Week 9: #Unlocked17 visits Dungavel

In the ninth and final visit of #Unlocked17, the focus was on Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre.
Dungavel is 30 miles from Glasgow on country roads, with a journey time of about 45 minutes. But people are brought here from all over the UK, so a journey to visit a loved one in detention may take far longer than that. It’s also very hard to reach by public transport.
Tucked away in the woods, in this inaccessible location, up to 235 men and 14 women can be detained at any one time, with no idea when they will be released.


In September, a man detained in Dungavel was found dead. On the same day, another man detained in Dungavel wrote this letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd. He asked, “Rule is same for all. If a person loses his life then what are the rules for? Rules are meant to keep people safe.”

Visiting Dungavel

Volunteers with Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV, @SDVisitors) make the journey to Dungavel by car, two evenings a week. SDV volunteers have been visiting Dungavel for 15 years.
The first blog of the week was written by Kate Alexander, Director of SDV. Kate reflects on another year of visiting Dungavel, and takes us on the journey that visitors make. Visitors also prepare a report after every visit. In her blog, Kate highlights the recurring themes in these reports, such as visitors’ concerns about people’s health in detention:

“D can’t sleep at night and seems to be having some mental health problems. His relationship has broken down since he’s been in detention”
“T is a priority for visit. He’s lost a lot of weight, isn’t eating well and seems very stressed”.

Frequently, this concern is linked to the length people have been detained:

“We’d not seen M for a while. His mental health has deteriorated a lot. He’s been in Dungavel for more than six months now.”

And much of the frustration, distress and anger about their detention, finds expression in people’s worry about their families on the outside:

“D was very distressed. His wife has been in hospital and is still very unwell. He’s really afraid of deportation”
“C was pinning his hopes on his bail hearing next week. He’s worried about his pregnant wife”


SDV regularly tweet extracts of visitors reports from their twitter account. Follow them here.


In this video, produced by Justice and Peace Scotland, participants at a Dungavel solidarity gathering, experts-by-experience, and others, explain why Dungavel is ‘Scotland’s Shame’. One man who had been detained in Dungavel spoke about the impact of visitors from SDV:


The second blog of the week came from Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe, activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now. They wrote for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.

Life After Detention

This week also saw the launch of a new film by the Life After Detention group, from Glasgow. In the film, members of the group describe their experiences post-detention:

“Home Office, they have put fear inside us. It is really difficult to get rid of this fear. Sometimes it appears in dreams at night. Sometimes it comes in a different way during the day.”
“I’m not what I was. Sometimes I think that there is a banner on my face, everyone knows that I have been in detention. It has just changed all my whole personality.”

Oral histories of immigration detention

The University of Glasgow held an event this week on oral histories of immigration detention, as as part of #Unlocked17’s ‘visit’ to Dungavel. You can read a Storify of the event here.

Your selfies

You’ve continued to share your selfies and show your opposition to detention throughout this final visit of #Unlocked17. Here are a few of them…

"If more people knew what was going on, more would recoil in disgust and demand explanations."

This year’s Unlocking Detention featured over 40 blogs. Massive thank you to everyone who contributed and shone a light on the reality of immigration detention! As we conclude this year’s tour, some of the volunteers running the project share blogs that have left special impression on their minds. If there was any blog that especially resonated with you, do let us know which one and also why. 

Here is our Sylvia!

Sylvia said:
“Unlocking Detention is important because it aimed at publicising something that is done in your name and paid for by public money. Yet, not much is known about it, except the odd news report here and there when a death occurred in an immigration centre, or when abuse is uncovered. There isn’t much scrutiny or accountability and high regard for due process. If more people knew what was going on, more would recoil in disgust and demand explanations. 
The UK’s immigration detention system is a mess, it is a failing and cruel system that has no place in a functioning democracy. Time after time, reports show that things are done in a way that has no bearing on any logic whatsoever, let alone humanity. Even if you look at it from a strictly cold administrative angle: it is pointless (53% are released into the community) and it is costly (£92m+ per year). 
The blog post that resonated the most with me was Won’t Somebody Please Think of The Children? Detention is destructive, for the individual in detention as well as the wider community. It has deep impacts on the immediate family too which usually takes the brunt of that disruption. One has to ask: How can a government stand there and defend such cruelty?
Long-term effects on separation at an early age are well documented, it is therefore truly disturbing that it is essentially an official policy to enable a system that sees parents and children regularly forced to live miles apart with no time limit.” 
And our Alice!

