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?
We’ll be publishing a few of these answers each of the next five days of the final week of #Unlocked16. Here are Monday’s offerings…
Luke de Noronha – Researcher – @
It’s been a tough year, and it’s easy to feel deflated. It feels like the forces of racism, intolerance and resentment are defining this moment of crisis. In this context, human movement is increasingly policed; borders are constructed and fortified; and human lives are immiserated and cut short. It feels like the case for immigration controls, and thus for detention, has been bolstered in mainstream Britain.
But thinking about ‘mainstream Britain’ might obscure more than it reveals. The truth is, most people don’t know much about detention, even if in theory they support it.
I have been most encouraged by conversations I have had with friends and family members of people who have been detained and deported. It seems odd to suggest that I have found hope from those who have lost the most to immigration control, but I have. The partners and friends of those who have been detained, and eventually deported, know that citizenship status does not map neatly onto belonging. They have transgressed the border in intimate ways, and because of that, they see the violence in borders, in an immediate way. They know that locking up someone because of their lack of a passport is cruel. They do not speak of ‘integration’ or ‘community cohesion’, they speak in vernacular ways of recognition, negotiation and love.
Detention and deportation are symbolic attempts to carve out the nation through the exclusion of its others. But they aren’t really working. People move around, and they settle, and they make friends, and lives, and homes – and borders can’t catch up. There might well be five people in favour of tighter immigration controls, to every one who isn’t, but the resentment of the many is amorphous and general, where the recognition of the few is deeper and more tangible. There is more force in the love than in the resentment.
I find hope in the ways borders are transgressed by ordinary people, who always think above and beneath the nation-state. Detention sits on unstable ground, and if you listen to the stories of love and loss of those punished by it, you can hear the ground rumbling. My hope is nestled in those reverberations.
Alessandra Capodanno, Co-coordinator at Euro-African network, Migreurop
This has been an undeniably difficult year for campaigners for migrant justice. But working across Europe and North Africa we seen the development of many migrant-led groups standing up and demanding their rights. Only last month, Migeurop organised an international conference where we heard from members of Gadem, Gisti, Alecma, AMDH Morocco, Sakia El Hamra, AMDH Mauritania, Arci, and Freed Voices. All passionately denounced immigration detention in their respective countries and exchanged experiences and learning based on their struggles against immigration camps. The very fact that this conference – entitled ‘Encampment, detention and sorting: scenes of desolation and mobilisations at the EU borders’ – was a public event and took place in Rabat, in Morocco, is worth noting. This in of itself is something that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. Today, it stands as evidence of the growing international network of activists coming together to fight detention on a global scale.
And so, going into next year, we will focus our efforts on building and strengthening these partnerships – at Europe’s Eastern and Southern borders but also across Northern Europe, and in the UK in particular. This solidarity is vital if we are to shine a light on immigration detention, effectively denounce the human rights violations that define it, and move forward in our common combat against camps and, more generally, the arsenal that is being deployed to keep at distance, push-back, sort and deport exiles in the EU and beyond.
Faith* from WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together) and #TheseWallsMustFall Manchester campaign
What gives me hope more than anything is that now, at last, we are starting to see people stand in solidarity with us when it counts. That is so powerful, and it’s changed my life. I’ve had bad experiences with groups who say they’re there to welcome you but won’t stand beside you in court or even believe some of the things that happen to us in this system. I was made destitute in 2010 and was left totally alone. I was voiceless.
Then someone told me about a support group, Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST). That was the beginning. I’ve changed a lot through my experiences, they’ve made me the woman I am today. And so have the mutual support groups Right to Remain has helped us build. I used to be so quiet, so afraid. Now I am surrounded and supported by other people who’ve been through the same things as me, who understand. I know if something bad happens, they’ll be there to fight for me. And being there for them makes me feel strong. It gives me the courage to find my voice.
We need to build alliances, communities – reach out and connect. Now at last more groups seem to realise this. The scale of this crisis – the sheer numbers of us destitute, in detention, living in fear – is helping people understand that we need to come together to confront it. In Manchester, groups like WAST, City of Sanctuary, United for Change and Manchester Misol, we’re all realising that we just can’t do it alone.
The organisation that’s given us hope above all others is Right to Remain, because they’re serious about bringing everyone together and that’s really strengthened our community here in Manchester. It’s their combination of practical support and campaigning for change that makes it possible. The education we get through their workshops, to share with others, teaches us about the possibility of our own power: to speak for ourselves, to protect each other, to find the courage to campaign for change because we know, our people have our back.
*Faith is not the author’s real name.
Caroline Lucas – Co-Leader of the Green Party
I am fighting against detention because I believe that locking people up simply for being born in another country is wrong and unnecessary. Indeed the evidence on alternatives to detention is formidable. Studies from a number of countries across the world show that non-detention alternatives are both possible and successful.
In Canada, for example, people are released to live in the community with the help of a government funded NGO that provides a range of services which help navigate Canada’s asylum system. The scheme, which saves the government over £100 a day, has a very low rate of absconders and allows people to live freely while their case is resolved.
Going into 2017, we will continue to work with campaigners at Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere to highlight the injustice of the detention system, and to campaign for alternatives.