Reprieve for disabled Kenyan
BBC online, 24 February 2006


Photo of Peter Gichura
Disability rights campaigner Peter Gichura was released on Friday
A disabled Kenyan man who was about to be deported from the UK has been released from a Home Office detention centre in west London.

Peter Gichura - a wheelchair user - was being held at Harmondsworth Detention Centre, but was not deported as expected on Thursday evening.

His lawyer applied to delay proceedings while a fresh application for asylum was considered.

The Home Office denied the centre was unsuitable for a wheelchair user.

Campaigners had been lobbying the Home Office on Mr Gichura's behalf.

It was claimed that Mr Gichura was denied access to appropriate medication.

I could barely open the door of my room, was locked out from using the toilet and they had no facilities to allow me to bathe Peter Gichura

The Home Office had refused to comment on Mr Gichura's case, but said the Harmondsworth detention centre - in which he was being held - was wheelchair accessible.

Representations were made to Home Office ministers by the disability charity, Leonard Cheshire, and Mr Gichura's MP, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks.

Speaking shortly after his release, Mr Gichura thanked those who had been campaigning on his behalf.

"At the detention centre, despite being dependent on my wheelchair, I was detained in an inaccessible environment," he said.

"I could barely open the door of my room, was locked out from using the toilet and they had no facilities to allow me to bathe."

He says he will fight to stay in the UK and will campaign to change the asylum laws so that others are not subjected to the same "racism and heartlessness" which he says are part of the immigration process.

'Wheelchair accessible'

The Home Office, in a statement, said that due care and attention was always given to the health and welfare of anyone in detention.

And it says that Harmondsworth is suitable for wheelchair users.

"Detainees who use a wheelchair are able to access all levels of Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre," the statement said.

"The dining hall, association rooms and the courtyard at Harmondsworth are all accessible from the ground floor, and a detainee who uses a wheelchair will be provided a room on the ground floor."

Mr Gichura became disabled in 1990 after falling from a tree while trying to escape from the police following a political demonstration.

He then began to support himself as a street hawker, and formed a disability rights organisation of which he became chairman.

Mr Gichura says that because of his political activism, he was frequently arrested and beaten.

He said he also received a death threat from a senior government official.

Along with fellow campaigners, Mr Gichura says he was forced to leave Kenya because of the violence and intimidation.

He arrived in London in June 2001.

Mr Gichura has now submitted a new application for asylum, based on the lack of access to the healthcare in Kenya that he needs to survive.