Alice said:
“I’ve chosen Juan’s poem about the closure of the Verne – it has really stuck with me, and I think it captures quite a few of the themes that we have seen throughout Unlocking Detention.
The poem vividly shows the hopelessness and harm caused by indefinite detention – for example, Juan says “The Verne is a cemetery for hope. I don’t see how I would survive a fourth time in detention”. It also shows how being detained impacts people long, long after they are released: he says, “When you have experienced detention, you walk every day with the experience on your back” and “I am different person now.”
The poem demonstrates the need for system-wide reform – not just tweaking the system, or closing one or two centres, but fundamental change to the whole system. Juan says, “I am pleased to hear that the Verne is closing. But for those of us that have already experienced it, it will always be open.” He also highlights how many people have died in detention this year, and says, “just thinking about the Verne makes me think of death”. As Kasonga from Freed Voices said in Parliament in November“Detention reform cannot wait. It has become an emergency situation.”
Finally, this poem is yet another example of experts-by-experience as the most important, powerful advocates for detention reform. We’ve seen this in the many fantastic blogs by experts-by-experience during #Unlocked17, and at the parliamentary meeting, when Kasonga gave a brilliant speech and members of the audience spoke out about their own experiences – one woman described detention centres as like “filing cabinets for human beings”. MPs were clearly very moved and reiterated their commitment to fight for reform.”
Let us know if there was any blog this year that resonated strongly with you!  We would love to hear from you!
 

Guantanamo Bay, a tube ride away

In the final week of Unlocking Detention, we are now looking at where we will go from here. And we believe it is a perfect opportunity to publish this speech delivered last month by Jose, from the Freed Voices group to launch Amnesty’s #WriteForRights project. Jose says, ‘hope calls for action, just as action is impossible without hope’ and shares what gave him hope when he was in detention and when he is campaigning to end indefinite detention. The speech was originally published by Detention Action here
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“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
I read that quote around a year ago.
It is from Nelson Mandela.
He wrote it when he was detained in Robben Island.
I read it when I detained in Campsfield House detention centre.
——————————————————————————–
It is in Oxford, 60 miles from here.
Harmondsworth – the largest detention centre in Europe – is even nearer.
It is in Heathrow, less than an hour away by tube.
At this exact time, about 600 men in Harmondsworth will be preparing to be locked in their cells…like animals.
These are innocent men.
Their only crime is that they are migrants.
Like the other 30,000 people detained in the UK every year, they are being held without the right to a fair trial.
They are being held at the administrative convenience of the UK Government.
They are being held without an end in sight.
Because – and this is something I did not know before I came here – the UK is the only country in Europe that has a policy of indefinite detention.
People are locked away in mini-Guantanamo Bays all over your country.
It’s not just Cuba, Kabul, Kingston I’m afraid…
It’s also Dorset, and Lincoln, and Bedfordshire.
No-one in detention knows how long they will be there for.
I was held for four and half months.
The Freed Voices group as a whole has lost over twenty years of our lives to detention in the UK.
Before I came here, when I thought of the UK I thought of the best music, rock and roll,
I thought of a modern, first-world country…with a ‘strong and stable’ economy.
I thought of a country with respect for human rights and human decency.
I actually read that Nelson Mandela quote before I was in detention, back home in Venezuela, where I am from.
But it still amazes me that I had to come from a third world country to a first-world country to really understand the truth of it.
—————————————————————————
It is very difficult to explain the impact of indefinite detention to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves.
Indefinite detention destroys your trust in everything, and everyone, around you.
It is designed to make you feel powerless.
It is designed to make you think that your imprisonment is inevitable.
And so, depression and death are part of the DNA of detention.
20,000 people have been on suicide watch in detention since 2007.
The rate of suicide attempts is now more than one a day.
31 people have died in detention – three between August and September this year, alone.

——————————————————————–
Hope is in very, very short supply inside detention – they squeeeeze it out.
And that is why I thank you for making a detention a focus of your Write for Rights project this year.
I survived detention because people from outside, came in – not physically, but emotionally…in solidarity.
I remember one of the first things I did was a live Twitter Q&A with Ben from Detention Action.
He asked me what I could see from my window.
Even this simple question made me feel a bit more human, a bit more real.
A few weeks after the Q&A there was a demonstration outside the detention centre.
The people there were not directly affected by the issue.
But they stood and shouted: ‘Set Them Free! Set Them Free!’
In that moment, I did not feel alone.
I felt like there was an army behind me, winds of justice in my sails.
It gave me the strength to fight my case…and eventually, I was released.
If your letters can do that – if they can give people the hope to fight – then they can be half the battle.
I say half because, in reality, we need more than letters of support – we need real change, real action.
Because hope calls for action, just as action is impossible without hope.
————————————————————————–
And so, I am using this opportunity to urge you all to get involved in the fight against indefinite detention.
It is one the most serious human rights and civil liberties abuses in the UK today.
The Home Office’s own report last year concluded it was ‘an affront to civilised values’.
And so…to finish…I guess the real question is: what are British values?
What are Amnesty values?
What are your values?
And do they allow for something like indefinite detention…just a tube ride away.
Thank you.

