Mon, Jan 12, 2009 - Page 19 News List

UK gold medal winner says he was maltreated

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Vincent Onwubiko, 42, who has lived in Britain since arriving from Nigeria in 1994, is being held in an immigration removal center, where his disability caused by polio makes it impossible for him to use the toilets. He also claims he was assaulted after he was denied a shower. Campaigners claim that he should not be deported since his crime does not meet the criteria to be deemed “dangerous” and that he has been maltreated in establishments ill-equipped to cope with his immobility.

Onwubiko, a power-lifter, represented Britain at the prestigious Stoke Mandeville games in 1995 and 1997, and at the World Champion of Champions competition in Birmingham, England, in 1996, collecting five gold medals in all.

DRIVING PROBLEMS

In 2007, he received a five-month prison sentence for driving with a suspended license. He had twice been convicted of careless driving, once after running a red light. At the end of that sentence, he was arrested and taken to Dover Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in southeast England, which would not admit him, because he does not have the use of his legs.

He was taken to Brixton prison in London. Last January he was granted bail, but re-arrested in August after being called in for an interview, and has been in detention ever since.

On New Year’s Eve, Onwubiko was in Harmondsworth IRC, near London-Heathrow airport. He claims that staff refused to take him for a shower and, when he tried to wash himself at a sink, he splashed water on the floor, whereupon staff wrestled him to the ground and placed him in segregation. Staff at the center confirmed that he was in the segregation unit.

The following day he was moved to Colnbrook IRC, also near Heathrow. A doctor from the Medical Justice Network visited him last Tuesday. Charmian Goldwyn said Onwubiko’s injuries were consistent with his claim of assault. She noted the handcuff marks on his wrists and asked why a man who could not walk needed to wear restraints.

She said that this was not the first case of alleged assault she had examined in the IRCs, but “it is the first case of a disabled person who has injuries consistent to being brutally assaulted.”

Glyn Hibbert, director of the British Wheelchair Sports Foundation, described Onwubiko as an “excellent weightlifter and a decent young man.”

He said that if the Home Office had granted him papers to obtain a visa, Onwubiko would have been part of Great Britain’s team at the Paralympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.

NOT SURPRISING

Emma Ginn, the coordinator of Medical Justice, said that she was shocked, but not surprised, at the allegations of assault on Onwubiko.

“Our recent report, ‘Outsourcing Abuse,’ analyzed the findings of nearly 300 alleged assault cases. We found an alarming number of injuries and seemingly systematic abuse of vulnerable people,” she said.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said detention and removal were essential parts of effective immigration controls, but that they “treat every person we detain as sensitively as possible.”

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