that wants to control the minds of people," he says. "They are basically saying that you can't speak out, because if you do, you lose your passport."

Trevor Ncube is lucky.

He got his passport back after a week because although the amended constitution now allows the Mugabe government to seize passports of those it perceives to be acting against national interest, there is no corresponding piece of legislation which sets specific guidelines as to which offences warrant the withdrawal of passports.

That Ncube got his passport back does not mean the Mugabe regime will stop confiscating its critics' passports. It means the regime will close the legal loophole that allowed Ncube to reclaim his passport and retain control of his newspapers.

Having lost this round, the regime will be all the more determined to make sure that the other 64 critics on the travel ban list do not slip out of its grip. The regime will close the loophole that forced it to return Trevor Ncube's passport and the next time he returns to Zimbabwe, he will most likely not be able to leave the country legally.

This can be seen by the fact that as Ncube was getting his passport back, another outspoken critic of the Zimbabwe government, Raymond Majongwe, who is the secretary general of a national teachers union, had his withdrawn. It was seized at Harare International Airport on Majongwe's return from a trip abroad.

This article was first published on the World Press Review.


Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Zimbabwe Curtails Travel Rights of Critics

According to reports in Zimbabwean newspapers, President Robert G. Mugabe has placed between 15 and 64 human rights activists and critics on a list of people who are banned from traveling outside the country because they allegedly threaten the country’s national interests.

The ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs are deliberating draft regulations that will require Zimbabweans to obtain exit visas to travel outside the country.

Critics say the new passport laws are aimed at immobilizing human rights activists and opposition leaders in order to prevent them from highlighting the government’s repressiveness to the world. The laws have been described as a serious and unacceptable assault on people’s freedom of movement. (Dec. 6, 2005) says a memo has been sent to all exit points and border posts instructing immigration officials to seize the passports of people on the travel ban list.

According to the paper, immigration officials at some of the country’s border posts, including the Harare International Airport, confirmed the names of the people on the list. The sources also revealed that they are under orders to seize the passports of anyone on the list “with immediate effect” if they try to either leave or enter the country.

Paul Themba Nyathi, national spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.), the main opposition party, and Grace Kwinjeh, M.D.C’s European Union representative, are on the list as are human rights lawyers, Beatrice Mtetwa and Gabriel Shumba. Shumba is currently living in exile in South Africa and is suing the government of Zimbabwe for torture before an African Human Rights tribunal in the Gambia.

Other people whose passports immigration officers have been instructed include poet, trade unionist and teacher, Raymond Majongwe; businessman, Strive Masiyiwa; chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, Lovemore Madhuku; chairman of the Crisis Coalition, Brian Kagoro; Noble Sibanda, a relentless campaigner for asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.’s sources say the list is likely to expand and that those on the current list include journalists Geoff Nyarota, Nqobile Nyathi, Lloyd Mudiwa, Basildon Peta and Caroline Gombakomba.

At least 90 Zimbabwean journalists, including many of the nation’s most prominent reporters, now live in exile in South Africa, other African nations, the United Kingdom, and the United States, making them one of the largest groups of exiled journalists in the world. Some of these exiled journalists left as a direct result of political persecution, others because the government’s crackdown virtually erased opportunities in the independent press.

The Zimbabwean government has routinely detained and harassed journalists over the past five years to quash reporting on human rights, economic woes and political opposition to the regime. Repressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (2002) has made it a crime to practice journalism without a government license.

The travel ban follows an amendment to the constitution, ratified in September, that allows the government to restrict the right to freedom of movement by denying a passport to anyone wishing to travel outside the country “where it is feared or believed or known that the Zimbabwean in question will, during his or her travel, harm the national interest or defense interest or economic interest of the State.”

Zimbabwe’s constitution has been amended 17 times in the past 25 years by the ruling Zanu-PF government, the most notable amendment being the abolition of the prime minister’s position, which led to the creation of an executive presidency in 1987.

Following the latest constitutional amendment, Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa told journalists:

“There are people who gallivant across the globe calling for sanctions against the country. Those are the ones we are targeting. I don’t want to mention names because they know themselves. If you are one of them, you are in for it.” (Dec. 3, 2005) says the list of people targeted for a travel ban has been around for a long time. It points to a booklet produced by Zanu-PF’s department of information and publicity before parliamentary elections earlier this year, titled “Traitors Do Much Damage to National Goals,” which lists perceived enemies of the state.

“The list comprises politicians, human rights activists, journalists and clergyman viewed as ’traitors,’ dating back to the first Chimurenga,” the paper says. [Chimurenga: liberation war.] (Dec. 6, 2005) says the requirement on Zimbabweans to obtain exit visas could result in opposition leaders and critics of the government being banned from leaving the country.

According to the paper’s sources, the ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs are deliberating the regulations before submitting them to Mugabe’s cabinet for approval and later to Parliament for enactment. It quotes a senior government official:

“If the plans go ahead, then the exit visas would come into effect at the beginning of next year. Officials from the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice are deliberating on the modalities which will be sent to the cabinet for approval.”