Life After Detention: A Film

The harm caused by detention does not end once a person is released. For many, the trauma of detention, and the struggles with uncertainty, continue.
This is the subject of ‘Life After Detention’, a new film made in collaboration with the Life After Detention group from Scottish Detainee Visitors. The group filmed aspects of their life in Glasgow on their mobile phones and worked with film-maker and SDV volunteer, Alice Myers, to create the film. It was premiered at an Unlocking Detention event on Tuesday 12 December at the Glad Cafe in Glasgow.
The Life After Detention group are a group of men and women who have been detained. The group provides peer support, casework and a space for creative activity. They have published writing on SDV’s website, and have performed their work at SDV events, including at SDV’s joint meeting at the Scottish Parliament with UNHCR, Detention Action and the Detention Forum. The ten people in the Life After Detention group were detained for four years and eight months in total.
You can watch the film below, and through this link.

In the film, members of the group describe their experiences post-detention:
“Home Office, they have put fear inside us. It is really difficult to get rid of this fear. Sometimes it appears in dreams at night. Sometimes it comes in a different way during the day.”
“I’m not what I was. Sometimes I think that there is a banner on my face, everyone knows that I have been in detention. It has just changed all my whole personality.”
“I’m not who I was three years ago. I felt very strong… now I don’t feel such strength. When you know lots of people around you, you think that they as a human, they have rights. But you don’t have rights as a human. So that is really painful, because then you realise that you are not human.”
The long-lasting effects of indefinite detention are a theme we have heard throughout this year’s Unlocking Detention tour; for example, in Juan’s poem about the planned closure of the Verne, part of which says,
“When you have experienced detention, you walk every day with the experience on your back.
It is a trauma that follows you everywhere.
You are always looking behind you. 
I think a part of me died in detention.
I am different person now.”

Week 8: #Unlocked17 visits Morton Hall

This is Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire, the focus of the eighth week of the Unlocking Detention tour. Up to 392 people – all men – may be detained here at any one time. It was turned from a prison to an immigration removal centre in 2011, though, like most other centres, it still feels like a prison.
It is one of two centres still run by the Prison Service – though it will soon be the only one (the other is the Verne, set to close soon).


The latest report of HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), published this year, said that at least three children had been detained at Morton Hall in the previous year; and that some of these detentions “were prolonged as a result of wrangling between different local authorities over responsibility for assessing age”. One child was held for 151 days.
The report said that too many people in general were being detained in Morton Hall for prolonged periods: the average length of detention was over three months. 31 people had been held for over a year, including three who had been detained for over two years. Two men had been detained on separate occasions totalling more than three years.
The report also identified a threefold increase in self-harm since the previous inspection. In the year preceding the inspection, four people had narrowly escaped fatal or serious injuries as a result of self-harm. The report stated that “The causes of self-harm had not been sufficiently analysed and there was no strategy to reduce it.”
Since that report was published, four people have died at Morton Hall. There have been ten deaths in detention centres across the UK in the last twelve months. In a recent interview, Mishka from Freed Voices said indefinite detention must end: “we cannot wait one, two, three, four years. We need it now. People are dying.” At a parliamentary meeting last month, Kasonga, another member of Freed Voices, highlighted the recent deaths in detention and said, “Detention reform cannot wait. It has become an emergency situation.”

Experts-by-Experience

The first blog of the week explored the psycho-geography of detention centres, based on a mapping exercise conducted by Freed Voices. One of these maps was drawn by Michael, who has been based in the UK since he was 12, and who was detained in Morton Hall for two and a half years.


Also this week, we published a conversation between Detention Action and John*(not his real name), who was recently released after ten months detained in Morton Hall. John de-bunks some of the Home Office’s stock phrases about detention.
For example, the Home Office say, “We do not have indefinite detention in this country.” To this, John says,

“Altogether, I have been detained 16 months, three different times. This response from the Immigration Minister just shows you how in denial they are. They are desperately trying to justify a lie. They are literally dancing around the word. It’s actually pretty embarrassing, really. I think they are maybe also just ashamed of what they are doing in detention and that is why they can’t face up to the truth of the situation.”

Of the deaths in Morton Hall this year, John said,

“I experienced two deaths in the ten months I was in Morton Hall. When the Polish guy died, all they did was put up a tiny notice. When my friend Spencer died, they tried to cover the whole thing up as quickly as possible. It was incredibly traumatic. Especially for those close to him. There were no follow-up questions, no support for the depression we all felt. It was very, very difficult – harder than the sixteen months, to be honest.”

Also this week, Umar* shared his story in order to raise awareness about the plight of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees.
Umar first came out in a detention centre, to an immigration officer. “He wore a suit and had a badge. I didn’t like that I had to speak to him about my sexuality. I felt scared because I didn’t know if what I said would be kept a secret. But I had no choice, I had to tell him. I was very nervous as this was the first time I had told anyone that I was gay.”
Umar is now free from detention, but feels compelled to fight the injustice he suffered for the benefit of others. Umar says,

“I do not want any refugee, especially a LGBTI refugee, to go through this. Being in detention I was always scared, it was a prison also for my brain and my heart.”

You can read the full piece here.

Also on the blog this week:

On Tuesday, we heard from Rachel Robinson, Advocacy Manager for Liberty, who argued why now is the time to end the practice of indefinite detention, once and for all. It’s a clear and powerfully-argued piece: read it here.


