Exclusive: Popular Glasgow sound engineer speaks out from detention about “cruel” UK rules threatening his place in Scotland

10/03/2017
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CommonSpace speaks to Robert Makutsa, who is currently in Coinbrook Immigration Removal Centre, in a candid interview about his treatment from the Home Office

NO matter how much he may acclimatise to British culture or integrate himself into the community, Robert Makutsa’s time in Scotland has never been secure or harmonious. 

After working hard to establish himself as one of the foremost sound engineers in Glasgow and creating a full life within his adopted homeland, the Kenyan national was detained last year and now faces the lingering threat of deportation at the infamous Coinbrook Immigration Removal Centre in the borough of Hillingdon. 

Hoping to be freed from what he and the thousands who have campaigned for his release have viewed as a situation brought upon by misinformation and injustice, the long-time Glasgow resident was recently denied bail at an asylum tribunal despite not being considered at risk of breaching it.

Read more – Glasgow’s Robert Makutsa is denied asylum bail as loved ones vow to fight on

In the wake of this latest crushing setback, Makutsa spoke to CommonSpace via telephone from his cell and candidly described the predicament that he has had thrust upon him.

“I can’t trust the system because they misrepresent my information,” he said. “They misrepresent my information before a judge because they have the power to. (They) give false information, give false analysis. Their laws are strict and very hard to bear for someone who’s not a UK citizen so I’ve been a victim of and subject to their cruel, harsh rules. 

“A caseworker clearly decides how they want to treat you and it’s like speaking to a wall.”

Makutsa’s most recent battle with the Home Office began in August last year when he was taken from his home and detained out of the blue. Unbeknown to him, his most recent visa application had been denied but he hadn’t been informed that he had overstayed, and thus made no attempt to appeal the decision. 

This notion of crucial instructions and protocol not being properly carried out or misconstrued is something he views as a problem which has persisted in his most recent hearing.

“Their laws are strict and very hard to bear for someone who’s not a UK citizen so I’ve been a victim of and subject to their cruel, harsh rules. A caseworker clearly decides how they want to treat you and it’s like speaking to a wall.” Robert Makutsa

“I was told that the case was going in my favour and towards the end of it, the Home Office lawyer told the judge that I hadn’t been complying with their interview, which is completely false information. 

“The detention centre is very strict and I was in the medical room because I have a fungal infection and they were informed about it. I rescheduled the appointment. They then go and tell the judge that I didn’t comply. They were told that I was in the medical centre and I wasn’t well. 

“Each and every time I come up for bail, they come up with false stories. They said that I don’t have family in the UK or any ties when the only family members I have remaining are my two sisters, my two nieces and my fiancé. 

“Every application that I have made, I’ve provided that evidence. Why do they say before a judge that I don’t have a family? Yes I can obviously provide this evidence but for god’s sake, just give me some respect. 

“The one that really bugs me is that the last refusal, when they first detained me last year in August. I don’t buy what the Home Office is saying because they’re claiming that I overstayed in the country. 

Read more – Police Scotland accused of brutality during migrant raid protests

“I’ve not overstayed in the country, they made me overstay which is why I’m in detention. They refused my application. Anyone’s application that is refused – and I’ve had them refused before and I’ve won my case – the most important thing is that I received my refusal letter and it gives me space to appeal it, challenge it or submit a new application. 

“So in my case, the Home Office made a decision on 13 July – they decided to refuse my application and the only time I got to know about my application being refused was when they came in, stormed into my house and gave me the papers, and I’m like, ‘what the heck?’. 

“For them to have the audacity to serve them to me like that and give me a return ticket – to return where? To a graveyard.”

Although it is not the only category in which the Home Office has contested his stay, the government maintains that he has living relatives in Kenya. However, Makutsa denies that this is the case.

“I read the refusal and three of the categories are to do with age as I’m not under 18 or under 24 years. They failed me on those but my age is my age and I can’t argue with that, that’s straightforward. 

