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Keys to freedom: Bristol Immigration Detention Campaign

This blog post was written by Rissa Mohabir, coordinator of the Bristol Immigration Detention Campaign.  BIDC are members of the Detention Forum. 

With the impending parliamentary debate on detention on September 10th, Bristol Immigration Detention Campaign staged Pop Up Protests in three areas of the city of Bristol, engaging members of the public holding their keys as a symbol of support to stop indefinite detention of asylum seekers and migrants.  The result was dynamic; the courage to show up and not just be a faceless signature was welcomed by everyone.

A short film was put together by Ruth, Esam and me, as part of a ‘Walls That Talk’ series on human rights.  Music Action International & Freedom from Torture kindly donated their music.  The sense of community effort was extending beyond Bristol.

Public meeting

On 8 October, we held a public meeting so that people could find out more and become more involved in the Bristol Immigration Detention Campaign.   Bristol’s Palestinian Museum kindly donated their space for the meeting, the speakers their time and valued experience, and thank you to the audience who wanted to know more and be more involved in the Campaign.

Liz Clark shared the complexities as a GP writing medico-legal reports for Medical Justice in a system where she is challenged to remain impartial rather than an advocate of the individual in detention, for the purposes of the court.  Her honest approach provided an insight into the important role in providing evidence for Medical Justice.

Liz commented that:

Healthcare in detention  is supposed to be as good as provision on the NHS, but there is a lot of evidence that it isn’t. Some examples of people who might be seen for a medical report in detention are pregnant women, people with mental health issues, hunger strikers, people whose poor health determines if they are fit to fly, torture survivors, people whose health has deteriorated while in detention.

The next speaker was Mark Shepherd.  Mark has many years of experience in immigration law and battling with the unfair and unjust system and described detention as a “soft word for prison”. He took us down the corridors of Yarl’s Wood detention centre for women, near Bedford, describing a graphic account of one of his clients, who described the horror of the closed doors, the screaming, fear, and mental distress.

I then presented our film (see above!), followed by the audience being photographed holding their keys.

We then heard from Liz Price of Parliamentary Outreach.  Parliamentary Outreach aims to create awareness of the work of Parliament and show how the debates and decisions of the House of Commons and House of Lords are relevant to regions across the UK.  Liz addressed what action we can take.  She stressed the necessity for lobbying with some very helpful guides on the steps involved in navigating Parliament.

What’s next?

We are presenting at the Bristol Refugee Rights event on Human Rights Day on December 10th with the aim of enlisting more help and support as the steering group is currently undergoing a restructure for 2016.  We will continue to protest.

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