In Wednesday’s blog, Bill MacKeith, joint organiser of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, reported on the recent 24th anniversary demonstration at Campsfield House, attended by Oxford’s two MPs. You can also catch up on the #Unlocked17 visit to Campsfield House here.


Next week is the final stop on the #Unlocked17 tour. We’ll be virtually visiting Dungavel, in Scotland.

If only everyone could be welcomed as warmly as Paddington…

Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe are activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now, a democratic movement in the UK which campaigns in solidarity with people in the global South. They write for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.  
As part of Global Justice Now, we campaign on issues of global poverty and inequality – trying to change the policies and actions of the UK government and UK based corporations that perpetuate injustice. Around migration, these problems come to the fore when we start to investigate the reasons why people migrate or seek asylum the role of the UK in fostering those conditions. There is no migrant crisis – there’s a crisis caused by war, poverty and inequality.
In recent years we’ve campaigned on a number of issues that drive people to risk their lives in moving around the world, including climate change, food sovereignty and trade. Right now, in the wake of Brexit, trade deals skewed towards profiting multinational corporations to the detriment of developing nations such as TISA will inform future patterns of migration to and from the UK and around the world.
We’re now campaigning directly on migration, joining up with all the incredible organisations who already work on issues around migration, detention and freedom of movement. Throughout 2017 we’ve also been joined by our migrant friend from darkest Peru, helping us to highlight the injustices of UK migration policy – he even joined us on a solidarity visit to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre.

The connections between the UK’s wider policies on issues such as trade and policies on immigration are undeniable. There have been seven immigration acts passed by the UK parliament in the last eight years, all of them intended to make life harder for undocumented migrants. Finance and goods are granted freedom of movement, whilst people face increasing barriers at the border.
And if people do manage to get into the UK ‘illegally’, they are at risk of being detained without trial or time limit. In Scotland, the recent death of a Chinese man at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre has brought the detention centre into the spotlight once again. A detainee’s email to Home Secretary Amber Rudd in response to this death perfectly highlights the cry of those whose liberty is wrenched from them just as they reach out for refuge and sanctuary.
Browsing the web page for Dungavel on the GEO group’s website, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a luxurious estate fit for a weekend jaunt to the country. This, of course, only serves to hide the darker realities of life inside its walls which are better symbolised by the high metal fences and barbed wires that surrounds it. While the private operators of what is called ‘Scotland’s Shame’ profit handsomely from detention, its detainees continue to suffer.
GEO group donated heavily to Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States and continues to lobby for private prison contracts. Trump’s subsequent crackdown on immigration across the board has been a great boon to the corporation which has seen rising profits and stock prices as a result. The group runs around 104 detention centres worldwide, including on Guantanamo Bay.

The adverse effects on mental health alone should justify government action for the implementation of alternative solutions. A parliamentary enquiry into the same details this, in particular, with regards to the lack of any time limit on detention – a situation in Europe which is unique to the UK.
The aforementioned enquiry outlines the lack of adequate healthcare in immigration removal centres, the detention of victims of trafficking and torture (rather than referral), women feeling intimidated by male staff, the ‘prison-like’ conditions and restrictions on internet access vital for detainee’s connection to the outside world.
Take action and contact your MP to ask for an end to indefinite detention.
The litany of cases of needless suffering caused by detention would require an anthology of its own to detail properly. Whether it’s denying people proper support and formal education, holding someone for two and a half years (11 months of which were in Dungavel) or the high numbers of suicide attempts, the evidence against such excessive use of detention is overwhelming.
In the spotlight is where this detention centre needs to be; away from the shadows, the darkness where the voices of its detainees are not heard and their stories not told. Even when driven to hunger strikes, the coverage of their plight is pitifully under reported throughout the British media.
This ties into the British media’s portrayal of immigrants as a whole. It becomes particularly cruel during times of crisis, such as we see in the Mediterranean. When support is most badly needed to enable refugees to seek protection and establish themselves in a new country, the media is focused on linking asylum seekers to crime and fraud rather than presenting a truthful and balanced view of their situation; a view which might give insight into the underlying problems and allow us to talk about long term solutions rather than vilifying those in the most dire and precarious of situations.
To this end, Global Justice Now is currently campaigning for an inquiry into racism in the Press as well as targeting the Daily Mail specifically, directly and through its advertisers, for its toxic and hateful portrayal of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. One example is that of Marks & Spencers, a company that prides itself on its ethical standards and yet continues to fund hate through its advertising in the Daily Mail. It’s ironic that M&S are using Paddington Bear for their Christmas advertising this year when Paddington himself was an immigrant from deepest, darkest Peru. Under current policy, he would have been considered an undocumented immigrant and may well have ended up in a detention centre!
Take action on these issues through Global Justice Now’s website.
The location of Dungavel certainly doesn’t help the situation. You’ll find this to be the case for other detention centres around the UK. They’re situated in remote locations that are invariably difficult to get to which makes it harder for visitors, family, friends or activists to meet the detainees themselves. This isolation, of course, compounds the harmful effects on the mental health of the detainees.
Despite this, the laudable efforts of volunteers from organisations such as Scottish Detainee Visitors means that the stories of the detainees are reported, the conditions in which they are forced to live are monitored and they are quite often the only familiar faces the detainees see outside of the immigration service.