CommonSpace contacted the Home Office in an attempt to verify information provided by Makutsa, but received no response. Likewise, we contacted his MP, Alison Thewliss, for comment, as well as Glasgow MSPs Carol Monaghan and Anas Sarwar, but received no response.

“Let’s look at the reasons they are giving for the refusal. Why do you have a secretary of state who is paid by the government to look at people’s visas when they say I should return to the country on the basis that my mother is still alive when I have issued them with my mum’s death certificate? 

“They had that two months in advance and yet that’s what I see in front of me. I tell them this is incorrect. Do they care? They don’t care.”

CommonSpace contacted the Home Office in an attempt to verify information provided by Makutsa, but received no response. Likewise, we contacted his MP, Alison Thewliss, for comment, as well as Glasgow MSPs Carol Monaghan and Anas Sarwar, but received no response.

However, Claire Russell from the Unity Centre – which supports refugees facing deportation, said: “I can confirm that what the Home Office has done is all true, and Robert has paperwork to confirm it.  

“These situations are indeed very common, I would say the Home Office is at best incompetent and at worst (and I believe) malicious in these processes. Robert has been treated unjustly all the way through his case, like many others.

“He’s now in a very difficult situation despite having done his best to abide by the guidelines every step of the way.”

In November last year, Police Scotland was accused of a heavy handed response towards protestors who’d gathered outside Home Office Scotland premises in Glasgow shortly after Makutsa’s detention. A video showed officers tussling with protestors, depite the official Police Scotland claim that it does not assist the Home Office in raid/detention activities.

At the time of the interview, Makutsa has been in the UK for a grand total of eight years and three months without returning to his home country. While his life may well and truly be in Glasgow, his mother is not the only family member who has passed on and Robert feels that the Home Office has frequently placed obstacles in the way and prevented him from paying his final respects to his departed relatives.

“In 2010, I went to my MP because of two things – my sister passed away and my father passed away.

“The MP was Mohammed Sarwar at the time. I wanted to go home and he asked the Home Office to fast-track my visa but they refused. The Home Office has my travel documents and we asked them to fast track so I could pay my respects to my sister. 

“I didn’t go to my sisters funeral nor did I go to my father’s or my mum’s funeral. If you had three family members that have passed away and the only thing that’s stopped you from going back home is either the Home Office holding your documents, keeping them until they’re expired when you don’t know anything about it … it’s horrible.”

Another one of the most pertinent issues regularly cited when Makutsa’s case is brought into the public eye is his longstanding engagement to Scottish student Chloe Reis – the pair would now be married if it wasn’t for his detention. 

“I would say the Home Office is at best incompetent and at worst (and I believe) malicious in these processes. Robert has been treated unjustly all the way through his case, like many others.” Claire Russell, Unity Centre

Among all of the accusations that have been lobbied against by him by the Home Office, it appears that its scepticism of his relationship is the most disheartening for him.

“So the last application was to do with me and my partner and the definition of partner is someone who’s married, obviously. The wedding was supposed to be last Saturday and I can’t even describe … yeah, I can’t even describe how that feels. 

“They acknowledged that we are engaged. We also put in a notice of marriage with the registrar, we went to the council and there was nothing dodgy happening but he had to phone the Home Office by law and they started an investigation. 

“On the original letter they said if you’re required to do an interview, the first one will happen on 26 February and the final decision as to whether you can get married will be made on 8 March. 

“So we were like, ‘ok, what does this mean? We will follow the law and we might need to postpone the wedding’. Then last week, we get a letter to say that we’ve complied with the interview? Very strange.

“Anyway, this is what the judge said about our relationship. She submitted that ‘if the applicant hadn’t been detained, he would have been married by now and this must strengthen his case’. 

Staring down the prospect of deportation to a country which holds nothing for him and terrified that he will be forced to part with everything he has come to know and love, Makutsa hopes that the government will change course and spare him from having to begin his life all over again.

“She submitted that the Home Office hadn’t invited the applicant and his fiancé for an interview. She said: ‘Based on what is before me, there does not seem to be any question of the relationship not being genuine and subsisting.’ 

“That’s what the judge said, but what do the Home Office keep on writing? They don’t see that.”

