LGBT activist and former judo star among former detainees

Article @ Morning Star, published 10 August 2015

Marie Effa is a judoka and LGBT rights campaigner from Cameroon who came to Britain to play in last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

She had been in the country for just one month when immigration officials took her into Yarl’s Wood.

“They said I had travelled illegally but I showed them all the documentation,” she told the Star after speaking to the solidarity protest outside the detention centre.

“I travelled to play my sport so I didn’t travel here illegally. Even then I was put in detention.

“I stayed inside [Yarl’s Wood] one month and one week. I wasn’t treated well. No good.

“One day I was feeling very down and a lady officer there told me: ‘You can do everything you want but you will not go out’.”

Asked what the conditions inside were like and whether psychological support was given, the athlete was quite clear: “If you are ill they give you paracetamol, [for] everything they give you paracetamol, just paracetamol.

“It was stressful every single day. There they don’t care how you are, they don’t care about you.”

Once out, Ms Effa’s help came from charities in Scotland, including the Unity Centre in Glasgow.

Homosexuality in Cameroon is currently punishable with up to five years in jail, though the authorities argue that people are free to do what they please in private.

Ms Effa said she learnt much from the experience and that she felt compelled to come out on the day in support of those still imprisoned in Bedford.

“We came here to seek help, not detention,” she said.

“We are all human, we didn’t kill anyone. We just need help, just help, nothing else.”