From inside Colnbrook: my drawing is my feeling

Jay has been detained in Colnbrook for 3 months.This is the second time he has been detained – he was previously released from detention in 2014.
Jay spoke to Ciara from Detention Action about the impact of detention and how for better or worse, drawing helps to focus his mind in difficult circumstances.


My drawing is my feeling. When I feel something bad or good I have to draw something. When I draw something bad, it’s because everything is bad and all day long it will feel like that. I don’t know how to explain, when I draw something it makes me feel no bad no good, just to keep my mind busy. My drawing is to escape the torture.
j-full-picture
 
I came to the UK to study English and to stay away for a little while, to keep safe, while the situation was not safe in my home country. I was very political before detention. At home I was involved with student protests – protesting education, protesting everything the government is doing to destroy my country. But freedom of expression is a problem.
DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] is not like the UK or Europe. When you say something the government doesn’t like, you can be in trouble with police or the army. I had to leave.
j-world-map
 
I didn’t leave my country to come here and claim asylum. But now my situation’s changed and it’s becoming more and more difficult for me to go home. I joined a resistance movement in the UK. They are all over the world except for in the DRC. Before I was just a member, and in the end I was working for them in London. I thought I could go back but when I spoke to my friend – he said ‘don’t come. They will kill you.’
j-torture
 
I used to draw before I was in detention. I don’t know if the pictures have changed now but I draw many things about me. Drawings about returning home and what will happen if I go back and how I am afraid.
j-hugging
Now I’m feeling very bad. I don’t know what I’m doing here. In 2014 and 2015 I was in here. I was reporting when they took me, they didn’t just say I was going to the IRC [immigration removal centre/detention centre], they said they were deporting me. I refused to go to Heathrow. One officer said when they come back to me again, if I’m still strong, they will restrain me and tell everyone I’m crazy. I’m not crazy.
 
That made me feel very bad, very bad. And every time for 2 weeks I was watching on computer how they beat people. Sometimes they can inject you, to make your body feel lazy and tired.
‘One day god will judge this country of Home Office’
j-country-of-home-office
 
Anyway, they already kill my mind before my country kill my body back home. When they will send me at home to be kill and my story will finish in this world.
I was a detainee when I was 19 in 2014.
My name is Jay.

‘A prison in all but name’

Nine months on from the death of Amir Siman Tov in Colnbrook IRC, Michael Goldin reflects on the man he knew.  Michael is an alumni of the René Cassin Fellowship Programme who previously worked for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
colnbrooklarger
I first met Amir Siman Tov when he called me up at work looking for someone to represent him in his Judicial Review. We spent a long time talking about his long and complex immigration histories. Born in Morocco, he had spent time in Iran and Afghanistan in both Muslim and Jewish communities and was now trying to make a life for himself in the UK.  Unfortunately, we were unable to help him due to lack of capacity and I directed him on to another law firm.  We stayed in touch however and I would often visit him in his home where we would talk, drink Moroccan tea and he would tell me the aspirations he had for him and his wife in the UK once his immigration problems were sorted.
He would text me every week to wish me Shabbat Shalom, the Jewish greeting for the Sabbath and I would reply in kind. However, after a couple of months his texts stopped. I tried once or twice to get hold of him but to no avail. I knew he had legal representation so I wasn’t too worried and I assumed he would get in touch with me in due course.
Then one day, as I was walking into work reading the news, I discovered that my friend was dead. He had been detained at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre and one morning had been found dead in his room. The circumstances around his death were, as they remain, unclear. Suicide was mooted as a possibility, as was medical negligence on the part of the Colnbrook staff. Amir had severe mental health issues and immigration detention would not have been a safe place for him to be. He needed to be taking regular medication and in a supportive environment, not in a detention centre – a prison in all but name.
For that is what they are. Every door is locked, your daily schedule is strictly regulated and contact with one’s family and legal representatives is limited. There is also limited opportunity for social activities and the provision of healthcare is narrow.  All this makes life in detention extremely difficult but what is perhaps worst of all is that the end is almost never in sight. Indeed, the UK is the only country in Europe that still has indefinite immigration detention. It is one thing to be locked up, it is quite another never knowing when exactly you will be able to wake up free and not inside a compound surrounded by barbed wire and uniformed guards.
Amir had extensive family in the UK and his brother told me he was the one who looked after the family and kept them together.  Had he been afforded the opportunity to stay in this country he would’ve been a major asset. He was intelligent and kind and exactly the sort of person we need in these turbulent times.
While it is important that his family is told the truth and that as a society we can make sure something like this doesn’t happen again, the reason for Amir’s death is ultimately irrelevant.  What needs to be acknowledged is that he was an extremely vulnerable man at the mercy of a state that failed him.  Immigration detention is a controversial and politically charged issue, but what is manifest is that there is simply no justification for locking people up indefinitely when they have committed no crime and just at the point of their life when they need the most support. We need to care for people in Amir’s situation not treat them as criminals.