Minister of Justice Chinamasa would neither deny nor confirm whether the government was considering imposing exit visas when contacted by reporters for comments.

Chinamasa would only say:

"Are you afraid? Whether we introduce the visas you are talking about is not the issue. The issue is that we should not allow saboteurs to go round the world badmouthing the country.”

Newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube became the first high profile critic of the government affected by the amendment.

Ncube, who publishes South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, Zimbabwe’s Independent and the Zimbabwe Standard, told South Africa’s Business Day (Dec. 9, 2005) that his passport was taken soon after he landed at the Harare International Airport on a South African Airways flight on Thursday.

He said he was about to leave the airport after having his passport stamped when an official stopped him:

“I asked who he was and he told me he was from the president’s office. He showed me an (identity card) which said that he was from the Central Intelligence Organization.

“After that (we went) back to immigration where my passport was confiscated.”

The South African National Editors Forum criticized authorities for punishing Ncube for his involvement in newspaper publishing and expressed concern that the government was using the amendment “to suppress critical voices within and outside of Zimbabwe.”

This article was first published in the World Press Review.


Monday, 5 March 2007

Government’s Policy Leaves Refugee Children Destitute

An investigation by the leading children’s charity, Barnardo’s and the Refugee Children’s Consortium has revealed the serious damage being done to vulnerable children by the British government’s new asylum and immigration policy.

Barnardo’s and the Refugee Children’s Consortium investigated 33 local authorities, including 18 that have been taking part in the government’s pilot implementation of section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004 and found that the removal of basic support is leaving families destitute.

Section 9 of the Act removes or significantly restricts the welfare entitlement of families who have reached the end of the asylum process and who have “failed to take reasonable steps” to leave the United Kingdom.

In a statement issued after the investigation, Barnardo’s and the Refugee Children’s Consortium said: “The removal of basic support by local authorities under the 1989 Children Act is leaving families destitute. The government’s belief is that this will encourage families with children to leave the U.K. once their asylum claim has been decided. Whilst section 9 is not unique in its use of welfare restrictions to ‘encourage’ return, it is unique in the way it deliberately impacts negatively on refugee children.”

Key findings from the investigation were that all local authorities interviewed believe section 9 is wholly incompatible with existing child welfare legislation, and some fear section 9 will undermine the well-established principle that the child’s welfare should be paramount.

“There is evidence that the different approaches taken by authorities are likely to lead to a ‘postcode lottery’ in support.

“Many local authorities are fearful that in working with these families they are leaving themselves open to legal challenge,” said the statement from Barnardo’s and the Refugee Children’s Consortium.

In addition to these failings, the investigation revealed there is little evidence that this policy is effective in achieving the government’s objective of speeding up returns.

Many families do not understand their position, and of the 116 families involved in the pilot, not one has returned to their country of origin. At least 35 have disappeared, and are now living on the margins of society, vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Nancy Kelley, who authored the report on the investigation titled “The End of the Road: Families and Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004,” which was published on Nov. 1 2005, says, “Refugee children often come to this country traumatized by what they have seen. Unfortunately, arrival in the U.K. rarely marks the beginning of a safe and comfortable life; indeed, they are likely to experience continued stress, hunger, poor health and extreme poverty. Whatever the intention of Section 9, it is being implemented in a way that runs the risk of causing life long damage to children and families who are already among the most vulnerable people in society.”

Alison Webster, Barnardo’s principal policy officer says: “Children should not be being used as tools for enforcing immigration decisions. For them their parents are often the only stable part of their lives.”

Barnardo’s urged the British government to uphold the principle that refugee children are children first and foremost, and U.K. asylum policy should protect their welfare as a first principle.

“The government should take the opportunity to repeal section 9 before its implementation does further damage to the lives of children and families.

“The government should review its asylum policy as a whole, specifically considering the extent to which it is compatible with existing child welfare and human rights legislation including the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

One hundred and sixteen families, with 36 adult dependants and 216 children have been affected by the government’s pilot implementation of section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004. The affected families include 25 families from Pakistan, 16 families from Somalia, 8 families from the Democratic Republic of Congo and 10 families from Zimbabwe.

The families affected are reluctant to return to their countries of origin because the countries are unsafe. Many of the families are at risk of arrest, torture, detention and death at the hands of agents of the state should they return to their countries of origin. In October of this year, three judges in the British Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruled, in a test case, that a Zimbabwean asylum seeker, who cannot be named for legal reasons, would be at risk if he were sent back to Harare. One of the results of this ruling is that the British Home Office cannot return Zimbabweans to that country because to do so would be in violation of the tribunal’s ruling.

The Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 is the third piece of asylum and immigration legislation introduced by the British government over the last five years. Each of these acts has included provisions that have had a very negative impact on the quality of protection available to asylum seekers in Britain.

“Over time, it has become increasingly difficult for refugees to reach Britain and claim asylum, access essential legal services, or simply survive day to day life as a result of poverty,” Nancy Kelley says.

The Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 had its first reading in the House of Commons on the Nov. 27, 2003, and received Royal Assent on July 22, 2004, after extensive debate, much of which focused on the potential impact of section 9.

Section 9 of the Act amended schedule 3 of the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002 by inserting paragraph 7A. It created a new category of people described as “failed asylum seeker with family” and set out the circumstances in which these people may lose their entitlement to financial or material support under domestic welfare provisions including the Children Act of 1989, the Children (Scotland) Act of 1995 and the Children (Northern Ireland) Order of 1995.

Specifically, it provided that where a failed asylum seeker with child dependent(s) failed to take “reasonable steps” to leave Britain or place themselves in a position to leave and the secretary of state issues a certificate to the effect that they have failed to do so without reasonable excuse, then the adult family member’s entitlement to support from the state may end, unless withdrawal of support would lead to a breach of the Human Rights Act of 1999.

The government’s stated belief is that this will encourage families with children to leave Britain once their asylum claim has been decided.

Whilst not unique in its use of welfare restrictions to “encourage” returns, section 9 is unique in its deliberate impact on refugee children, already amongst the most vulnerable groups in the United Kingdom.

Throughout the passage of the Act, the Refugee Children’s Consortium, alongside other voluntary agencies, lobbied for section 9 to be deleted from the bill on the grounds that refugee children should be viewed as children first and foremost, and that to use children as a tool by which to coerce families into cooperating with return is unethical and potentially in breach of the Children’s Act of 1989, the Human Rights Act of 1998 and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Concerns that section 9 might lead to negative impacts on children’s safety and well being were expressed in both Houses of Parliament and by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. At the heart of these concerns was the fear that children would be left destitute, or be taken away from loving families as a result of this new policy.

“Despite this widespread disquiet, section 9 passed on the statute books unchanged,” Nancy Kelley says.

The Refugee Children’s Consortium, founded in 1998, brings together 25 organizations committed to the needs and rights of children and young people seeking asylum.

This article was first published in the World Press Review.


Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Zimbabwe: One of the World’s Worst Places to Be a Journalist

Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe has been named as one of the 33 leading "predators of press freedom" in the world.

"Whether presidents, ministers, chiefs of staff, religious leaders or the heads of armed groups, these predators of press freedom have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and, in the worst cases, murder journalists," Reporters Without Borders said.

The organisation pointed out that President Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, uses the country's intelligence and security agencies "to silence all opposition voices" and to "spy on and punish independent media outlets."

Reporters Without Borders in not alone in its criticism of the Zimbabwe government's continuing assault on the media. The World Association of Newspapers recently ranked the country as one of the top three most dangerous places to be a journalist.

The insecurity and crisis within which journalists are working in Zimbabwe is a direct result of how the government deals with the media.

In the recent past, newspaper offices and printing presses have been bombed; journalists have been tortured in police custody and others have been deported or forced to flee the country. Citizens have also had their copies of newspapers seized and have been assaulted by military personnel and the Zanu PF militia if seen with copies of newspapers that are deemed to be critical of the government.

In addition to this, journalists and media services operators or newspaper publishers are required, by law, to apply for registration and be accreditation with the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) before they can be allowed to operate. Even when journalists and media organisation apply for registration and accreditation, there are no guarantees that the MIC will grant this accreditation.

At present a local mass media service operator or publisher is required to pay a registration fee of Zim$600,000 while a foreign mass media service or news agency is required to pay US$12,000. Journalists working for local media houses need to pay a registration and accreditation fee of Zim$25,000 while foreign journalists are required to pay US$100 register fee before they can be allowed to go about gathering and disseminating news. Those Zimbabwean journalists who are working for foreign media organisations are expected to pay US$1,200 in application and accreditation fees.

These exorbitant fees are an additional factor that is challenging the viability of publishing and working as a journalist in Zimbabwe.

The few community newspapers that remain operational in the country will also feel the pinch because in the prevailing economic environment, they are struggling to get revenue and are increasing reliant on donor funding to remain operational.

The fees will also act to discourage freelance journalists from registering with the MIC while the punitive measures that are in place will deter them from practicing without accreditation. For example, between Feb. 1 and July 31, 2005 alone, 49 journalists were arrested under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) for practising journalism without accreditation. Under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill journalists who are caught working without accreditation face prison sentences of up to two years.

Those journalists and newspapers who manage to pay these fees and try to go about their business of gathering, publishing and disseminating news are routinely arrested, detained and harassed by the various arms of the country's security services.

Journalists, especially those who write for international newspapers and magazines, also face harassment and intimidation from government officials who have described them as “traitors” who are being paid to demonise the country and its leaders.

In January 2006, for instance, the Minister for National Security, Didymus Mutasa, told the government-owned Manica Post, ‘It is sad to note that there is a crop of journalists who are selling the country to the enemy by writing falsehoods, with the intention of agitating violence and undermining national security. The net will soon close in.’

In September last year, Mike Saburi, a freelance television journalist, was arrested and jailed after he was caught filming the police assaulting people who were gathering to take part in the trade union protest march in Harare. Saburi was accused of having gone beyond his journalistic work while filming the protest march.

