The number of asylum claims by Malawians seeking protection in the UK is increasing with many defaming the country. On 04-December, a Malawian woman seeking asylum in the UK had her third appeal-hearing since escaping there ten years ago.
Bradford resident Fishane Nkhata has had her case highlighted in a local newspaper, the Telegraph and Argus. She claims that she fled from Malawi in 2002 because she was being forced into a marriage against her will, and being threatened with death if she refused to cooperate.
She does not mention having sought any help from the authorities, such as the Police, Ministry of Gender, or the Courts. Instead, she says that she had no choice but to leave behind her two sons, and escape to the UK with the help of a friend.
No mention is made in the article that forced marriage is contrary to section 22.4 of the Constitution, and that it takes precedence over cultural practices such as kuhara chokoro. The Constitution states simply and clearly:
“No person shall be forced to enter into marriage.”
Also, not mentioned is that a death threat is contrary to Section 88 (Intimidation) of the Penal Code, which states:
“Any person who … by word, attitude, manner or conduct, threatens another with any injury to his person … shall be guilty of an offence. … If the threat be to cause death or grievous hurt … shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years.”
Based on what is reported, it is hard to see how Nkhata’s claim can succeed. That cultural practices cannot be forced on someone was highlighted in late 2010 when Joyce Bauleni from Nsanje was honoured on MBC’s “Our People Our Pride”. When her husband died, she refused to submit to the death cleansing ritual kulowa kufa, but instead sought the assistance of the authorities.
The article featuring Nkhata’s case was written to publicise a conference being held in Bradford. The focus of the conference was that of failed asylum-seekers being deported back to countries where they risk being raped and tortured.
One of the organisers, Beatrice Botomani (aka Chiumia) was one of those who provided material for the article. She and her two children fled from Malawi to the UK in 2004 and claimed asylum. For two months in 2009 they were detained at the Immigration Removal Centre at Yarls Wood, but were shortly thereafter granted leave to remain.
Since then, based in Leeds-Bradford, Botomani has become an active campaigner for the rights of women and child in detention, and also fights against the deportations of many asylum seekers. In 2011 she won the “Yorkshire Refugee of the Year” award.
Another Malawian woman from the Leeds-Bradford area is under a more immediate threat of deportation, compared to Nkhata. Esther Zione Chimwala has claimed asylum based on her discovery that she is a lesbian. Her case was publicised internationally in late October by Peter Tatchell, a prominent, UK human-rights campaigner.
Between them, Chimwala and Tatchell and others claim that she is at risk of discrimination, harassment, assault, arrest, imprisonment, torture and murder, and that the authorities will not protect her because consensual homosexual acts are criminalised in Malawi.
Chimwala says that she was forced into a violent marriage after losing all of her immediate family (mother, father and sister). Again, no mention is made of her trying to seek assistance from the authorities. Instead, helped by a friend, she escaped to the UK in 2005, where she finally found the freedom to let her sexuality develop and discovered that she was attracted to women.
She lived with her current partner happily for over two years. However, the UK Home Office is not accepting that she is a lesbian and has refused her leave to remain
Chimwala is presently detained at Yarls Wood. An attempt to deport her in mid-October failed for unknown reasons.Malawi’s website for LGBT rights, Brought Together, states that her case is going for a judicial review.
There is a petition on the internet in support of Chimwala and other women detainees at Yarls Wood. Some bizarre comments have been posted by Malawians in the Leeds-Bradford area, Chris Banda and Shorai Njoromore. One simply states that Chimwala will be sent to prison with hard labour. Another rants that it is not easy being a homosexual in Africa, especially Malawi, and that if she is sent back she will be raped and killed and if buried then haters will dig out her body and dump it on her parents’ doorstep to shame them … and so on.
Again, it is difficult to see how Chimwala is at risk of harm if she is returned to Malawi. Although consensual homosexual acts are criminalised under Malawi’s Penal Code, President Banda declared at the State Opening of the National Assembly in May:
“Some laws … will be repealed as a matter of urgency… these include the provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts.”
Within a few days, Ralph Kasambala, Justice Minister and Attorney General, announced that for homosexual acts there will be “no arrests or prosecutions based on the law under review.” In early November, Kasambala repeated that “there is a moratorium on all such laws meaning that Police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws.”
For a lengthy period of time, Chimwala was a carer at a residential home in Wetherby, a town in the Leeds area. It is reported that while there she had numerous discussions with one of the residents, who is himself homosexual, about the discrimination they had both encountered and the persecution she had faced.
As an active campaigner in various issues, the gentleman brought Chimwala’s case to the attention of Peter Tatchell in early September, who then publicised it internationally, along with others, in late October.
*The article is based on the following internet links:
Constitution of Malawi: http://www.malawilii.org/files/mw/legislation/consolidated-act/constitution_of_malawi_pdf_25073.pdf
Penal Code of Malawi: http://www.malawilii.org/files/mw/legislation/consolidated-act/7:01/penal_code_pdf_14611.pdf
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