Yesterday, we published part 1 of Mrs A’s contribution to Unlocking Detention, submitted by her solicitor at Duncan Lewis. In part 2 of her blog, Mrs A continues to describe her experience of and take on immigration detention in the UK.
Do you know what immigration detention is? Part 2
Prison-like conditions and little privacy
Detention centres are built to the same standards as high security prisons or use buildings previously used as prisons. The security employed is extraordinarily high for such low risk individuals, with visitors prevented from bringing even a pencil or paper to a meeting.
While detainees are allowed limited access to telephones, internet access is censored and heavily restricted, yet these are the exact resources needed by detainees in order to progress their legal cases. When a wife, husband or partner has been detained, their spouse, partner and/or children are only able to visit them in a public meeting room.
The regime at the centres is gruelling. A roll call is made every morning and night, you are told when to eat (and if you don’t feel like eating, staff would regard that as insubordination), you are only allowed a very limited number of visitors who must pre-register with the centre at least 24 hours in advance and bring photographic ID.
Mental torture of being in limbo
One of the great injustices that these centres commit is that of creating mental stress. Where as a prisoner convicted of a crime will usually have a known date for release, detainees are effectively in “limbo”, never knowing if they’ll be released tomorrow or next year.
This causes both detainees and their family members significant psychological damage. It should be noted that the high security of the centres combined with the length of detention, despite their veneer of being just a temporary “removal centre”, means that such places are far more imposing and stressful than some criminal prisons. In a conventional prison, low risk prisoners might be allowed “day release” for training, work or visiting family. In a detention centre no such possibility appears to exist.
Detention is indefinite. It is almost never for a short period as claimed and many detainees spend many months in detention, with some staying over a year. One detainee as recently as May 2017 had spent three years in a detention centre.
All the detainees see day in, day out, are long corridors with artificial lighting and CCTV monitors everywhere they go. While detainees are usually allowed access to natural light, they are met with a high wall and CCTV cameras at all corners, a constant reminder that you are locked up and constantly being watched.
The uncertainty of detention results in untold distress and anxiety for all detainees. Most detainees, especially asylum seekers, have been through unspeakable traumas and detention inflicts further psychological damage which the centres are not equipped to handle.
Detention is a very isolating experience and staff appear to assume that if a detainee walks around the centre and talks to other people, they will be ok. However nothing is okay about being held against your will and being treated like a criminal when you have committed no crime.
How about detention centre staff?
Due to the harsh environment, staff appear to have lost empathy. They often seem cold, indifferent, intimidating and appear to operate on the assumption that if one is in detention the detainee must have done something wrong. Staff sometimes give the appearance of being understanding and friendly, however this appears to be a front, with detailed records of conversations and interactions with detainees being recorded. This in turn leads to an atmosphere of distrust and on occasion, staff have behaved in an aggressive or intimidating manner.
Detention breaks one’s spirit, amplifies vulnerability and it takes insurmountable courage to have the hope and strength to keep going in a system that appears purposely designed to subjugate and keep one detained at all costs.
Of those detained, a high percentage are eventually released, indicating that detention was either unnecessary or disproportionate in the majority of these cases. For those released however this is little comfort, having often spent many months or even years imprisoned without committing any crime and without any trial or release date.
For those released, uncertainty still looms as they begin their recovery from the horrors of detention, which include depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), shattered self-belief and nightmares.
Where should the anti-detention campaign go?
I would like the public to continue campaigning for a time limit on detention and a complete detention reform and ultimately for all detention centres to be shutdown. It is also important to encourage detainees and ex-detainees to speak out about their experiences in detention in order to make the public aware of the abuse that is prevalent in detention centres.
Whilst not all detention staff partake in the abusive culture, rarely if at all, do they report colleagues who do. This too, I believe should be addressed to find out why abuse is not being reported and what happens when it is reported.
Suspending a few members of staff because they got caught makes little difference and the senior management in detention centres (both Home Office and private contractors) should be held accountable too by virtue of abuse happening under their watch.
A big thank you to Mrs A, who wishes to remain anonymous, and Paddy Page at Duncan Lewis. Paddy sent this photo in support of Unlocking Detention.