In the month that followed, security agents raided the Harare office of the London-based independent newspaper, The Zimbabwean and seized its import authorisation and old copies of the newspaper.

The year before that, three sports journalists, Robson Sharuko, Tendai Ndemera and Rex Mphisa were dismissed from the government-owned daily newspaper The Herald for contributing to U.S. public radio Voice of America (VOA).

Since 2002, nearly 100 Zimbabwean journalists have been forced into exile.

The Zimbabwe government is also making renewed and concerted efforts to silence the remaining independent newspapers in the country. Recently, the country stripped Trevor Ncube of his citizenship as part of its ongoing campaign to close The Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard, the two independent newspapers that remain operational in Zimbabwe.

At the same time, the MIC is moving to remove Nunurai Jena, who is chairman of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) Chinhoyi branch, from the roll of journalists who are allowed to practice in Zimbabwe and has accused him of peddling anti-government propaganda and "malicious reports" about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe government has also introduced the Interception of Communications Bill, which allows security agents to intercept and monitor of email, internet access and letters in the course of their transmission through the telecommunications or postal service. The Bill also makes it possible for news materials to be intercepted during transmission and will hinder the operation of journalists and media houses. The Bill also interferes with citizen’s rights to access to information and freedom of expression.

In the Mashonaland East province of Zimbabwe, teachers are reportedly being rounded up by Zanu PF militias and assaulted as part of their 're-education' if they are found in possession of short wave radios which allow them to listen to radio stations other than the government controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) channels. According to recent media reports, a number of teachers have been forced to flee their schools as a result of these attacks. The ZBC has a monopoly on broadcasting in Zimbabwe: there are no private or independent radio or television channels broadcasting within Zimbabwe; those that have tried have been arrested and have had their equipment seized or have had their licences revoked.

These are just a few examples of the treatment journalists and media consumers are receiving from the Zanu PF government.

There are no signs that the situation will improve anytime soon.

Related article: From Turning Pages to Downloading Them, Wilson Johwa,, January 23, 2007.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Britain's Child Prisoners

Zimbabwean civil rights activist Nellie de Jongh has been speaking to women "behind the wire" at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre and documenting their lives, the lives of their children, and the conditions under which they are all being kept.

Nellie de Jongh logs her visits and related information on the Web site of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), and e-mails an account of what she is seeing and hearing to a growing number of people.

The following narrative is based on her e-mails:

July 20, 2006

Aboubacar Bailey Junior was born on April 16, 2006, in Holloway prison. He served his first 79 days there, and then he was transferred to continue his indefinite sentence at Yarl's Wood. To date, he has served 15 days.

His crime, according to immigration law, is the immigration status of his parents.

Baby Aboubacar suffers from a skin condition that keeps him and his mom awake at night. Doctors are not very helpful because Aboubacar is, first and foremost, an illegal immigrant -- even before he can ever be a child.

At Yarl's Wood, babies are not getting enough to eat. They are suffering from loss of appetite and can hardly eat the food they are provided.

Halama, Aboubacar's mother, said he received better care at Holloway prison. There, breast-feeding mothers got an extra liter of milk in a flask for their babies every night. At Yarl's Wood, they are told there is no extra milk for breast-feeding mothers. They are told to drink a lot of water instead.

Halama said she believes the only reason their babies were treated better in prison was because British nationals were also housed there.

"At Immigration Removal centers we are all foreign nationals, that is why they don't care about our babies," Halama said.

Ayodele Micheal Ode was born on April 17, 2006. He, too, was born in prison and lived there for the first 22 days of his life, before being transferred to Yarl's Wood, where he continues to serve his extended prison sentence. What terrible crime did this baby commit to have already served 93 days in two prisons?

Leatitia Kakmeni Pameni was born on Oct. 12, 2003, and Stacy Leuni Singoue, on Feb. 23, 2005. They were both detained on May 11, 2006. To date, the two siblings have served 68 days in detention. Tomorrow, they will be deported to the Central African Republic.

Princess Solomon was born on Oct. 19, 1997, and Promise Solomon, on Jan. 6, 2004. The two sisters and their mother were detained on May 30, 2006. They have served 50 days in detention to date. Promise's identity card has the following information on the back: "This card is to be carried at all times while you are in the centre and handed in when you leave. The card must be produced on request to Officers to obtain access to the centre facilities."

Promise is two and a half years old. How can she comply with the instructions?

Promise is suffering from ill health. She has had nosebleeds for the past few days. According to Meggy, Promise's mother, the doctor has not been helpful and was unable to reassure her about either of her children's poor health. No thorough examination was carried out.

Meggy has resorted to holding Promise in her arms, over her shoulder, while she sleeps, as she has woken up on several occasions to find the child, her clothing, and her bedding covered in blood. Her worst fear is that Promise will choke to death if she lays her down to sleep.

