To mark the end of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we asked a selection of activists, legal commentators, politicians, journalists and experts-by-experience – all engaged in the fight against detention in the UK and across Europe – their answers to the following question:
What gave you hope in the fight against detention in 2016, and how are you planning to use that hope in 2017?
And today we’ve got four more…
Jose, previously detained in Campsfield House
I was released from detention two weeks ago, three weeks after I did the live Q&A with #Unlocked16. I won the first battle. Now it is time for the war.
My three months in Campsfield were hell, they changed my life forever, but there were many things that gave me hope. Firstly, the fact there was a legal framework was very important for me. That gave me the confidence to fight, to find a way out. The Home Office try so many tactics to hide this path – sometimes with the carrot, sometimes the stick. But the fact there are rights to access is vital to remember.
Secondly, the support I received gave me great hope. Some nights you just want to quit. You need those voices – ‘you can’, ‘you will’, ‘we are with you’ – to survive. I got these from my friends, my family, my partner, but also from campaigners outside. Like I said in the Q&A, it takes a lot for someone with freedom to fight for those without it. After the Close Campsfield demonstration outside the centre a few months ago, you could see the changes in the guys inside. Detention can be a very macho place, very tough, lots of psychological bullying between the men. But when the campaigners were shouting ‘freedom!’, and we were shouting ‘freedom!’ back…in this moment, we were all equal inside, all demanding our rights together. I think to beat detention you need to organise – both the emotions in your head but also in such actions of solidarity.
Thirdly, doing the Q&A was also very big for me. I felt much better after it, much stronger in myself. The idea that people were hearing me, responding to me in the comments, this gave me hope. I showed it to some of the other guys inside and they were excited and proud and said things like, “you should have said more about healthcare!’, ‘yeah, you are right, they can’t do this to us!’ My instinct after I the Q&A was, ‘I want to do more’.
And so I will fight in 2017.
It has not been easy since I was released. I realised I have started to lock the door of my room at night before I go to sleep. I guess am scared they will take me again. One of my friends said to me, ‘you must block out this experience, you must forget detention’. But this is not the way. I made friends in detention. I want to speak out for the guy I shared a cell with last month; for the guy deported last week; for the un-detained. I cannot let them down. I cannot let myself down.
We need to address the miseducation. There is still a stigma about detention, even with some of my community. Even they – people I love, people that love me – even they, don’t quite understand detention. They still think that maybe I did something wrong.
We need to address the contradictions at the heart of the immigration system: 60% of the oil in the buses in London is coming from my country and they want to deport me; most of the people in detention are escaping from countries where Western countries have destroyed the way of life there.
We need to address the attempts to separate people. This government wants to make me feel unwelcome. But I know my rights now. And this is my home.
Jem Stevens – Europe Regional Coordinator at the International Detention Coalition (IDC)
But, as we reach the end of the year, I am optimistic.
I’m optimistic because I believe there are alternatives; there are other approaches to governing migration that don’t rely on enforcement and detention, and work better for both states and migrants.
The IDC’s programme of research over the past five years provides clear evidence that programmes that build trust with and support migrants in the community achieve high rates compliance and case resolution, better ensure the rights and wellbeing of migrants, and are far cheaper than detention. These often use screening and assessment and case management to ensure migrants are informed, can meet basic needs and explore all possible options in terms of their immigration case.
In Europe, discussions on alternatives to detention have tended to narrowly focus on typologies of restrictions and conditions placed on individuals to ensure compliance. Practice has mainly been of these (lesser) control mechanisms running in parallel to detention within enforcement-based systems of migration governance.
But the alternatives that we are interested in are those that show a different way of doing things: moving away from enforcement to engaging with migrants and challenging assumptions about the need to detain at all.
These aren’t simple solutions. Effective alternatives to detention need to be designed to fit each unique context and address their specific challenges. But it’s worth noting that alternatives have been shown to work in the most “challenging” migration contexts and with the most complex cases.
As we move into 2017, I’m doubly optimistic because I can see some seeds of change being sown. The big gap and challenge in Europe has been to move from theory to practice. But this year we’ve seen growing interest within our network in developing and implementing the kind of alternatives that the IDC’s research shows work.
