Send me back to Africa. A man from Senegal, west Africa, is begging to be released from the Aripo Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), where he has been detained for the past four years. Elhadj Abass Gassama, 38, told the Express yesterday that it costing the Government more money to keep him as a prisoner here when he can be sent back to his country for less. Detainees have cried out over the squalid conditions at the IDC and have complained about the unhygienic food and environment. The Express understands that the detainees are provided three meals a day— breakfast, lunch and dinner — as well as personal toiletries all paid for by the State. Gassama told the Express that he arrived in Trinidad in 2005 on the invitation of a friend. He said he flew from Senegal to Venezuela and then took a boat from Venezuela to Trinidad. He said he was aware that he had overstayed his time in Trinidad but he was hoping to work and save money to return to his homeland. He said he left his country in search of better opportunities but did not expect to be sitting in a “prison” without any hope of release. In July 2013, he went to Tobago and on his way back to Trinidad, he was arrested by authorities at the Scarborough port and brought to Trinidad where he has been imprisoned at the IDC since. Married to Trini woman Gassama said he worked in the construction industry and also as a private security guard. He met a Trinidadian woman and they got married. The woman, who was from Warrenville, Cunupia, died from natural causes. Gassama said he has both his marriage certificate and his wife's death certificate which he submitted to immigration authorities. He said he also sought assistance from Living Water and they helped him attain an Order of Supervision letter which means in lieu of detention he would be released but have to regularly check in with immigration officials. He said for the past four years during which he has been imprisoned he has not heard of any developments with respect to his case. “For four years I am at the IDC, they are not telling me anything at all. I am tired, I am suffering, I am really fed up,” said Gassama. He said he has not been to court or the immigration office and he is left to languish without any word. He said his family does not know if he is alive or dead as he has been unable to contact them for years. “I have not committed any crime in your country, I am begging, let me go back home, give me my freedom. I am sick of the foolishness that is taking place at IDC. For four years I have been detained, eight years out of my country, I need, I am asking, I am appealing, please send me home, let me go back, I am truly suffering,” he said. Deep depression Pastor Cordelle Williams of the Cocoyea Seventh Day Adventist Church and members of his congregation have been visiting the IDC on a weekly basis to lend support to the detainees. Williams said the Seventh Day Adventist Church from Enterprise has been pioneering the mission and sought his help as he is able to speak Spanish and communicate with the Spanish-speaking detainees. Williams said the church raised funds to buy toiletries such as shampoo and deodorant to give to the detainees. He said they also try to raise funds to help those to pay their fines. Williams explained when some illegal persons are held, they are kept at the prisons and unless they pay a fine of some $10,000 to $11,000 then they are sent to the IDC where they await hearing of their case. The pastor said there are many helpful officials at the IDC but the problems lie in the system and the processing. “Right now it is very difficult. We have been going to the IDC and also to the Arouca prison at Golden Grove and lending support to the people,” he said. He said there is need for the authorities to expedite the process as there are young people in the IDC who are in deep depression and are suffering. “They are very disheartened, up to this recent week they saying 'pastor we feel like we are dying',” he said. He said there are detainees from Venezuela who are in a dire situation because they have no means of raising funds, adding that their families are in a trying position in Venezuela. “We have raised $5,000 to assist one person in paying her fine, we raised $7,000 to buy deodorant and other items for them,” he said. “We go and visit every week, we sing, we pray with them, it is something spiritual because when you see folks in that situation without their families, especially from Spanish-speaking territories where the language is a barrier, it is very difficult for them,” he said. “Some of them are very young, from 18 to their early 20s, it is important that their minds are intact because it can become a very depressing situation without having your family to embrace you,” he added. Williams said he was aware of Gassama's case and hopes that the authorities can intervene and bring relief to him and others.
SEND ME BACK TO AFRICA
Senegal man held for four years at detention centre begs for help
- Anna Ramdass
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