Aliyah Benoni was born on the June 15, 2006, and is the youngest child on my list. Like Ayodele she, too, was born in prison where she served the first 15 days of her life. She was then transferred to Yarl's Wood on July 5, 2006. She continues to serve her indefinite sentence and has done 15 days. At time of writing, she is only 30 days old.

Molly Ssebatta was born on Oct. 5, 2001. She was detained on July 5, 2006 -- at 5:30 a.m. Molly's speech has been affected since detention. She has no appetite and refuses to eat most days. She wants to go back home, and she misses her friends. She had been detained for 15 days.

Adecokundo Taiwo was born on June 20, 2002, and Adeole Taiwo, on Jan. 13, 2005. They have both spent 15 days behind the wire. According to their mother, before they were snatched in one of the Home Office's infamous dawn raids, the two brothers had been to their doctor and were due for a review, as their doctor had said they had an infection. The mother was very distressed by the attitude of the doctors at Yarl's Wood, who have even turned down her request for Paracetomol. Mostly, the brothers want to know when they will be able to go back home, and to school, to do normal things again.

I am amazed at the courage of some of these parents. Most are fighting back in their own way with noncompliance. They get together, have discussions and meetings, and write letters to the authorities. Working with these women/parents has brought home to me just how terrible immigrants are treated in this country. The fact that innocent babies are born in prison and then transferred to immigration detention centers leaves me very angry indeed.

July 22, 2006

Prisca Kifoula and her three children were detained on July 19, 2006.

She said that she was abused physically, verbally, and racially by the officers who picked them up. She was very distressed and started to take off her clothes. The officers covered the top half of her body with her bath mat. She was driven from Huddersfield to Leeds and then to Bedford with her children, who also became very distressed, as their mother was still naked except for the bath mat.

While in Huddersfield, in her home, she said they pushed her head into the sofa and hurt her arms, which are swollen. She said she couldn't even lift her child up or anything else. I have advised her to make a complaint and ask for a copy in writing. Other detainees confirmed that what she was saying was true.

Judith Mtili has asked if a doctor could see her husband because his blood pressure is very high at the moment.

July 24, 2006

Friday morning, July 21: It is 2 a.m. and I cannot get Prisca, her children and the other families behind the wire out of my mind. Sleep seems but a luxury in the midst of so much human suffering which is totally unnecessary. I am exhausted after spending days speaking to other mothers behind the wire. I am feeling really hopeless at the moment. This family's removal date is July 24, 2006. We have two days to try and do something.

We have lost one family. This is the Solomon family. Remember our little two and a half year old I.D. cardholder? Promise Solomon, and her sister Princess Solomon, their mother managed to resist for 50 days with non-compliance. They were served with a removal order after 6 p.m. and removed at 3 a.m. and taken to the airport the day the report on Britain's youngest prisoners was published.

The Home Office won't only bend its own rules a little. It seems to break every single one.

We only found out in the afternoon that they had gone, as sometimes we cannot get through or are not put through to the women behind the wire.

One of the mothers, who related the whole story to me, said Meggy just broke down and really sobbed. She also told me that there was an elderly lady from the Congo who was very distressed and she was crying and taking her clothes off in the hope that they will leave her alone. She was handcuffed naked and taken together with the Solomon family. This I am sure will be forever imprinted on Princess's and Promise's young minds.

Another family was due to be removed on the July 21, at 6 p.m. I spoke to Leatitia and Stacy's mother in the morning and she was really down. Her solicitor I believe was trying really hard as her friend in Glasgow told me. When I tracked them down at Queen's building [PDF] on a call box number, Queen's building, we think is in terminal 4 and it is a holding center before removals.

I believe the family was with immigration officials. The second, third, fourth and fifth time I tried they could not be found. A few people were good enough to offer to look for them, as they seemed to know who I was talking about. By this time it was almost 5 p.m. This is one of the most dynamic mothers who has resisted deportation for 68 days. I hope from the bottom of my heart that she has managed it again. But that is only simply to buy time or as a colleague put it, the Home Office sees it as simply missing the first bus, but right behind it, the other one will be on time.

On July 19 we got a call about a Congolese mother and children who had been detained. The father was not home, which means he was left behind. We hope that will delay the removal. We had been trying to track them down since the calls but only managed to late Friday afternoon. I spoke to Prisca on the phone for about 20 to 30 minutes. She had guards standing outside her door. When I asked her why they were guarding her she told me that she had threatened to kill herself.

I then proceeded to ask her if the Home Office had paid her and her family a pastoral visit, she did not know what I was talking about and I had to break it down for her. Prisca told me Home office officials came to visit them one month before they were snatched and all they asked for was one of the children's birth certificates. When she asked them why they wanted it, they said they just needed to check on something. The document was returned the next time they went to sign.

The next time she heard from the Home Office was the battering of her front door and the police shouting, "Open up! It's the police!" This is every asylum seeker's most dreaded moment that you live and relive. Any loud knock is enough to shatter one's nerves.

When Prisca opened the door, the Home Office bullies bulldozed their way in, with such force, eight or ten of them, two women who immediately went up to the children to try to keep them calm while the home bullies were laying in on Prisca. What can anyone expect a mother who is half-asleep to do? All I would be thinking of is protecting my children in any way I can.

