HE competed at the Olympic Games. Now he is playing the “lottery” of the UK asylum system.

Zacharie Cyriaque Ayard-Nzapajima has produced graphic images of the bodies of family members.

Their deaths are said to have taken place after he fled his home nation after an alleged attack by authorities.

He has also produced medical certificates confirming the rape of his daughter and her mother, as well as letters bearing threats against him and his loved ones.

Relatives have warned him not to return to the Central African Republic (CAR), telling him that it is “better to die in the UK” than go back to “be faced with being killed through a machete”.

His mental health is poor and he has been assessed as being at-risk by Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre medics.

Although his immediate removal has been cancelled, and despite official guidance which allows for the release of those with mental health problems, he remains locked inside the South Lanarkshire facility.

After years of limbo in the asylum system, friends from St Andrews Cathedral in Glasgow say he poses no threat and should be allowed to rebuild his life here in safety.

But because immigration detention is indefinite, it is not known how long he will spend inside the centre.

While papers have been lodged to spark a court challenge to the Home Office’s decision to refuse asylum, no decision on potential bail will be made for at least 10 working days.

Speaking to the Sunday National from Dungavel, Ayard-Nzapajima said: “Everything I have told the Home Office is the truth. I thought they would automatically give me asylum after everything that happened, but it seems like it’s a pure lottery to win your case.”

Lawyers have described the 46-year-old’s case as one of the most distressing they have handled.

As a young man, the international travel associated with his sporting prowess saw him nicknamed “the president’s son”.

This began in high school, when he travelled to Morocco and France to compete in javelin and running events.

African and Olympic Games followed, with Ayard-Nzapajima running on the track at Barcelona and being selected for the 1996 contest in Atlanta, where last-minute injury stopped him turning out.

Recurrent injuries saw him focus on coaching, and in 2012 he was appointed to the CAR Paralympic squad.

But shortly before he could leave for the London games, a labour-row protest would trigger events that would destroy his life.

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Working as a bodyguard in CAR, which is blighted by inter-ethnic violence, kidnappings and crime, Ayard-Nzapajima applied for one of many posts advertised on state radio. After paying hefty application and paperwork fees, as well as undergoing physical tests, he says he was told he had been hired.

But when he and many others arrived at the National Police College to begin training, they discovered there were no jobs. When a protest began, tear gas was used against the crowd, which burned tyres and took down the president’s statue.

Ayard-Nzapajima was among those arrested and says police beat him so badly he lost consciousness and woke up in hospital, where family members helped him escape. A close friend and senior Paralympic figure then signed off his permissions to travel to London.

The National: Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre, where Ayard-Nzapajima is locked upDungavel Immigration Removal Centre, where Ayard-Nzapajima is locked up

Ayard-Nzapajima has been in the UK ever since. During his absence from CAR his image has been circulated in a magazine which named him as a “wanted” figure, his home has been burnt down and his family, now scattered, have been subjected to violence.

All of this, Ayard-Nzapajima says, is at the hands of men who will kill him if he returns. Letters presented as part of his asylum case include threats to his safety.

He told the Sunday National: “When you see what happened to me, you know I need protection. The Central African Republic is one of the worst countries in the world, but nobody talks about it. Every day people are killed. To be able to survive you need to be armed.

“I just want the freedom to live.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against “all but essential travel” to the CAR, which gained independence from France in 1960. Despite a wealth of natural resources – gold, diamonds, oil and uranium – its people, numbering almost 5 million, are among the poorest in the world.

Neither men nor women are expected to make it to 60-years-old and sectarian tensions have led to widespread violence and political turmoil.

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ATTEMPTS to overcome this are ongoing, with peace talks between the government and armed groups beginning recently in Sudan. Amnesty International says at least 1.4m people are food insecure and 2.4m people depend on humanitarian assistance.

As many as 100 civilians were killed in an attack on a camp for displaced people in November. Amnesty says children, older people and people with disabilities were among the dead.

Meanwhile, the collapse and slow reconstruction of the justice system is said to mean many suspected perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations are neither investigated nor tried. In its own guidance, the FCO says “tensions are high” across the country.

Ayard-Nzapajima says the murders of his aunt and nephew Ayard Prince Junior – whom he had cared for since the death of his brother from HIV – took place in 2016.

The crimes, he says, have left him with a “moral debt”. He stated: “My relatives were killed because of me. I have been told by family that is my fault.”

According to the Immigration Act 2016, at-risk adults should be released from detention if they pose no flight or crime risk.

Ayard-Nzapajima, who is on prescribed medication, says he frequently thinks of death, and only his responsibilities to surviving relatives, and the support of his prayer group, prevent him from taking his own life.

He said: “It’s not that I’m talking, that I’m walking and that I’m breathing means I’m alive, inside I’m already dead because of the last seven years in really difficult conditions. Please help me.”

Teresa Lally, who met Ayard-Nzapajima through their church prayer group, says she is “distressed” by his detention.

The pair have known each other for several years, and the primary school teacher gave Ayard-Nzapajima, who has already been detained twice before, a place to stay during a period of homelessness.

Describing him as a “gentleman” who is popular with Dungavel guards, she said: “I had no idea there was somewhere like Dungavel. Zacharie thought our nation was one of integrity and justice. I’m almost embarrassed by the way he has been treated. Why is he still there?

“Zacharie is a friend and a brother. He may be an asylum seeker, but he’s one of us.”

Kate Alexander, director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, commented: "The Home Office's Adults at Risk policy has been criticised by many organisations working with people in detention, and in July 2018 the second Shaw review echoed their concerns that the policy was failing to prevent vulnerable people being detained.

“The latest HMIP inspection of Dungavel praised staff efforts in building respectful relationships with people detained there, but also had concerns about the management of the 98 vulnerable adult care plans that had been opened in the six months before the inspection. 

"Indefinite detention only increases people's vulnerability and its impact is we see every week as visitors to people in Dungavel.”

The Home Office says trained medical staff support people with mental health problems within its immigration removal centres.

Issuing a stock comment which is used in many asylum cases, a spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection.

“Immigration detention is an important part of the wider immigration system, and we are committed to using detention sparingly and only when necessary.”