What the Home Office has consistently flagged as an issue which casts doubt on their claim to be in a relationship is that the pair are living separately. However, Makutsa says there is a reason for that.

“We have letters from church, people know us and we can prove our relationship but it all keeps coming back to the definition of partner. We’ve been in a relationship more than two years. I know there are different denominations and you guys might not have this but in my Church (Destiny Church in Glasgow’s Southside), we have a thing called pre-marital counselling so we’ve been undertaking that. 

“This is our decision, we don’t believe in co-habiting before marriage, yet this is what they say – you claim to be in a relationship but you’re not staying together. 

“We have clearly stated that and Chloe and I even quoted scripture to say this is why we’re not doing it. It is serious, it is genuine. Our families know each other very well. I know her grandparents, she knows all about my family. I was Chloe’s step-dad’s best man in their wedding. That’s how closely integrated we are.

“With my current application, we have cited the significant obstacles that I will face, number one being I have nowhere to go (if deported). Also, my partner is doing her thesis and how emotionally straining this must be on her and our relationship.” Robert Makutsa

“They choose not to look at that because we’ve not been staying together so that means that I don’t meet their requirement. Basically the Home Office rushed to refuse my application. We submitted the application on the 22nd and in the outline as to when we get our results, it says 8-12 weeks. So when did they refuse my application? The 27th January.”

As previously touched upon, this current ordeal is the first in a long line of issues and skirmishes which Makutsa has had with the Home Office. While he says he has no criminal record or any other behaviour that is – in the phraseology of his refusal letter – “not conducive to the public good”, he has faced constant adversity which dates all the way back to his days as a student and it even impeded the completion of his degree for a lengthy period of time.

“In 2010, when I was still studying my course, they refused my visa because of my photograph.

“They didn’t do it because the photo wasn’t me or because I was older or anything like that. Everyone knows me as a smiling person and yet they refused me because of my smile. I checked in with every requirement and I was in shock. 

“So what do I do? They don’t want me to smile so I sent another photograph. They rejected it. I submitted new photographs and the university sent a letter to say ‘this is a genuine mistake’, but they refused to look at it and saw it as a new application. 

“It completely wiped out my finances, my credibility, everything. I had to go to court and it was a two-and-a-half year battle. I was not allowed to study for all of that time. When it was brought to the judge he said he couldn’t imagine how this couldn’t have been solved at a smaller level. 

“For her to see how our government is treating me, it’s very difficult for her. For them to say you can finish your education and go and visit him, how can they say that?” Robert Makutsa

“When you go for the judicial review, there is a barrister and you’re paying a lot of money for this, he was very upset that they were using thousands of pounds of public money for a case about what? A photograph. They go and he says they must reconsider and they give me three months to complete the course.

“So we took them back to court and told them that is not the duration of the course. Why are you giving someone three months of visa? What will he do with three months? So we went back to the court and this was the ruling- that the two previous refusals of the photographs were superseded by the visa which still had two years left and gave me the time to do my course. 

“So they were withdrawn, but guess what the Home Office keeps bringing up now? They look back and say you were refused here and here.”

Staring down the prospect of deportation to a country which holds nothing for him and terrified that he will be forced to part with everything he has come to know and love, Makutsa hopes that the government will change course and spare him from having to begin his life all over again.

“With my current application, we have cited the significant obstacles that I will face, number one being I have nowhere to go (if deported). Also, my partner is doing her thesis and how emotionally straining this must be on her and our relationship. 

“For her to see how our government is treating me, it’s very difficult for her. For them to say you can finish your education and go and visit him, how can they say that? Now they expect my fiancé to go to a place where the UK Government has issued a travel ban or warning to UK citizens? 

“You know what they offer as an alternative? They say you can contact your partner and family through social media, but that’s not an alternative. That’s my story, man.”

Makutsa’s case will be assessed within a two to eight-week period, at which point a decision on his new asylum application and stay will be decided upon. A petition set up calling for his right to stay in Scotland currently has more than 3,000 signatures.

Picture courtesy of Kate Christie

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