She said as she was trying to resist them an Asian and a white man were insulting her, calling her all sorts of names. They even told her she came to sell herself in this country.

She said they physically, verbally and racially abused her. She was so distraught she took off her clothes begging them to spare her and her children's lives. Prisca was handcuffed naked and to insult her even further these Home Office thugs took her bath mat and used it to cover just her top half. She said her children were brought in; to sit next to their handcuffed naked mother.

The Home Office thugs drove them from Huddersfield to Leeds and then all the way to Yarl's Wood still naked with a just bath mat covering only her top half. This appears to be what Home Office must resort to meet their 5-year target: strip mothers, parents and their children of all pride and dignity. One wonders what else they will be resorting to towards the end of their unreasonable target if they are doing this in the first year.

Prisca said her children cried most of the way to Yarl's Wood. When she arrived she complained about the abuse she and her children had suffered. Her hands were swollen and still are. I have had confirmation of this from two other parents.

Prisca said, "I can not even pick up my youngest child to try to comfort him as my arms are too painful."

All she was given was paracetamol, the Yarl's Wood wonder drug that is a cure for every detainee's illness.

She said that the one man who was on duty when she arrived was very helpful and appeared to be kind but she has not seen him again since. She says she is so depressed and cannot stop crying. The children are so traumatized that even when she cries when they are sleep, they all wake up and start crying too.

She says, "I just can't take this it would be better if they kill me or I die."

I know I keep saying women or mothers, but believe you me there are some fathers too, one of these fathers has been in Yarl's Wood for 20 plus months, he has amazing strength and is so good natured. I tease him endlessly about being the veteran detainee. He has a great sense of humor. When I am feeling really down after taking down a few stories, our veteran detainee keeps a smile on my face. We even manage to have a laugh. He is my translator and right hand man. It's really touching how he runs around getting the new arrivals settled in and counseling them in his own way. When I am really worried about someone, my veteran brother says, "Don't worry, sister. I will go and talk to them and sort everything out."

Two pregnant mothers who gave birth in prison were arrested on arrival as they were traveling on false documents, both were trying to get to Canada before they were detained, despite claiming asylum they were still imprisoned, when they and their babies had served their prison sentence they then started serving their indefinite immigration sentences, one mother said she has only been for her first interview and is waiting for her appeal hearing. I can only relate these stories as they are given to me. I have a good relationship with most of these parents and I have no reason to disbelieve them.

July 27, 2006

The parents of 16 families incarcerated in Yarl's Wood IRC have refused their morning meal, they have also refused to send their children to either the school or the nursery.

I have just spoken to some of the parents refusing food and they are saying they can no longer take life behind the wire. Their main concern is their children. They want to know what crimes their children have committed to be incarcerated indefinitely.

These parents came together to discuss the issue of the detention of their children yesterday evening and decided within the hour that they should make their feelings public and that a hunger strike would be the best way to emphasize the plight of their children. Starting at breakfast time this morning they have refused to eat.

One parent said for those of us who have been granted judicial review, we are still being held as the Home Office has said they would like to make more enquires. This parent went on further to say that: "It is like they have put us in a small box, with the intention of forcing us to go back to our countries which are not safe."

"As I am on medication that I need to take with food I have stopped taking any medication. We are tired of being treated less than human beings. The ill treatment of our wives and children must stop. They deserve to be treated with human dignity."

One of the mothers said she saw three staff holding and questioning a little boy about why he was not going to school.

Another said: "We want the Home Office to hear us and free us, I don't understand how some people are freed without bail and some have to obtain bail."

After reading Anne Owers's report on Yarl's Wood, which was published yesterday, I am not surprised that the parents have taken action.

Yarl's Wood has seen many hunger strikes since it opened and I doubt this will be the last one.

July 28, 2006 [Listen to podcast]

The hunger strike by the parents of children detained at Yarl's Wood is still solid this morning.

One of the mothers I have just spoken to says that none of the parents took their children to breakfast this morning and will probably keep their children away from lunch and supper.

Children in detention are the forgotten children, often snatched before dawn and imprisoned indefinitely. Somewhere this side of the wire are friends and teachers all wondering what has happened to these children and their parents.

Since last Thursday, the following has happened:

Aboubacar Bailey Junior made bail yesterday after 100 days in detention

Brothers Adecokundo Taiwo and Adeole Taiwo are still in detention. The children's health, welfare and lack of appetite are an ongoing concern for mom, who suffers with joint pains and depression. She says all she was ever given was paracetomol. The children still want to know when they can go back home to their friends and school.

Aliyah, our youngest little detainee, is still doing time. She was born on June 15, 2006. She has also just spent a day in hospital because of constipation. Her mom said it is because of the poor diet. She is a breast-feeding mom and she says she is terrified to stop breast-feeding.

Her mother has concerns about hygiene issues at Yarl's Wood IRC.

