This post was written for Unlocking Detention by Abbie Grace, support worker at Refugee Support Devon, and someone who lives in Devon and has experienced detention first-hand.
Although detention may seem far away from us in Exeter, the nearest centre being over 60 miles away, we are constantly reminded of this dark side of our asylum system. It looms as a dreaded possibility for many who have to report regularly and who, each time, must endure the anxiety and uncertainty it brings. Detention also continues to have an effect on many people we meet; there are examples of appalling treatment which has severely damaged people’s views on authority in the United Kingdom, stories about people being taken miles away, across the country and so distancing them from all the support networks they have built, and accounts of how individuals fought to keep strong during these times.
Often the only light in such accounts are the accompanying stories of compassion and solidarity shown by others in detention, by campaigners, visitors groups, religious support networks and “reporting partners”. The outrage and willingness to help despite people’s apparent distance from the issue is heartening. Battered copies of the report from the parliamentary inquiry into detention and the “I am human” report by Women for Refugee Women are passed around our service users and volunteers, petitions are signed, letters written to our MP urging him to attend the parliamentary debate on detention that took place in September, and (extremely early!) trains booked to make it up to London and add our voices to protests in London and at Yarl’s Wood.
It is sometimes difficult to gauge the impact that supporters down here in the South West are having. But, it is important to remember, that this is not a part of the asylum system that the Home Office want to shine a light on. If we want them to change this policy, it is essential that we raise awareness amongst those who wouldn’t otherwise know, that we maintain the pressure on the politicians who are accountable to us and that we help to keep that light shining and exposing the injustices of detention.
And now, one service user at Refugee Support Devon (who wishes to remain anonymous) shares his experience:
I am an asylum seeker that was going to the police station every 6 months to sign.
I did not attend one of them due to illness, so I contacted the UKBA to inform them about the reason for not attending, and they set another date to go and sign, I did attend on that date and all went well until one day the immigration officers came to the house and took me to the police station. I asked one officer for the reason that they taking me away and he said because I did not attend to sign when I did actually go back and signed. So it turned out that they made a mistake and there were a record that I did attend and sign on the date the set for me. But still they said that I have to spend a night in the cell until I get picked up and be taken to the detention centre.
Around 3am I was woken up by one officers there and taken to the detention centre.
Detention centre was an ex-prison with a depressing atmosphere.
I was held there for nearly three weeks until I came out on bail with a solicitor help (although I have to still wear an electronic tag). The food in there was a leftover from days before and not enough amount to fill a man up. Even one of the officers in there said the food is disgusting and even prison food is much better than these.
We have a limited time to go on the internet and not many website were allowed which make it even worst and more depressing.
It was a very depressing three weeks that made me cry and think about ending my life.