Week 7: #Unlocked16 visits Yarl's Wood

Week 7 of Unlocking Detention saw us virtually visit Yarl’s Wood detention centre, perhaps the best known of all the UK’s sites of detention.  Opened in 2001 at a cost of £100 million, with an original capacity of 900 bed spaces, the centre was burnt down three months later in a fire. It reopened in 2003 on a smaller scale – it now holds up to 304 women & 68 families.   Did you know it can also hold men too? There are 38 beds for what guards have called ‘lorry-drop’ cases.

yw-wire


Jess Anslow, coordinator of Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, wrote for the Unlocking Detention blog about the inspiration, friendship and challenges that befriending women in Yarl’s wood poses.

When I sing, I sing for them. When I speak, I speak of them. When I shout, I am shouting about them.

Read Jess’ blog post here
This week we also had a bit of a Latin American theme.  In a special Spanish recording for Unlocking Detention, Julio from the Freed Voices group speaks to four close friends about the impact his detention had on them. In doing so, together – Julio, Luz, Maria, Isabel and Jair – provide a devastating insight into the wider affects of indefinite detention, how it shapes the Latin American experience of the UK, and the vitality of community organising in response to this extreme deprivation of civil liberties.
Listen and read transcript here


Carolina of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service then wrote an article in response to hearing this interview for The Prisma newspaper, which has a big Spanish speaking readership.


Read the Prisma article in English here
Read the Prisma article en espagnol here
On Friday of “Yarl’s Wood week” of Unlocking Detention fell the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  René Cassin intern Hannah wrote this piece on the detention of women.


This week’s Q and A was with Mayalex, who has been detained in Yarl’s Wood for two and a half years.


Mayalex had some important messages to share from inside Yarl’s Wood.
When asked what was the one thing she missed:


And what one thing did she want to change?


Read the Q and A with Mayalex here
A sobering reminder of the constrictions of detention: we promised to send Mayalex the blog post of her Q and A.  We did, but of course the page is blocked in detention.  Yet another way of cutting people off from the outside world and the support from those outside.
This week we also published a brilliant short video made by Sarah Cope, a volunteer visitor to Yarl’s Wood.  Join her on a journey to Yarl’s Wood here.


On 3 December, thousands will gather at Yarl’s Wood to protest its existence, and to call an end to all detention.  Find out more about Movement for Justice’s demonstration here.

Colnbrook, by post

This year, the theme of Unlocking Detention is ‘friends and families’ – we’re specifically focusing on the often unreported, or buried, ‘ripple effect’ of indefinite detention and the way this experience can have tragic consequences beyond the individual detained. In this special photo-essay for #Unlocked16, Jon* from the Freed Voices group shares letters he received whilst he was detained at Colnbrook detention centre for 99 days last year. These letters – from his younger brother, mother, younger sister and father – provide a harrowing inside into the wider affects of indefinite detention on families and communities.
Huge thanks to both Jon and his family for sharing such a personal correspondence.
My Younger Brother
20161020_100047
20161020_095945
20161020_095940
My Mother
letter-from-mum-page-001
My Younger Sister
letter-from-tim-1-page-001
letter-from-shalom-2-page-001
My Father
letter-from-dad-1-page-001
letter-from-dad-2-page-001
*The name of this Freed Voices member has been changed to protect his anonymity. 
 