Civil society are well-placed to run such pilot projects, because of the trust they can build with migrants which is essential for success. Drawing on experiences from other regions, pilot projects can show governments that their policy goals can be better achieved without detention, leading to policy change as they are rolled out as main stream responses.
Next year, the IDC will focus on fostering a network of groups implementing alternative to detention pilot projects in Europe. The aim, as set out in IDC member Detention Action’s report Without Detention, is to build momentum and evidence that this engagement-based approach works.
Our goal is that as evidence grows, more governments will choose to support people towards case resolution in the community instead of using detention, and ultimately detention will become truly the exception and engagement the norm.
Ian Dunt – Editor of Politics.co.uk – @IanDunt
On the face of it, 2017 has been a terrible years for anyone who cares about the rights of immigrants or asylum seekers. The Brexit referendum descended into an ugly exercise in nativism and reactionary rabble-rousing. The debate since then has, if anything, become more toxic. By the end of the summer, tabloids and Tory MPs were demanding authorities check the teeth of child refugees being allowed into Britain.
You have to be an extremely optimistic observer to think we’ve seen anything positive for the debate over detention.
But actually, the Brexit referendum might just provide a flicker of light. Since the vote we have seen a sudden shift in the terms of political debate in this country. People are increasingly thinking of themselves in terms of open versus closed, of diversity versus monoculture, of liberalism versus authoritarianism.
While it may on the face of it have little to do with detention centres, that change might be very useful to critics of the detention system. People are starting to self-identify in terms of their openness to immigrants and asylum seekers. Many people who had previously assumed their values were shared by most of the public are starting to properly explore them, to say them out loud, to think of themselves politically as someone defined by those convictions.
This will make them more open to hearing about the detention estate. Since it was created, the main obstacle to getting people to challenge the system was simply convincing them to read stories about it. It was barely understood. Most people would initially refuse to accept that it existed. Surely Britain didn’t lock up people who had committed no crime, without trial or warning, without a time limit on their detention, on what were ultimately de-facto prison camps?
Well Britain does do that. It is a betrayal of nearly every value this country claims to hold, from due process to individual freedom. As the debate in this country shifts, more people will be willing to listen to stories about the detention estate and the reality of what the British government does away from prying eyes.
For the time being things seem bleak in Britain. But this new focus of debate will bring more scrutiny onto detention centres. They will not be able to withstand it.
Tom Nunn – Legal Manager on Right to Liberty Project, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD)
As obvious as it sounds, hearing that people have been released from detention is what gave me hope in the fight against detention in 2016.
Here at BiD, we have two types of cases – ‘represented’ cases and ‘DIY’ cases.
For certain people (those with children, those detained for over six months, those who need our assistance the most for whatever reason), we provide full representation. We prepare their bail applications fully, put together their bundles and have pro-bono barristers who go to court to represent them.
In recent months, we have significantly increased the number of represented bail applications we’ve been doing. And since 1st August, we have a success rate which is hovering around the 70% mark, which is great. This shows the impact of effective legal assistance for clients and emphasises how successful properly prepared applications can be. Many lawyers suggest that the bail process is random but it gives me hope that we can have this level of success when the work is put in.
However, perhaps the thing that gives me most hope is the success that our clients have with our other type of case – the `DIY’ cases. Depressingly, according to our recent Legal Advice Survey, just under half (47%) of people in detention currently do not have a legal representative and 1 in 5 have never had one. More hopefully, however, since 1st August 2016, 94 people have been successful in getting themselves out of detention and back in the community with the support of our DIY project.
The way that the law works in this country appears often to be intended purely to baffle lay clients and to take away the hope of being able to help yourself. This leads to a situation in which certain unscrupulous lawyers and the Home Office are able to confuse the detainee enough that all hope of being able to get bail without spending thousands of pounds on legal advice and having sureties offering thousands of pounds, disappears.
We run regular workshops in all the detention centres in England. With the right assistance, people are able to apply for bail themselves. We explain the process and talk to them about the arguments that they may be able to use to persuade the judges. Hearing from people who have taken on this system and against all odds, been released having argued their case themselves, gives me lots of hope.
In 2017, we hope to increase our represented cases further but we also want to continue to empower people to challenge their detention themselves. We would argue that it is essential that everyone in detention be represented to challenge the deprivation of their liberty. But being able to help those in detention to get out of detention themselves is also hugely important.