THE seizing of a Ugandan asylum-seeker, Elizabeth Kiwunga Rushamba, and her two children, Marie, aged four, and John, aged 18 months, by immigration officers early on Monday was described this week by the Revd Sheilagh Williamson. She has sheltered the family in her home for the past year.
Mrs Rushamba believes she will be in mortal danger if she is returned to Uganda. Her application for asylum was refused, however, and she was due to be flown to Kampala last night, with her British-born children.
Mrs Williamson, Priest-in-Charge of St Columba’s, Darlington, said that Monday morning had been one of worst experiences of her life.
“Eight officers arrived at 7.15 in the morning and tried to go into every room in the house. They showed Robert [her husband and vicar of St Cuthbert’s, Darlington] their warrant and that was it: they just walked straight into Elizabeth’s room and told her she had to get up and get the children up and dressed.
“I could see that Elizabeth was in shock and traumatised, and she could not decide what to wear or what to pack; but they took this as a sign that she was not co-operating, and they threatened, in front of the children, to handcuff her and take her downstairs.
“Marie was hysterical and pleaded with me to stop them. I took her to the kitchen to give her breakfast, but I could hear that they were shouting at Elizabeth; so I went back upstairs.
“They did not want to let me in, but I said I had a right to be there: it was my house. It was a nightmare.
“They took Elizabeth downstairs and put her in a large black van. They put the children in a separate vehicle.”
Mrs Rushamba has been held in detention on three former occasions. She came to the vicarage a year ago, when she discovered that her son’s father had found another partner.
“She is an incredibly devout person, and the first thing she did was to find a church,” Mrs Williamson said. “That was how I got to know her.
“Not everybody is genuine, but Elizabeth’s was a genuine case. She was looking for safety and sanctuary. The way she has been treated here, things must be very bad in Uganda for her not to want to go back.”