Q & A with Mayalex, currently detained in Yarl's Wood

This week Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Yarl’s Wood detention centre – perhaps the best known of all the UK’s sites of detention, and which will once again be the site of protest on 3 December
Earlier this week, Ben from Detention Action conducted a Q&A with’Mayalex’ who is currently detained in Yarl’s Wood.  We tweeted the interview live this afternoon (Friday).
Here’s the whole interview, and the thoughts of others joining in the conversation:


 

When I sing, I sing for them. When I speak, I speak of them. When I shout, I am shouting about them.

By Jess Anslow, Coordinator of Yarl’s Wood Befrienders.
tinsley-visits-room
Visiting women who are being indefinitely detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC is challenging.
It is challenging because you witness injustice. Injustice coming from a country that is known and admired across the world for its justice. There is justice in the criminal courts, and justice for victims of violence and justice for the wrongly accused being set free. Yet when it comes to Immigration detention, there is no justice…well not that I can find anyway.
“You there! Yes you, foreigner! You are guilty until you can prove to me otherwise. You are guilty of lying about the murder of your son; about your sexuality; about your rape.”
Sounds absurd doesn’t it. But this is the reality for immigration detainees, for thousands of men and women who come to this country hoping for safety and respect. Unfortunately, rather than respect and safety, they get labelled a liar and are detained.
Our natural instinct when we meet someone in need is to try and help, try to solve their problem. But, for many of us who visit IRCs do not have the answers and may not be able to help in the way the detainee wants. This I find challenging. Being a befriender is about recognising your limitations and being comfortable and committed to the simple task of listening.
Visiting women who are being indefinitely detained at Yarl’s Wood IRC is emotional.
It is emotional because you sit with her, hold her hand and wipe away her tears. You listen to her past experiences, and share her pain. You hear her voice breaking as she talks about her children that have been taken from her by social services due to her detention, and about children left behind.
‘Befriending’ creates a really special relationship. You visit someone for the duration of their detention and may therefore be seeing that same person every week for a very long time. They may see each other more than the befriender see’s their own family. My role is different, as I generally only meet a detainee a couple of times before passing them on to a befriender. But, there are those women that I have met where real and long-lasting friendships have formed.
One of the things I find hardest is seeing the deterioration of your friend’s mental health and wellbeing. It never gets easier.
Many of the women have experienced rape, domestic violence and torture, yet it seems that being detained is the thing that is slowly destroying them. After all that they have been through, it is the cruelness of indefinite detention that they find the hardest to cope with.
I remind myself that although her story is not my story and her experiences are uniquely her own, that it is OK to cry.
It is OK to feel frustrated to the point of bursting. It is OK to get emotional.
Visiting women who are being indefinitely detained at Yarl’s Wood IRC is inspiring.
Every day I am inspired by their bravery. They inspire me to live a life of kindness and to continue to walk the path of peace and justice. I try to put myself in their shoes, and to imagine living the life they have lived, and I wonder how I would cope. Not half as well as they have done I am sure.
I imagine myself as a woman the same age as me, but having not been afforded the privilege of being born in a quiet English town, to a good family and given access to free education. Instead, I was born and raised in abject poverty; kidnapped; sold into sexual slavery; forced to take hard drugs and contracted HIV. I somehow find the courage to run away from my abusers, and come to the UK for safety. This in itself is hard enough to bear, and then I find myself detained, under lock and key, with absolutely no idea as to when I will be allowed to return to the place I call home – if ever.
No, I wouldn’t cope at all.
We are aware that long term detention causes a plethora of mental health issues, notably depression and anxiety, and yet, even through the darkness that engulfs them, the detainees that I meet are managing to cope; sometimes it is easy, but more often than not, it takes guts and the strong will to survive.
Inside Yarl’s Wood IRC, there is such a strong sense of community, of sisterhood. Women from all countries are living together, supporting one another, and encouraging each other. This inspires me.
Knowing that the women sitting across from me with her hair done up, her make-up on and a smile across her face, is actually feeling like a shadow of her former self; inside she is wailing, she is struggling to breathe, she is vulnerable. Yet, she manages to show me the strength that brought her here and to hold her head up high. This inspires me… She inspires me.
And on the next table, a woman that is speaking so openly and is physically showing her pain, crying out to be touched. She has been stripped of those social barriers that teach us to be strong. She too inspires me.
When I sing, I sing for them.
When I speak, I speak of them.
When I shout, I am shouting about them.
Befriending is challenging, emotional work and we do it for them.