International Migrant’s Day (18th December) is fast approaching – an ideal opportunity to celebrate ‘a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life’. Global Justice Glasgow will be around the city centre with our friend Paddington Bear to raise awareness of these issues and encourage people to take action.
The core problem with Immigration Removal Centres is simple. You shouldn’t lock people up for indefinite periods of time without a trial or a time limit. It is detrimental to their well-being in ways we still don’t fully understand. We need to look at the root causes of what drives people to a level of such abject desperation that they’re willing to risk life and limb to get to the UK rather than locking them up in far flung corners of the country, in the shadows where they can’t be seen or heard. It’s time for this cruel and unjust practice to end where more humane, community-based alternatives can be arranged and each person regardless of origin or circumstance is treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
 
 

Visiting Dungavel for another year…

This week, #Unlocked17 is visiting Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre. In this blog, Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV), reflects on another year of visiting Dungavel, and takes us on the journey that visitors make twice a week. Visitors also prepare a report after every visit, which Kate reviews. Here, she highlights the patterns she sees in these reports: of visitors’ concerns about the health of those in detention, frequently linked to the length of time people have been detained; of people’s frustration, anger and distress at their detention and the complex immigration processes they are caught up in; and of their worries about their families on the outside. 
To learn more about Dungavel, follow SDV on Twitter (@SDVisitors). SDV often tweet extracts from their visitors reports, providing a much-needed insight into the daily struggles of life in detention. 
For Unlocking Detention last year, I wrote a blog about the future of detention in Scotland. The situation was very uncertain. The UK Government had announced that it would close Dungavel, but its plans to build a short term holding facility (STHF) at Glasgow Airport were in disarray following Renfrewshire Council’s refusal of planning permission. The Government had a right to appeal the decision in Renfrewshire and for a time it looked like other sites were under consideration for a STHF. As an organisation, SDV were considering how we might adapt to provide a service to people in a new facility.
As things turned out, in February this year, the Government quietly announced that Dungavel would stay open.
So to our surprise, given where we were this time last year, we can look back on another year of our visitors travelling to Dungavel every week to visit, support and offer solidarity to the people detained there. This blog is about that work.
Every detention centre is different and as a result every organisation supporting people in detention works in a different way. Dungavel’s location, 45 minutes south of Glasgow, along a country road, on no public transport routes means that the only practical way for our visitors to go to Dungavel is by car, so they drive to Dungavel two evenings a week in groups of up to five.
Each visit starts with a meet-up in central Glasgow (or sometimes Edinburgh) and a drive out of the city and along the country roads that lead to Strathaven, the nearest town to Dungavel. We then travel six miles further along the road, through open country and farmland.

Finally, Dungavel comes into view, but it would be really easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. It’s set back from the road, hidden behind trees. Its history as a hunting lodge for the Dukes of Hamilton explains this and also its unusual appearance compared to many centres in the detention estate. It looks like a rather down at heel country estate – a large white building with turrets set in what would once have been attractive grounds.

Once they have parked, visitors ring a bell outside a cage-like structure built into the high perimeter fence, topped with barbed wire. The door to the cage creaks open and they all go inside, the door clanks closed behind them and they wait inside the cage at an inner gate until a member of Dungavel staff comes to check their ID and let them inside the perimeter fence. The wait can be quite long. Sometimes 15 minutes or more. In the winter it can be very cold, and in the summer they can be prey to the infamous Scottish midge!
Finally, an officer takes them through to reception and books them in, a process that can also take some time. Each visit has an organiser who gives the officer the names of the people they want to visit so they can be called to the visit room. Everyone is searched and ushered through to the visits room, where they wait until people come down to meet them.
After every visit, our visitors prepare a report of the visit and this allows us to monitor what we do and who we see in Dungavel. At the end of every quarter, I sit down and go through all the reports and record the information they contain. It’s a task I really like doing, because I like spreadsheets and numbers and it allows me to collate really useful information for our funders and means we can track trends.
From the reports we know that in the first three quarters of 2017, our visitors made 76 visits to Dungavel and saw 155 people, 28 women and 127 men. We try and strike a balance between visiting people who have been newly detained and people who have been in detention for weeks, months and sometimes years. We also try to prioritise women. There are only 14 places for women at Dungavel, compared to 235 for men, so women can feel particularly isolated and stressed while they are detained there. We see an average of seven people per visit, but each visit is different and our visitors have to be prepared for seeing anything between two and fifteen people.
We saw people from 36 different countries in the first three quarters of this year and a quarter of them were from the EU. In fact, Romanians formed the biggest single nationality among the people we visited until the end of September. The most recent detention statistics from the Home Office show that this is a trend across the detention estate – twenty per cent of people entering detention in the first three quarters of 2017 were EU citizens, but for people entering detention in Dungavel, the figure was higher at 35%. People from China, India, Vietnam and Sudan were also seen in large numbers. Perhaps surprisingly, we also saw people from the USA, Brazil and Bolivia.
But the reports also tell us more. Visitors use them to let other visitors know about problems the people we see are facing, or to share their concerns about them. And it’s this information that tells us most about the harmful impact of detention.
A common theme is our visitors’ concern about people’s health in detention:

