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 to close proceedings, we’ve got four more…
Ravi Naik – Head of Public Law at ITN Solicitors – @RaviNa1k
The Home Office’s stated policy commitment is ‘the presumption of release’. However, the reality is often very different. For example, the Home Office had been routinely imposing curfews on people released on immigration bail and had done so based on an “assumed” power. Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the power the Home Office assumed it had in fact did not exist. Many might find it troubling that, despite the Home Office’s supposed commitment to liberty, the power to impose curfews was taken for granted. These curfews have had a devastating effect; clients of mine have been confined to their houses for 12 hours a day, preventing them from living any kind of a normal life.
This serves to illustrate what those in immigration detention know all too well; the Home Office detains first and will only release when forced to do so.
Those caught up in the immigration system face huge obstacles in challenging their detention. It can be very difficult for those most in need to find people able to speak out and help them. The work of those involved in #Unlocked16 has given me hope. They continue to highlight the injustices that occur throughout the immigration detention system. Such initiatives help to demonstrate that these are not dry legal issues but are about the experiences of real people who are too often denied a voice.
These groups and the individuals I have met through them have inspired me to work harder in 2017 for the causes we care about. We must not let those in detention become lost in the system; we must strive for the presumption of release to become a reality.
Read Ravi’s excellent piece for #Unlocked16 published earlier this tour in The Justice Gap.
Sarah Teather – Director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK)
Several things have given me genuine cause for hope going into 2017.
First, the continuing activity of members of the Parliamentary Detention Inquiry. I chaired the cross party inquiry in my previous role as an MP. My dream for it was that it would lead to ongoing action by MPs and might help form a group of committed supporters but it still inspires me every time I see one of the former members of the panel campaign on detention. Behind the noisy headlines there are lots of MPs in different parties with concerns about detention. It really is worth investing in forming relationships with people and resourcing them with real testimony.
Second, Freed Voices came and spoke at a conference JRS held this year which included JRS offices from all over Europe. Freed Voices members gave such powerful contributions. To hear how the project boosted people’s confidence and supported them to be able to draw on their story but make wider points about change was a huge inspiration to us at JRS as we seek to find ways of bringing voices of those from detention to a wider circle. It gave me hope to hear Freed Voices members speak with authority, not as passive victims but as agents of change themselves.
Third, I have taken real hope from stories our volunteers tell us about the spirit of those we work with in detention. Detention robs people of health and freedom and causes crippling anxiety. But somehow in spite of all that the human spirit goes on in defiance and the stories our volunteers tell us are both of the awful psychological burden of indefinite detention but also of people’s resilience. One of the people we were working with was released suddenly a month or so ago. When he left detention, he left the small amount of cash he had earned in there working for a pittance for our team with instructions to give it to someone else in need. The system is cruel, isolating and excluding but he went on being generous, connected and concerned for other people. You can try to dehumanise people but their humanity isn’t so easy to get rid of.
Pinar Aksu of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees
This year we’ve seen Theresa May become the new prime minister, we’ve witnessed the toxic Leave campaign and, as if that was not enough, we have seen Donald Trump elected as President of the United States. Each of these campaigns used the same strategic message: blame immigrants for their own mistakes.
Now we are seeing the rise of racism within mainstream political agendas. Instead of talking about the root causes of poverty, politicians are blaming everything they possibly can on migrants. The language used during these campaigns has provided a platform for people to use phrases like ‘they are coming to get our benefits’, ‘we should care about the homeless of our country first’ and ‘we are full’. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, we’ve witnessed a rise of racism of in Scotland. And sadly, the immigration system has not responded by being more protective of people trying to navigate it, but instead seems actively designed to push them into hopelessness.
However, there has been good news. The Government has announced that Dungavel Removal Centre in Scotland is scheduled to be shut down! After years of campaigning with Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and the Unity Centre, the only detention in Scotland will be gone. This gives me hope. It gives me hope that when we continue campaigning without stopping, without losing our collective spirit, there will be change. It will take time, it will be tiring, but change will occur.
And if a new detention centre is suggested for Scotland (as was the case with the proposal for a new Short Ter Holding Facility in Glasgow) then we will campaign again. We will campaign until there are no detention centres across the UK. We will educate each other. We will campaign against each and any death in detention. We will campaign until we have a fair and justice asylum system where people are not being dehumanised for seeking safety. We will unite to end detention.
Read Pinar’s piece for #Unlocked16 on the fight to close Dungavel, published earlier in the tour.
Ajay – Freed Voices
I was released from detention in January this year. The experience changed me and I came out of feeling disorientated, isolated and scared. I didn’t have anyone to speak to about my time in detention. Whenever I would see guards in uniform I would get flashbacks. Whenever I ate noodles – the same kind they gave us in detention – I would think about The Verne.
I joined the Freed Voices group a few months later and a lot changed for me. We all came from very different places, different ages, different periods in detention. But we had a shared understanding of the physical and emotional language of detention. As the sessions went on I think we all had a kind double realisation. On one hand, we started to really share with eachother how much detention had harmed us, and we spoke about it. This was first time many of us talked about these experiences. For some people there was a sense of shame. Other people hadn’t spoken about it just because it was so traumatic. They felt that if they did they would explode.
On the other hand, we started to see ourselves as an authority on the issue. We understood that we knew more about this than anybody else. We flipped it. We took strength from eachother. We laughed and supported eachother but we also concentrated on how best to fight the Government’s policy. This was something I had not thought about when I was in detention – the possibility that the reality I found myself in could be changed.
I was the first person in my Freed Voices group to speak out publicly. It was in Parliament. I’d never done anything like it before. I was nervous. But when I looked out at the audience I saw six members of the group – my Back-Up – and I knew I was representing something much bigger than just myself and my story.
Since then, I’ve spoken out against detention many times and have always taken hope from the reaction. First, it is shock…then it is anger…then people want to take action. Together. And this is what we need to build on in 2017: we need more spaces where experts-by-experience are able to develop the confidence to speak out about detention and we need to build links between these speakers and the regular British public. Neither groups should underestimate our power to change things. Especially when we’re working together. Unity is strength.
Read Ajay’s powerful piece for #Unlocked16 on the impact detention had on him, published earlier in the tour.