Julio y amigos: The impact of detention on the Latin American community in the UK

This year, the theme of Unlocking Detention is ‘friends and families’ and we’re focusing on the often unreported ‘ripple effect’ of indefinite detention and the way this experience can have tragic consequences beyond the individual detained. In this special Spanish recording for #Unlocked16, Julio from the Freed Voices group speaks to four close friends about the impact his detention had on them. In doing so, together – Julio, Luz, Maria, Isabel and Jair – provide a devastating insight into the wider affects of indefinite detention, how it shapes the Latin American experience of the UK, and the vitality of community organising in response to this extreme deprivation of civil liberties.
Huge/special thanks to Daniel Fernando Diaz-Cebreiro of the LondonLatinx for translating and transcribing this special recording for #Unlocked16 – please follow them on Twitter and Facebook, they do exceptional work supporting the rights of Latin Americans in the UK.
You can find Daniel’s translation of the audio below.

Julio: My name is Julio. I am a member of the Freed Voices group. We are a group of experts-by-experience who speak out about the realities of detention. Between us we have lost over 20 years of our lives to detention. I have lost 179 days in detention, which is equal to almost 6 months. Today, I am with people that are very important in my life – first, we talk with my great friend Alma Luz Lopez, and later with my friends Maria, Isabella and partner, Jair. Detention had a big impact on me as an individual, but I want to demonstrate how detention can affect us all and, more generally, how it affects the Latin American community in the UK.
————————————————————————————————————————————————–
Julio: How did you feel when you saw that I was being detained?
Luz: I felt annoyed, upset, it seemed so unfair. And the fact that they refused to listen to anything was shocking. I was saying, “Please wait, let me call his solicitor, he has his case open and his application has been completed.” But they don’t listen, and you feel powerless because what they’re doing is so arbitrary.
And so it was quite traumatising to see how they came and targeted people table by table, who were relaxing with their friends, chatting, sharing stories, everyday things that one normally does; and without warning they detain him. And we tell them, “You can’t take him just because he’s here, he was a case that’s already open and you need to look at it,” and they said “No, we have nothing to do with that, he’s ready.”
And so that was traumatising to witness, to see someone so close to you be taken and to see their face. Julio, your face fell because it was a terrible moment.
Julio: Do you remember when you visited me at the detention centre?
Luz: That was too traumatising. I had never seen anyone being detained before then. I began to cry because a person’s freedom is so important, and to treat you like that when you hadn’t done anything wrong. You know, if you’d come from another country without papers, and you had committed a crime then maybe, but when you’re trying to do everything properly with the right paperwork – it’s so unfair. I couldn’t even get near you or physically touch you at all because they are all over you, “oh you can’t touch his hands because he could get away.” So much restraint… “but why, why do you do this to human beings?” You have to be able to have human contact, be able to have a hug or a kiss, you know – freedom of movement. It was so awful to see you in the state you were in, your mood and self-esteem were so low. You were always such a happy, positive person and to see you like that was traumatising.
Julio: How did you find visiting me in the detention centre, and then returning to your daily life?
Luz: It was intense. I told myself that it felt awful that you weren’t a part of my life anymore. You were in there for so long. It was horrible to think that I wouldn’t see you again.
Julio: What was the impact of visiting me on you?