“A is not sleeping. He forgets things. He’s been prescribed sleeping pills but is getting no mental health support”
“T still seemed really depressed and angry”
“B is not well. He’s looking worse each visit”
“D can’t sleep at night and seems to be having some mental health problems. His relationship has broken down since he’s been in detention”
“T is a priority for visit. He’s lost a lot of weight, isn’t eating well and seems very stressed”.

Frequently, this concern is linked to the length people have been detained:

“N has been detained for months. He’s frustrated with not hearing from the Home Office and is talking about refusing to eat”
“We’d not seen M for a while. His mental health has deteriorated a lot. He’s been in Dungavel for more than six months now.”

Frustration and distress about indefinite detention can be linked to confusion about the complex immigration processes people are caught up in. While detained at Dungavel, people have better access to legal support than in other centres, but still people find it hard to get legal advice and to understand what is happening to them.

“H has had a letter from the Home Office that he doesn’t understand. He’s not been able to get in touch with his lawyer to discuss it. Asked us to call his lawyer for him”
“T was very upset. He’s been threatened with removal and he’s not heard from his lawyer, despite trying to contact him”

And much of the frustration, distress and anger about their detention, finds expression in people’s worry about their families on the outside:

“D was very distressed. His wife has been in hospital and is still very unwell. He’s really afraid of deportation”
“C was pinning his hopes on his bail hearing next week. He’s worried about his pregnant wife”
“T was very distressed and emotionally volatile. He’s understandably very worried about his wife and children at home”

I’m really proud of the work our visitors do supporting people in detention. But every time I analyse their reports I’m angry that they have to do it. All of the sadness revealed is a direct result of UK Government policy. And we know it doesn’t have to be like this.

‘A Prison For My Heart’

Coming out is often be a nervous and fearful experience – what does it feel like to that in immigration detention? Umar (not his real name) hd to do that to protect his life. We are grateful to Umar who said he wanted share his story in order to raise awareness about the plight of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees and made this story publicly available, though was anxious to conceal his identity.  
Umar* (not his real name) first came out in a detention centre, to an immigration officer. ‘He wore a suit and had a badge. I didn’t like that I had to speak to him about my sexuality. I felt scared because I didn’t know if what I said would be kept a secret. But I had no choice, I had to tell him. I was very nervous as this was the first time I had told anyone that I was gay.’
Umar had no choice but to disclose his sexuality to the officer because he was in detention, and he was being questioned about his asylum claim.
Umar has sought refuge in the UK because he would face persecution in Pakistan, where homosexuality is illegal. Section 377 of the Penal Code, originally enacted by the British colonial government in the 1860s, criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’, punishable by life in prison. The social stigma attached to homosexuality is such that gay men and women suffer emotional, physical and sexual violence. Most homophobic violence goes unreported, for fear of reprisals, but reports of blackmail, gang violence, and honour killings are prevalent. The state authorities, instead of providing protection, are often complicit in this persecution.
Growing up in Pakistan, Umar had internalised much of this homophobia, and it was only in the UK that he came to realise that he was gay. Umar is from a strict Muslim family who never spoke about sex or sexuality, so realising that he is gay has left Umar in serious emotional turmoil. ‘This is something that I really struggle with because of my background. It made me feel less of a man, I felt ashamed.’
So when Umar was locked-up in a detention centre and questioned about his asylum claim, the struggle of coming out for the first time was compounded by confusion, shame and deep fear. He feared that others in the detention centre would find out. ‘There were Pakistanis, Bengalis and Indians. I was really scared that they would find out…it would spread like forest fire…they would hate me. I feared that they would hurt me.’
To stay under the radar, Umar avoided speaking to the other detainees, answering questions monosyllabically. Cooped up in this administrative cage, Umar’s mental health deteriorated quickly; his depression worsened and he struggled to sleep.  ‘There was no one in detention I could talk to. Being in detention damaged me badly.’
But Umar knew he needed to tell the truth about his sexuality to the immigration officer, to explain why he could not return to his home country. ‘I fear that I would be attacked or killed in Pakistan if I were found out to be gay’.
Nor, Umar told us, would his family protect him. ‘They would always put religion before me; they would not accept me as a gay man.’ Umar’s parents, who could not afford to bring him up, had entrusted him to his grandparents, who looked after him lovingly. But when his grandparents died, he was taken to live with his uncles. ‘They were not kind to me at all. They were controlling, critical, and prone to violence.’ On one occasion, as a child, Umar was beaten badly by his uncle in the street in front of a crowd for a minor mistake with his shopping. ‘No one helped me, people do not get involved. I know that if my family or community harmed me because I am gay, I would have nowhere to turn.’
Umar has been released from detention, and was granted asylum in September 2017. Though he is now free from detention, he feels compelled to fight the injustice he suffered for the benefit of others. He has brought a challenge in the High Court, arguing that the Government policy and practice with regards to the detention of LGBTI asylum-seekers is unlawful, in violation fundamental human rights. ‘I do not want any refugee, especially a LGBTI refugee, to go through this. Being in detention I was always scared, it was a prison also for my brain and my heart.’
(Unlocking Detention is also grateful to Duncan Lewis Solicitor’s Public Law team for connecting us to Umar.)
 

