Indian asylum seeker released by US after hunger strike

EL PASO, Texas (AP) – An Indian immigrant who lost a third of his weight during a 70-day hunger strike over the rejection of his asylum claim won temporary release on Thursday after a year in United States (US) detention.

Ajay Kumar, 33, bowed with his hands clasped together in a traditional Indian greeting as he walked away from a detainee processing centre in El Paso, Texas, with a tracking device around his ankle – a condition of his release.

He was accompanied by human rights activists, who had been galvanised by medical personnel force-feeding him. The painful procedure involves pumping liquid food into the stomach via a tube through his nose.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials agreed to a deal last week in which Kumar and another Indian national resumed eating on a promise that they would be released, according to their lawyers. The men began eating again last Saturday and had been kept under medical observation.

Kumar said he felt “very good,” even though he lost nearly 23 kilogrammes during his hunger strike, dropping from 68 kilogrammes at the start of his hunger strike to 48 kilogrammes. Kumar said he has regained about five kilogrammes but still feels in pain.

“I got my freedom,” Kumar said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

Kumar and fellow Indian detainee Gurjant Singh began their hunger strike July 8 after rejection of their asylum claims and denial of bond.

They had spent almost a year in an ICE detention facility in Otero, New Mexico, and hadn’t been charged with a crime. They believe the judge did not consider the facts of their cases individually.

Ajay Kumar walks with his immigration sponsor, after being released on bond in El Paso, Texas. PHOTO: AP