Luz: It’s just so many emotions hitting you at once, I didn’t know what to do to. I kept thinking; “What more can I do to make him feel better, to help him cope, to encourage him to keep fighting and not give up? What can I do to see him again, so that he carries on?” When this is someone who has never hurt anyone, who in fact has given so much to others, mostly to the community. Everyone knows that I’ve worked a lot in the community, and we both started a push to make the community more visible – as we’ve always been invisible. And so you’re part of that process, and then suddenly you’re not here and you’re in there, and it was like a battle had been lost.
Julio: How did this whole situation affect you?
Luz: The first two weeks were very intense, trying to move heaven and earth to get you out of there as we knew it was an unjust detainment. I lost weight, I spent weeks…I won’t say depressed because that is maybe too extreme…but two weeks desperately knocking on every door which I’d never had to do before, appealing to people’s kindness (especially those close to the community), convincing them that he was a worthwhile case and good person. And in the end we got their support and it was very good. However, they were two weeks in which I had no life because ringing you and knowing that I couldn’t get you out was traumatising.
Julio: Have you seen changes in my personality?
Luz: Yes, as I’ve said before you weren’t the same cheerful person you used to be, you tried to be brave for us and that is admirable. We tried to laugh, but we’d break down for a bit, breathe, and try to recover, and we’d try to support each other and give each other strength. But obviously, as I’ve known you for so many years I knew that you were making such a huge effort, I knew you were battling against yourself and I could see that you became depressed and that you wouldn’t accept it when I spoke about it. You tried to deny the fact that you were depressed, you would say “No I’m not, I have no reason to be” – but you were.
Julio: How has it been for you in supporting me, financially and emotionally? How do you feel about this situation?
Luz: Well I was working near the Immigration department in London since I arrived because I was often an interpreter at the airport on the other side, with the lawyers and other people. I think the country was in the middle of adapting to a new situation but the arbitrary side of how they deal with things is very difficult because they will not accept facts and they make many mistakes. And so it is very upsetting to know that it’s a process in which they’re not enforcing the necessary and right parameters to be able to judge these kinds of cases.
Julio: Another question: what do you think of detention centres?
Luz: I do think that there are things that need to be improved. I don’t think that detention centres should exist within the immigration process. Sure they could have delinquents but why detain an immigrant, why lower their self-esteem like that? And make their family see them in that situation, having to take their children and see how a child doesn’t want to say goodbye to their mother or father because they’re detained simply because of their immigration status. It’s difficult as they’re so much to do, but I don’t dare to say it because I respect the law and agree with it, but we must review them so that they are managed in a way that benefits all of us.
—————————————————————————————————————————————-
Julio: What changes could you see in my personality?
Isabel: It totally affected you, psychologically and emotionally. Just remembering those moments you cry and get depressed. It affected you physically, psychologically, you became so thin and those bright eyes you had aren’t there anymore. It’s had a big effect, right?
Maria: Yes, it’s affected you so much. You’re clearly on edge. You find it hard to concentrate, and to do things that you would have done. You were always so motivated, you always had such a driving force, an eagerness to do things. And now I don’t see it as much.
Isabel: And now it’s not even the immigration issue. He is being called by the council tax people, by credit tax people, because of the financial effects…all the chaos he had in his life. Because they [the Home Office] made a snap decision and had him there for six months and three days in total.
Julio: How have you found it, supporting me financially and emotionally…?