Putting stock Home Office statements in the stocks

New Freed Voices member, John P.*, was recently released after ten months detained in Morton Hall IRC in Lincolnshire. For this #Unlocked17 special, he sat down with Detention Action to go through his thoughts on some of the stock phrases the Home Office trot out in response to anti-detention campaigners. * John P. is not the author’s real name. This has been changed to protect his identity.
INDEFINITE DEFINITION
The UK is the only country in Europe that practices indefinite detention: from the moment someone enters detention they have no idea how long they will be there for. Immigration statistics released only last week showed one person had been detained 5 years…and counting. These figures came only a few days after the Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis, had responded to calls for an end to indefinite detention in Parliament with some very (very) familiar lines:
“We do not have indefinite detention in this country. Our policy is that there is always a presumption of liberty. Individuals are detained for no longer than is necessary.”
John P.
“For me, the definition of ‘indefinite’ is simple: something with no end. It is infinite. It is the opposite of finite. It is not rocket science. No-one told me how long I’d be there for when I was detained because they couldn’t. They just shrugged: ‘we don’t know.’ Altogether, I have been detained 16 months, three different times. This response from the Immigration Minister just shows you how in denial they are. They are desperately trying to justify a lie. They are literally dancing around the word. It’s actually pretty embarrassing, really. I think they are maybe also just ashamed of what they are doing in detention and that is why they can’t face up to the truth of the situation.”
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VULNERABILITY IN DETENTION
In January 2016, the Shaw Review found ‘incontrovertibly that detention in and of itself undermines welfare and contributes to vulnerability’. In response, the Government promised to implement a new reform programme (the Adults at Risk procedure) that would ‘safeguard the most vulnerable’. Over the last month, reports from Women for Refugee Women, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Detention Action and the British Medical Association have all outlined how and why the Adults at Risk policy is failing, identifying large numbers of vulnerable people still in detention. In response to each report the Home Office had the same stock response:
“We operate on a presumption against detention, and our adults at risk policy aims to improve our approach to identifying individuals who may be particularly vulnerable to harm in detention. When people are detained this is for the minimum time possible, and the dignity and welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance.”
John P.
“Everyone knows this is a complete lie…There is no effective screening before or during detention. I suffer from severe depression, for example. The Home Office were well aware of this. Did it factor into their decision to detain me? Not for a second. Their interest in removing you will always outweigh your vulnerability, there is no contest there. I saw loads of vulnerable people inside Morton Hall. Lots of psychotic episodes, people self-harming because they were so depressed. I saw someone cut their throat in front of me. I met a Vietnamese boy in there who had been trafficked to the UK to make cannabis. He never should have been there. I saw physical scars on people’s bodies. You’d walk around and think ‘wow, I can’t believe he’s in here…wow, I can’t believe he’s in here…wow, I can’t believe he’s in here.’ But really, everyone is vulnerable in detention. From the moment you walk in, you’re changing. You’d see someone come in one week and they would have deteriorated into a different person by the next week.”
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DEATHS IN DETENTION
The potentially lethal impact of indefinite detention is well-documented: there have been thirty-three deaths across the detention estate; ten deaths in the last calendar year; four in Morton Hall alone. In response to each (and every) one, the Home Office has had the same stock response:
“As is the case with any death in detention, the police have been informed and a full independent investigation will be conducted by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. We will make no further comment while this is being investigated. The dignity and welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance.”
John P.
“That’s absolutely pathetic. It’s insulting, really. I experienced two deaths in the ten months I was in Morton Hall. When the Polish guy died, all they did was put up a tiny notice. When my friend Spencer died, they tried to cover the whole thing up as quickly as possible. It was incredibly traumatic. Especially for those close to him. There were no follow-up questions, no support for the depression we all felt. It was very, very difficult – harder than the sixteen months, to be honest. It was genuinely terrifying to be somewhere where four people had died in the last year. You think that doesn’t affect the people inside? You start thinking when it will be your turn, when am I gonna go? If I have a stroke, can I trust that these guys are really gonna call an ambulance? Or are they just gonna leave me on the floor? It’s terrifying…very, very scary. You start to look at these guards as guys with blood on their hands.”
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ABUSE IN DETENTION
In September this year, the BBC Panorama documentary on Brook House highlighted the culture of psychological and physical abuse that has become normalised across the detention estate as a whole. In response to this programme, and other allegations of abuse, the Home Office has provided the same stock response:
“We are clear that all detainees should be treated with dignity and respect and we expect the highest standards from detainee custody officers. We take all allegations of misconduct or mistreatment of detainees seriously.”
John P.
“People’s dignity was breached on a daily basis in detention. And the staff there know it. Two guards resigned from Morton Hall in the time I was there. I asked one of them why and he said he couldn’t do it anymore. He said he could not physically bring himself to lock me up at night for nothing. He had some integrity, to be honest, he could see what they doing was wrong. As for taking allegations seriously, you are also strongly discouraged from making any allegations in the first place. They always try and put pressure on you, they tell you your claims are ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘this will affect your case’. Intimidation tactics are common. I’m not fresh off the boat, so I would tell them to go do one, but many people are too scared to speak out. And I understand why. Can you imagine what would happen to a migrant if they committed the same kind of offences that we experienced every day in detention? There would immediately be criminal prosecutions. Immediately, no doubt. But in detention? People have died in detention and not one person has gone to jail, not even suspended! That tells you everything you need to know about how serious they are following up on ‘mistreatment’.”
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REMOVALS
The classic catch-all response to charges laid at the Home Office detention policy is that – despite the deaths, the crisis of harm, the culture of abuse and the failed measures to protect the vulnerable – detention is necessary, whether we like it or not…
“Detention is an important part of our immigration system, helping to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK are returned to their home country if they will not leave voluntarily.”
John P.
“What?! I’m here aren’t I, talking to you now. Last year, I gave them my passport and told them to put me on a plane. We even discussed extra luggages and flights. But it became clear there was a problem with my country and so instead, they brought me to detention…even though it was clear my removal was not going to happen. Sometimes I think it is just a business, and we are just the stock being moved around. Over half of everyone in detention gets released, not removed. So why is it even called an Immigration Removal Centre? They need to change that name. It’s false advertising. They should change the names to British Guantanamo Bay I, British Guantanamo Bay II, British Guantanamo Bay III…but not IRC.”
 
