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Home Office ‘error’ sees vulnerable asylum seeker spend her birthday behind bars

SAJID JAVID was branded a “disgrace” tonight after it emerged the Home Office needlessly detained a mentally ill female asylum-seeker on her birthday.

In the latest hostile environment scandal, Aissata Thiam spent a harrowing 48 hours locked up earlier this week after immigration officials made a botched attempt to deport her to a Muslim country in west Africa. We are not naming the country for safety reasons.

She fled from her family there over a decade ago and has lived in Britain ever since, where she has struggled to secure asylum.

Her case is similar to that of Saudi Arabian woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who recently won asylum in Canada after the world’s media highlighted her plight.

Ms Thiam told the Morning Star: “I’m a Muslim woman and in my country men try to control us. If Rahaf came to the UK and tried to claim asylum she would never have got it.”

The Home Office’s hostile environment has kept Ms Thiam living in limbo for years, demanding she regularly reports to her local police station in Gloucestershire.

On Monday, Ms Thiam’s worst nightmares were realised when she reported to officers who suddenly refused to let her leave.

They said diplomats from her country needed to meet her on Tuesday to renew her passport, to pave the way for her deportation – as part of the Home Office’s controversial detained interview scheme.

Ms Thiam said that police frisked her roughly, confiscated her jacket and slammed her in a freezing solitary cell at Quedgeley police station for the next 26 hours.

After a sleepless night, she celebrated her 44th birthday alone, before private security guards arrived and bundled her into a van.

They drove her 100 miles across England to the high-security Colnbrook detention centre, next to Heathrow airport.

After four hours on the road Ms Thiam said: “I was sick by the time we got to Colnbrook, I had been crying a lot.”

In a cruel twist, officers at Colnbrook told Ms Thiam they did not know anything about her interview with diplomats – and said nobody had come from her embassy.

After this botched meeting failed to go ahead, Ms Thiam spent her second night behind bars, before immigration officers realised their error and let her go on Wednesday evening.

In a chilling farewell, immigration officers told her they may detain her again when she next reports to police in early February.

Ms Thiam depends on anti-depressants and missed three doses during the saga. She said there was no need to detain her, as she has voluntarily spoken to embassy staff in the past.

She told the Morning Star that the prospect of getting detained again “makes me feel horrible. I don’t wish that on my enemy.”

Ms Thiam said: “I have depression and PTSD. I’ve spent months in Yarl’s Wood in 2009 and was released after 28 days on hunger strike.

“Even when I see a prison on television I feel sick. It was horrible to be put through that again.”

Her close friend, teacher Bethan Bowett-Jones, told the Morning Star: “This disgraceful episode shows the hostile environment is alive and kicking under Sajid Javid, who promised a ‘compliant’ approach instead.

“Aissata has co-operated with embassy staff before so why did they need to lock her up in a police cell for 26 hours, drive her 100 miles across the country in a prison van on her birthday, then chuck her in Colnbrook when the embassy staff weren’t even there? And can they guarantee this won’t happen again?”

The Home Office has not yet responded to request for comment.

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