Isabel: Ah no, you know that you’ll always have support from me, Julito. Always. Whatever you need and however I can help, you will always have my support. Economically and emotionally. Because it’s not always a financial need, but also if you need to ring someone and talk you will always have us.
At the end of the day, if you go back to Colombia you have nothing there. You’ve already built your life and future here, you’ve been here for many years and all your friends are here – you have everything here, your whole life. You have your partner. And so you will always have me, one hundred percent.
Jair: And we’ll stay here like this.
Maria: And for me it’s been frustrating that sometimes I want to do more and I can’t. Sometimes I wish I could, for example when you were in detention, do all the work – fundraising, speaking with lawyers and this person and that. There was that frustration, of wanting to do more and not being able to, to get more done, getting signatures […]
Isabel: Getting so many signatures. And that experience also helps us to understand how much the Latin American community loves you – how much they’d fight for you – the number of people who supported you, how many signatures did we get, Maria?
Maria: Oh my god, at least 500?
Isabel: More than 500 signatures. Everyone I phoned all contributed £50, £100, £200, anything they could.
Maria: Hey, they would send us like, “oh I don’t have much but I’m chipping in at least £10.” So, so many people. Sending empanadas, everything that was made.
Julio: Well, how did my detention change your attitudes towards the law and the British government? What perspective do you both have?
Isabel: My view has completely changed. Simply that the government has policies and documents that, when you see it all online or in public it all seems to work perfectly as an organised system. But in reality it’s only a piece of paper. And it benefits people who it shouldn’t, it’s not a fair or equal system.
Maria: As I said before, I’ve become very cynical. I’ve become so cynical of all these empty words: “we’re a community, we’re a country which prioritises human rights, we’re a country where there is justice” – no. I don’t see it like that anymore. Justice only exists for the few. If we have the misfortune of falling on hard times like these, we don’t get justice.
Julio: What do you both think we can do to contribute? How can we change this, and prevent these things from happening?
Isabel: I think that we need to organise more in our community. If there were more Latin Americans in a position to take part in decision-making, and more representation in political and financial spaces. We have Elephant and Castle, for example, which has a great concentration of Latin American but in reality we don’t organise as a strong, influential group. And so it’s each to their own. And whilst there’s that drive and shared will to challenge the situation and fight for change, in reality I doubt it could happen because there isn’t representation in those areas where change can really happen.
Julio: And the last question that comes to me: what can be done to prevent people from getting detained?
Maria: More education so people can understand a bit more about how the immigration system works. And in your case I learnt how bad lawyers can be, who give really bad advice and only care about how much money they can get out of the client, instead of wanting to help you progress in your case and your immigration status. But they’re not interested in those benefits. So we need to educate, and campaign (as Latin Americans) so that people know that, if this is your situation you can go here and get help…more work within our community.
Isabel: I feel that the detention centre here is the closest thing you get to a torture facility. Because at that point when you completely lose your freedom, and your access to basic human needs, and thirdly, that they can come at whatever o’clock at night to make you pack your bags and take you to the airport to only be brought back three hours later…that’s the closest thing to torture that could ever exist. And that’s where the problem lies – the fact that they don’t treat someone like a human being.
Julio: Well that’s that. Thank you for coming. Thank you, my dears.