 

Over 150 people demonstrate to mark 24 years since Campsfield ‘House’ opened

This blog was written by Bill MacKeith, joint organiser of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, for Unlocking Detention. Photos: Campaign to Close Campsfield
On 25 November 1993, two white vans arrived at Campsfield main gates, 6 miles north of Oxford. They brought the first detainees to the new Campsfield detention centre from Harmondsworth near Heathrow. Since then some 30,000 people have been locked up here without time limit, without charge, or proper legal representation in a place run for profit (currently by MITIE). And detainees and their supporters have insisted, month by month, year by year, that it be closed, along with all other detention centres, including some 290 monthly demonstrations.
The 24th anniversary demonstration at Campsfield this year was special for the campaign to radically challenge immigration detention in the UK: both Oxford’s MPs attended and spoke.
The member of parliament for the constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon that includes Campsfield detention centre, Layla Moran, spoke. As did Oxford East MP, Anneliese Dodds, who sits on the opposition front bench. We are fortunate in that our two local MPs agree that immigration detention needs to be radically challenged.
Layla Moran said:
The existence of Campsfield House is a scar on our local community and society at large. It is my firm belief that it, along with most of the UK’s detention estate, should be closed.  
Anneliese Dodds said:
I am strongly opposed to the current excessive use of immigration detention. It puts Britain to shame. It is unfair, it doesn’t work and it is cruel. Immigration detention causes real distress and anxiety for individuals and families and I am clear that indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system must end. This commitment was in the Manifesto I stood on in the last general election.
Demonstrators heard from Jawad, who has spent 9 months in four different detention centres, including Campsfield:
I have suffered 9 months in detention asking for my UN treaty rights … I have a message for all the people at Campsfield today. Be patient and God will listen to everyone. This will soon be stopped as we are all working on it.
Also speaking was Helen Brewer, one of 15 people from End Deportations, Plane Stupid and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants who last March 28th successfully stopped a mass deportation flight to Nigeria and Ghana. The Crown Prosecution Service has charged them with a Terrorism related offence under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990. Represented by Michael Mansfield QC, they appeared in Chelmsford Crown Court on the 4th of September, pleading Not Guilty. Their trial is listed for 4-6 weeks from 5th March 2018 in Chelmsford Crown Court.
Phillis, vice chair of South Yorkshire Migrant and Asylum Action Group, addressed the Barbed Wire Britain gathering at nearby Kidlington after the demo. He recounted the mass protest by detainees inside Campsfield on 7 August 2007, which he led; on that day 26 people took direct action to retrieve what was theirs by right, their freedom, and escaped.
Neo, an Oxford campaigner for the rights of homeless people, and singer songwriter Robb Johnson inspired and moved the demonstrators with their songs.

Layla Moran, Oxford West and Abingdon MP, addresses the protest

Anneliese Dodds, Oxford East MP, addresses the protest
 
Robb Johnson sings

Says it all.