A Zimbabwean man who was detained for four and half years in the UK has been released into homelessness.

Craig Pedzai who is 36 years old has told The Independent of 18 years of hell in the UK.

“I sometimes think to myself, why don’t I just call it a day?I’m tired, my body is exhausted. I don’t see myself going any further. All I wanted was to find a job and start working, for my daughter. But I’m walking the streets with nowhere to sleep.”

“I’m just a ghost walking around in town. Sleeping on the street, young boys trying to mug me,” he says. “It’s like the Home Office wants me get into a problem, and then they have a reason to put me back in the detention centre.

“All the dreams I had of working hard for my daughter to give her a good life. It hurts to see people going to work every day. I’m already 36, but I’m walking the streets with nowhere to sleep. Many times I’ve tried to commit suicide. I’m tired, I’m just tired. I don’t want to hurt my daughter, but I can’t live like this anymore.”

Craig’s problems began in 2001, when he fled to the UK, aged 17, after being targeted in the southern African country for supporting the political opposition MDC party. His parents – his only close relatives – had already been arrested for their activism. After attending a rally, he too was apprehended by police.

“They took us into the bush and kept us there. They beat us up, did some not so nice things. I’ve still got the scars today,“ he says, visibly pained by the memory of being tortured mentally, physically, and even sexually, by officers. “They burnt our house down, everything. All the memories, pictures.“

He escaped after a week of beatings, but now wanted by the authorities, he had to flee the country. With the help of a distant uncle, he left Zimbabwe unnoticed by boarding a flight to the UK, arriving on 5 August 2001.

“I got to the airport. They stamped my passport and said ‘six month’s visa’ or something like that. I got out and the person my uncle said would meet me was not there,” he recalls. “I waited there for a few hours, nobody was coming. It was cold. I’d never been abroad in my life.

“I didn’t know anything about immigration or things like that. I thought I’d just be here for a bit. My mind was all over the place. I never planned to come here, or to come and give evidence to prove what I’ve been through. I was running away.”

Unaware that he could claim asylum, Craig applied for a student visa, which was refused. He then applied for asylum in July 2003, but this was rejected on the basis that there was a lack of evidence, which his current lawyer attributes to poor legal representation.

He subsequently became homeless in Leeds. He moved into the home of an alcoholic man who offered him a room for free, in return for him cleaning the house and driving him around.

“He said he was going to help me, only to keep me in his house,” says Craig. “When he left he locked me in. I couldn’t eat when he wasn’t there. ‘Don’t look out of the front windows,’ he would say. He wanted the house spotless.”
During this time, Craig was convicted of driving uninsured, and under the influence of alcohol several times, and was subsequently sentenced to prison for six months, of which he served three.

He was then released to homelessness and convicted of a string of minor offences in the years after his release. He says he was forced to shoplift in order to eat, and that at one point out of desperation to get off the streets, he smashed a window in order to go back to prison.

At the age of 21, Craig formed a relationship with a 19-year-old woman in Huddersfield and moved in with her and her parents. Things began to look up. He and his girlfriend had a child and he re-applied for asylum with the help of her father, at which point he decided to move into asylum accommodation.

“My daughter was growing up, I had to provide something. I wasn’t allowed to work so I was just sitting at home,” he says. “She told me to come back, but I felt like I had to get myself sorted first, I had to provide.”
Craig’s asylum claim was again refused and his support was stopped. Not wanting to tell his girlfriend and her family, he started sleeping on the streets again, at which point he got caught up in a fight and was sentenced to prison for four months on a common assault charge.

In 2011, the day he was due to be released from prison, Craig was informed that he was being arrested under immigration law. He was first taken to HMP Liverpool and then Morton Hall immigration removal centre, where he was cumulatively held for four and a half years.

“They said they were going to deport me when they knew all along there were no deportations to Zimbabwe,“ he says. ”If you’re deporting me, deport me. Let me go die, rather than keeping me in prison for something I didn’t do. Killing me slowly for years and years.”

Remembering the physiological impact of being in detention for such a long period of time, he says: “You will never come out of that place okay. If you’re sick, paracetamol. If you break your leg, paracetamol. I saw people kill themselves in there. They are making money on people’s lives.”

Craig went through periods of suicidal ideation while in detention, planning how he would kill himself in his cell during the night: “I was thinking to myself there’s a bar in the bedroom. I was holding onto it and I could tell that it could hold me. The officers don’t check from 9pm until 8am. I knew how to do it.”

Craig was released last month after he submitted a fresh claim – to street homelessness. Following intervention from his lawyer, the Home Office placed him in a Birmingham hostel, where he says he has to share a single bed with a stranger. The plastic bag containing his possessions was recently stolen by somebody in the property. Now he prefers to sleep outside.

His lawyer, Nick Hughes, from Duncan Lewis, says that throughout the entirety of the case the Home Office’s treatment of Craig had been “nothing short of abhorrent”.