When I asked mom about where the baby was born, she said she was rushed to hospital from prison and then taken back to prison four hours after Aliyah was born. She said she has no family or friends in the U.K. as she was detained while in transit to Canada to join her sister. She was imprisoned for carrying false documents. Despite seeking asylum and being refused she said she has only used up her one appeal, "but it appears they would like to keep me here indefinitely. No second appeal date has been set."

Leatitia, Stacy, Princess, and Promise have been deported. I don't know if all these children had received their anti-malarials before being put on the plane. If not their lives will be in danger, as they will have no natural immunity against malaria, Africa's biggest killer of children. Their removal makes me very, very angry.

I have spoken to all the parents and questioned them about pastoral visits, not one of them knew what I was talking about.

Pastoral visits are part of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate's family removals policy to prepare families for removal. Pastoral visits provide for the gathering of information regarding the circumstances of the family concerned and ensure that important issues such as medical or special needs are taken into account when deciding on arrest, detention, transportation and/or removal.

Africa seems to be the Home Office's flavor of the month for deportees at present.

One of the main medical needs of children, pregnant mothers, and adults being returned to any country in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, is immunization against malaria. The Home Office, to the best of my knowledge, does not inform the families of the need for anti-malarials. In order for most families to get the anti-malarials, they have to take out or threaten to take out injunction orders against the Home Office.

Anne Owers published her report on Yarl's Wood on Wednesday of this week. I personally feel she has understated the facts. The people she talked about in her report and the people I have talked to over the last fortnight, could be interchanged. Nothing has improved that I can see and I personally feel things have got worse. There is definitely a lack of "duty of care" towards the children and parents currently incarcerated in Yarl's Wood IRC.

Aug 1, 2006

Six parents at Yarl's Wood IRC are still on hunger strike.

I have been speaking to them daily and have noticed their voices are getting weaker and they have told me that they feel very ill.

When I asked how long they intend to continue, they said until the Home Office comes and talks to them.

Baby Aliyah has just spent another day in hospital as she's had a high temperature since Friday. Her mom's fears for Aliyah's well-being have been doubled by the outbreak of chicken pox at the center. They have a bail hearing on Friday. Hope they get free.

Molly Sebbatta is four and a half years old and she's now spent 26 days in detention. She is suffering. Her mom, Agnes, says Molly's speech is deteriorating and she is bed-wetting, which never happened at home. She has also started wetting herself during the day. This family too has had two removal directions and are still being detained.

One family who have been detained since early July is made up of a father, a mother (both refusing food) and two daughters. They have had removal directions set twice. The dates have come and gone and they are still being detained. They applied for bail and were refused because the adjudicator said he could not release them since removal directions had been set.

As I will be visiting some of the parents for the next two days, I phoned the booking office at Yarl's Wood and was told that there was an outbreak of chicken pox and I could come at my own risk. When I enquired from a good number of parents about the outbreak, some had been told about it but others heard about it from me for the first time.

NHS Direct says chicken pox is a highly contagious virus, with an incubation period of 15 to 20 days. Chickenpox is most contagious the day before the rash appears and until the blisters are all dry and crusted over (usually about five days). If you have chickenpox you should avoid contact with pregnant women who have not had chickenpox, newborn babies and people with a low immune system -- for example, those with cancer or advanced H.I.V. -- as these people can't fight infection as well as those with a healthy immune system.

As a result of the outbreak Yarl's Wood will not receive any new detainees until August 21.

I have just spoken to Mia and she says the reason she and Aliyah have not been released is due to accommodation and the fact that she does not have an address to go to in the U.K. She has said besides her befriender, there is no one else she knows.

The other mothers who were in the same situation with her have since been released and put in hostels.

She is very concerned about Aliyah's well being. Aliyah spent a day in hospital last week and then yesterday she spent another day in hospital due to a cold. Mia is concerned about the outbreak of chicken pox and the effect it could have on her baby who is only five weeks old.

She has said her solicitor has applied, on her behalf, for accommodation from the National Asylum Support Service. She has tried endlessly to get in touch with her solicitor but has not been able to get through to her. She is not sure if the solicitor is away or not.

September 8, 2006

When children behind the wire start to call Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre "home," it clearly shows that their perception of living in Yarl's Wood is that they have lived there a long time.

Six-year-old Molly Ssebatta spent six weeks in detention with her mother.

Three attempts to remove them failed. On getting back to Yarl's Wood the third time, Molly said to her mum: "We are home."

Molly's mother said the family was released after the resident social worker's intervention. In the Family Welfare Assessment Weekly Review, the social worker wrote that Molly continues to show, signs of increasing institutionalization.

Sisters Annarose, Joanne and their parents Judith and Juslain were released on Aug. 3, from Yarl's Wood IRC.

They went back to their home in Dudley where they had been snatched from only to find that they were no longer tenants and the house had been boarded up.

The Refugee Council found them emergency accommodation in Birmingham, which was one room.

When I first spoke to Judith after their release she said to me: "Can you hear how happy the children are?"

"Free at last," Judith said. "Even though the four of us are still living in one room since our release, it is better than that prison Yarl's Wood."