Boundary Making and the Broad Ripples of Immigration Enforcement

haslarpasserby2
About the Author: Melanie Griffiths is a former COMPAS DPhil student and is currently an ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow and Senior Research Associate at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol. She is leading the ‘Detention, Deportability and the Family: Migrant Men’s Negotiations of the Right to Respect for Family Life’ project, examining the family lives and Article 8 rights of men at risk of removal or deportation.
This article originally appeared on the blog of COMPAS: the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS) is a Research Centre within the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at the University of Oxford. 
Earlier this week my friend Amir and I went to a prison near Oxford to visit our mutual friend, Musa, who is serving a prison sentence of a few months for handling stolen goods. It’s a low security, small prison and, according to Musa, as prisons go it’s not that bad. But this prison is unusual. This prison only incarcerates foreigners, meaning that its social and legal functions go beyond ‘simply’ punishing and rehabilitating offenders.
The realisation that something special is going on begins during the long process of entering the prison for a visit. Standing outside the gates with the friends and families, the diversity of languages and passports on show are striking. Once inside, there is a heavy air of dread hanging over the visits hall, despite most of the men’s short sentences and light offences. The threat of deportation is ever present, because prisons like this one operate through a dual logic of criminal justice and migration management.

Disentanglement

The process of forcibly removing someone like Musa from the country first requires his social mortification. Despite political promises to increase deportation rates (most recently made in the USA, by President-elect Trump), expelling inhabitants, even those with criminal records, is a complicated business. Lengthy legal processes of disentanglement and Othering are often required to make them legitimately deportable. Contrary to the seemingly straightforward indication of alterity presented by labels such as ‘foreign criminal’, ‘immigration detainee’ or ‘illegal immigrant’, in many cases people like Musa are socially embedded, long-term residents, who may even have family members (including British ones) in the country, giving them grounds to claim to belong.
Foreign national prisons – and the Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) that offenders move onto after completing their sentences – are spaces where this messy business of boundary-making occurs: where attempts are made to separate citizen from non-citizen, the ‘good’ migrant from the ‘bad’, the deportable from those who can successfully assert a claim to belong.
Musa is still in this process of disentanglement. Although he is clinging onto the fast approaching end of his prison sentence, he knows that that might not be the end. Musa claimed refugee protection in the UK well over a decade ago and now has indefinite leave to remain, as well as a home, long-term partner and friends in Oxford. However, he also has a deportation order as a result of being branded a persistent offender. As Musa explains it, on the day his sentence ends – and not before – he will discover whether he returns to Oxford as a reformed local, or is transferred to an IRC as a foreign criminal. He is resigned to this last minute revelation, finding it impossible to predict or make sense of people’s trajectories through the migration system.

A social phenomenon

The process of forced removal works by first individuating a person; attempting to separate them from their private and family life in the UK. And yet immigration enforcement is a social phenomenon, with the boundaries of IRCs extending far beyond the incarcerated individual. In the UK, 32,000 people lose their liberty to immigration detention each year, with many more living with the threat and/or memory of such experience. If we also consider the friends, families, communities and workplaces in the UK and beyond that are indirectly affected by someone’s detention, then we see that immigration enforcement is part of an enormous number of people’s ‘social universe’, even if they are never themselves detained.
For asylum seekers and other precarious migrants, the spectre of immigration detention is a disciplining force, reminding them of their own vulnerability and encouraging docility and compliance. But immigration enforcement not only harms non-citizens. Indirectly, it affects the hundreds of thousands of Brits who are connected to ‘detainable’ people by friendship, love or blood, a topic I am researching. Shockingly, as a result of the ongoing degradation of the rights of dual- and naturalised-citizens, immigration enforcement also directly threatens a growing number of British citizens.

The conditionality of neo-citizens

The line dividing foreigners from citizens is imagined to be clear and absolute, but in reality is blurry and requires constant (re)iteration. It is also moving and increasingly, when Amir and I visit friends in foreign national prisons or detained at Oxfordshire’s IRC Campsfield House, Amir is reminded of his own precarity through the experiences of his less fortunate co-ethnics.
Amir is a refugee and although he now has British citizenship, developments such as increased rates of depriving dual and naturalised Brits of their citizenship, means that he remains precarious despite naturalising. In today’s Britain, Amir is indelibly Other, despite the identical British passports that we use as our IDs on these visits.
Campsfield House is only six miles away from COMPAS, and yet such sites, and indeed the very practice of immigration detention, remains peculiarly out of sight. Attempting to raise awareness, the Detention Forum’s online initiative #Unlocked16, undertakes an annual two month-long virtual ‘tour’ of the UK’s detention estate. Now in its third year, this social media project ‘visits’ every site of immigration detention in the UK, including Campsfield this week and prisons previously. Tweets, blog posts and an interactive weekly Twitter-based Q&A with someone currently detained, help shine a spotlight on immigration detention.

#Unlocked16

This year, #Unlocked16’s theme is ‘Friends and Family’, acknowledging that in addition to people actually detained, immigration detention affects those like Amir and the families we waited with at that prison. Fundamentally, as Musa and Amir show us, immigration enforcement is a phenomenon that goes beyond the detained individual and traditional IRC sites, and that is entering new places and encompassing new groups. This is a trend some years in the making but that is accelerating with policies that lengthen and entrench the precariousness of non-citizens (and increasingly also of new and dual-citizens), and that multiply the spaces in which immigration checks and exclusions occur.
Given the centrality of migration to the UK’s recent EU referendum and the pledges by President-elect Trump to deport millions of people from the USA, we can be certain that immigration enforcement will remain high on political agendas worldwide. We urgently need to debate the role of immigration detention in boundary making and I’d urge you, whether or not you have (yet) been touched by the practice, to explore and participate in #Unlocked16.

