This post was written by Ivo Kuka, who has experienced immigration detention. His testimony was provided for Detention Action‘s forthcoming annual report.
In 2008, the Independent Asylum Commission did an assessment of the UK’s asylum system. They decided it was time for a ‘root and branch review’.
I arrived in the UK in 2012 and I was put on the Detained Fast Track after I claimed asylum. My time in at Harmondsworth detention centre was hell. It was mental torture. I suffered greatly. If the conditions I experienced were after four years of progress, then the situation back in 2008 must have been unimaginably bad. It is clear the ‘root and branch review’ stayed on paper. Its recommendations were ignored. And the people who would have been affected by those recommendations – people like me – were forgotten.
And that is why I have mixed feelings about the ongoing Parliamentary Inquiry on Detention.
In many ways, the Inquiry is a great step forward. It is different to other investigations because it looks at detention as a whole – not just children in detention, or the Detained Fast Track, or legal access. This is important because detention in the UK is an industry. Everything is connected. From bad decision making to poorly trained staff. From safeguards that don’t work to rubbish healthcare. From violent removals to greedy private investors. It is a spider-web. I hope this Inquiry can show how these are all linked together.
This Inquiry has also put people like me, with experiences of detention, at the centre. It is easy to make decisions that impact people you never have to see. Or whose stories you don’t have to hear. But it is much more difficult when you must look those people in the eye and listen to the way that detention ruined their lives. I was there at the first evidence session in Parliament in July. I could see how shaken the cross-party panel of Parliamentarians were listening to people tell their stories.
It was important for the MPs to listen but it was also important for us to speak out and not be silenced by the Home Office. For this Inquiry to be a success, it needs to involve the detainee and ex-detainee’s voice at every stage. We are experts-by-experience. They need to take on our testimonies but they also need to take on our recommendations.
What scares me is the thought that this will just be another report. Like the one in 2008. And all the Independent Monitoring Board reports. And all the reports from the Independent Chief Inspectors. And all the reports from charities and NGOs. I am worried it will also just stay on paper. I am worried there will be no action. Because the truth is that we already have lots of evidence to make an informed decision.
How many more deaths in detention before we realise we need a change? How many more mental breakdowns? How many more people on hunger-strike? How many more self-harmers? How many more cases of sexual harassment? How many families broken? How many more lives ruined?
I have a friend who gave evidence in the first oral session. He is a survivor of torture and was trafficked as a child. He has been diagnosed with PTSD and doctors have told the Home Office many times he should not be in detention. He has been locked away for over three years. On no charge.
I hope that for him, and others like him still in detention, this Inquiry will end up being more than just a nice read. I hope it will bring real change.