Annarose, the eldest is still suffering because of her experiences of detention. I regularly meet with the family, and we have to be careful about mentioning the Home Office and Yarl's Wood as she becomes very distressed.

Joanne is just a toddler, a mere two and half years old. What is most disturbing is that every time she sees a policeman, traffic warden or anyone in security uniform or if the word "search" is mentioned, she lifts up her arms to be body-searched as this was the norm at Yarl's Wood, where body-searches on the girl child and mothers are carried out by both male and female officers.

Another thing that Joan does regularly is, when she hears a phone ring she shouts out, "244." When she picks up the phone she says, "244," which was the family's room, pager and I.D. number to obtain meals, and receive phone calls and other services.

I have witnessed some of Joanne's behaviors and it's enough to make me weep.

How can such things happen in what is supposed to be a civilized society?

I have just been speaking to Judith and Juslain who have told me they are being dispersed again, this time to Cardiff.

For Annarose to start another school she needs her birth certificate. The family went to Annarose's old school on the hope of getting a copy.

Judith said when Annarose heard that they were going to Dudley, she was so excited as she thought she would be going back to her old school to be with her friends.

When mom told her that it was only to fetch her birth certificate, she said to her mother: "Please let me go back to my old school."

Can you imagine what it must be like to a nine-year-old who loved her school, teacher and friends to go back to a school she can never again attend?

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Zimbabwe Strips Publisher of Citizenship

At one time, Zimbabwe had a media industry that was vibrant and which showed potential of becoming a growth area. In addition to the state-owned broadcasting and newspaper publishing groups, the country also had privately-owned radio and television channels as well as privately-owned newspapers.

All the privately-owned radio and television channels have been closed down and it is now illegal to own or operate a radio or television broadcasting station in Zimbabwe.

Three of the privately-owned newspapers -- The Financial Gazette, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mirror on Sunday -- have been taken over by the country's dreaded secret police, the Central Intelligence Organization. Five other titles -- The Daily News; The Daily News on Sunday, The Tribune and the Weekly Times -- have been shut down.

The two remaining privately-owned newspapers are now also being threatened with closure. The two newspapers, the Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard are owned by Trevor Ncube, who also publishes South Africa's Mail and Guardian.

In December 2005, Trevor Ncube made history when he become the first critic of the Zimbabwe government to be placed under virtual country arrest after security agents seized his passport. The move came in the wake of an amendment to the country's constitution to allow the government to restrict the right to freedom of movement by denying a passport to anyone wishing to travel outside the country "where it is feared or believed or known that the Zimbabwean in question will, during his or her travel, harm the national interest or defense interest or economic interest of the state."

The list of critics of the Zimbabwe government who were to have their passports withdrawn should they try to enter or leave the country included journalists Geoff Nyarota, Nqobile Nyathi, Lloyd Mudiwa, Basildon Peta, and Caroline Gombakomba.

Then, as now, Trevor Ncube believed the real reason why he had also been targeted in this way was because security agents, who he says now rule the country, wanted to silence him as well as to make him to leave the country illegally so that they could level criminal charges against him and take over his newspapers.

"They know I stand to lose a lot if I am unable to return to South Africa. They think I will leave the country illegally so they can have something to pin on me. Then they can specify me and my newspapers and that way take over my business," he said.

Trevor Ncube travels regularly between South Africa and Zimbabwe to run his newspapers.

"This is about a regime that wants to control the minds of people. They are basically saying that you can't speak out, because if you do, you lose your passport," he said at the time.

That December he got his passport back after a week because although the amended constitution now allows the Mugabe regime to seize passports from those it perceives to be acting against national interest, there is no corresponding piece of legislation which sets specific guidelines as to which offenses warrant the withdrawal of passports.

The new threat to the Zimbabwe Standard and the Independent comes after the country's registrar general, Tobaiwa Mudede, refused to renew Trevor Ncube's passport last month and went on to revoke his citizenship.

Under Zimbabwe's media laws, foreigners and non-resident Zimbabweans cannot own newspapers. They cannot be majority shareholders in media ventures.

Now, as in December 2005, Trevor Ncube is challenging this latest attempt in court.

According to a report in the state-owned Herald newspaper, in court documents submitted by Tobaiwa Mudede, the registrar general argues that Trevor Ncube is not a Zimbabwean citizen because he was born of a Zambian father and did not revoke his Zambian citizenship.

"His failure to comply with the requirement to renounce Zambian citizenship by descent within the prescribed period (July 6 to Jan. 6, 2002) automatically meant loss of Zimbabwean citizenship," Mudede said.

For his own part, Trevor Ncube maintains that his mother is Zimbabwean by birth and that although his father was born in Zambia, he had applied for and had received Zimbabwean citizenship by the time Trevor Ncube was born.

"I am not and have never been a citizen of a country other than Zimbabwe. I am not aware of any country that I have had connection with which provides for automatic citizenship for a person in my position," Ncube said.

According to The Herald, the court is yet to set a date for the hearing.

This article has also been featured on OhmyNews International.