Week 6: #Unlocked16 visits Campsfield House

This week, Unlocking Detention shone a spotlight on Campsfield House detention centre in Kidlington, a village 7 miles from Oxford. Up to 282 men are locked up there.  Campsfield House was originally a young offender’s institution and became an immigration detention centre in 1993.


sdv-tweet

The first piece published this week was a powerful but devastating read, and is the one of the most engaged-with pieces we’ve had so far.   Mishka was detained along with his twin, with terrible consequences.

I am a twin. We are identical – he has long hair, but no beard. We came here together. We were young in our twenties when we came to the UK. We were always very, very close. We have a twin connection in our minds. I don’t feel physical pain when someone hit him on the other side of the world, but I feel it on an emotional level.
When we came to the UK, we only had each other. We lived in the same room. We went to the same university. We had the same part-time jobs. We always used to talk to each other. We always talked about the situation; why we came, what is happening back home because of our decision coming to save our lives, what we should do next.
We spoke a lot together about applying for asylum, but we were scared. The government back home tortured my mother because we left. And they told her we must never speak about what is happening in my country.
Home Office picked us up together from our home. They specifically came for us. They asked the landlady: “Are the twins in?”
It was just the two of us in the Tascor van. We thought that we are being sent to get killed. We thought we going to be deported back to our mother’s torturers.

Read Mishka’s piece here

The second piece of Campsfield week was by Liz Peretz of the Campaign to Close Campsfield. Liz wrote of the failures of healthcare in detention, and the complicated mechanisms of its operation that make campaigning for change such a complicated business!

Read “Healthcare: a labyrinthine system. A Campsfield case study.”

New members of the Detention Forum, Liberty, got stuck into Unlocking Detention with a great piece in the Huffington Post.  Liberty director Martha Spurrier wrote that shining a light on indefinite detention is more important than ever.

Read Liberty’s #Unlocked16 article here

And it didn’t end there!  In a vital article, Melanie Griffiths (an ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow and Senior Research Associate at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol) wrote for the blog of the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS), at the University of Oxford.

Foreign national prisons – and the Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) that offenders move onto after completing their sentences – are spaces where this messy business of boundary-making occurs: where attempts are made to separate citizen from non-citizen, the ‘good’ migrant from the ‘bad’, the deportable from those who can successfully assert a claim to belong…
Campsfield House is only six miles away from COMPAS, and yet such sites, and indeed the very practice of immigration detention, remains peculiarly out of sight. Attempting to raise awareness, the Detention Forum’s online initiative #Unlocked16, undertakes an annual two month-long virtual ‘tour’ of the UK’s detention estate. Now in its third year, this social media project ‘visits’ every site of immigration detention in the UK, including Campsfield this week and prisons previously. Tweets, blog posts and an interactive weekly Twitter-based Q&A with someone currently detained, help shine a spotlight on immigration detention.
This year, #Unlocked16’s theme is ‘Friends and Family’, acknowledging that in addition to people actually detained, immigration detention affects those like Amir and the families we waited with at that prison. Fundamentally, as Musa and Amir show us, immigration enforcement is a phenomenon that goes beyond the detained individual and traditional IRC sites, and that is entering new places and encompassing new groups. This is a trend some years in the making but that is accelerating with policies that lengthen and entrench the precariousness of non-citizens (and increasingly also of new and dual-citizens), and that multiply the spaces in which immigration checks and exclusions occur.

Read Melanie’s article here

This week, the live Q and A with someone detained was actually with two people, Christopher and Jose, two friends detained in Campsfield House.  In this far-ranging interview, we learned about life in Campsfield House, the impact of detention on people’s health, spirit and relationships, and what people experiencing this brutal policy first-hand, think it’s all about.


Read the full Q and A here

We started Unlocking Detention with an article about the project in Italian, and this week the project has been shared all the way across the world in Australia!

And Right to Remain have been taking Unlocking Detention on tour… not quite as far flung as Australia, but Manchester, Cambridge, Essex and Golders Green have pretty exciting in themselves! Thanks to Detention Action, René Cassin, Manchester Migrant Solidarity and Volunteer Action for Peace for being part of this non-stop road trip.