“You’ll be able to breathe in Africa”

Witnesses describe assault. Victim told “You’ll be able to breathe in Africa”. Fires started. Water everywhere. Hunger strike commences.

We have just spoken to H, one of the two cell-mates of the man whose violent removal this morning triggered today’s events.

The victim was Benin-born D [name withheld], who had been working as a security guard at Edinburgh Airport, and had an exemplary record for intercepting drug-traffickers, before a colleague (it is presumed) informed on him for having false papers himself. D has a partner in Edinburgh who is 4 months pregnant, and a 2 year-old daughter.

If D had been involved in arresting other foreigners for coming to Britain, then one could say “well, this serves him right”. But nobody deserves to be treated like this:

H says that 10 officers in full riot gear entered the cell (with more outside) at just after 5:20 this morning.

Some of the officers used their shields to confine him and his other room mate to their beds while the other officers dealt with D.

The whole incident, including the assault, was videoed by one of the officers, who was grinning throughout “as if he enjoyed the violence”.

D was given no chance to go peacefully. He was punched and kicked, and shouted “you’re murdering me”. At one point he said he was suffocating and could not breathe; an officer replied: “You’ll be able to breathe in Africa”.

H asked the guard facing him: “Do you guys realise what you’re doing? This isn’t human rights!” The guard replied “There’s nothing I can do. We’re just doing our jobs”.

D had been held in Campsfield for three months, leaving his partner in desperate distress and hardship in Edinburgh. Apparently the Home Office has been unable to deport him because Benin would not recognise him as a Benin national.

During our conversation some detainees were attempting to start fires – unsuccessfully, I assume, but the place was now full of smoke as well as water.

H, my interviewee, is from Sierra Leone. He is a “Foreign National Prisoner” – he was criminalised for entering the country with false papers: one of the approx 1,000 new crimes created by New Labour since 1997, and one which violates the 1951 United Nations Refugee convention (Section 13 of which stipulates that refugees should not be penalised for not having correct travel documents).

H is very clear and articulate, and is happy to speak to journalists.

He told me that detainees are now on hunger strike.


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