This blog post, about “an unlikely friendship, forged behind barbed wire and in the shadow of indefinite detention” was written for Scottish Detainee Visitors, and has been republished by Unlocking Detention with their permission. It was written by Giovanna Fassetta, Chair of SDV.
I first met Simon in Dungavel in August 2010. He was detained for a long time and little by little, the two of us became friends. It was an unlikely friendship: he a young man in his early thirties, with a taste for rap and bling, and me a woman of almost fifty, with no taste for rap or bling.
We had some fun visits with Simon. He was always upbeat, even after months of constant disappointment and frustration. He had served a prison sentence (having been involved in a drunken fight) and this was how he had been found not to have papers. So, after a few months in prison, he had been sent to Dungavel. We spoke on the phone between visits, and I trailed the shops trying to find a pair of trendy but cheap jeans that would be low enough in the waist for the look he was after (he wanted to keep his HMP denims, as he said they would fetch a good price on ebay).
Simon had arrived in the UK as a teenager with his mother, having left a country with a dreadful human rights record to which the Home Office had suspended returns. However, he was born in a country deemed safe and it was to that country that the Home Office was determined to send him, after he had spent half of his life in the UK. Telling the authorities that he knew no one in his country of birth, having moved away as a child of three, and that all his family was in the ‘unsafe’ country, made no difference.
Having spent almost two years in detention, with no end in sight, he eventually decided that going back to Africa was preferable to the life in limbo he was living and that at least in this way he could regain some control over his fate. So he was sent to the ‘safe’ country of his birth and, for a while, he disappeared. I was very concerned for him, and kept trying to get in touch with him via email and on Facebook.
Eventually, in June 2012, almost a year after he’d been ‘returned’, he resurfaced. He had slowly made his way to the unsafe country, and he had managed to get in touch with his family. He was ok, he reassured me. Simon is a fighter. I should not have worried, but I was very relieved. We are still in touch and occasionally he writes an email, when he manages to get access to a computer.
A few months ago, I happened to notice his status update on Facebook. It read:
“Giovanna Fassetta I will be forever thankful for your hospitality, it meant a lot to me that you were there during tough times!! God bless!!!”
This is a friendship I treasure.