Unlocking Detention started in 2014. That year, Sarah Teather MP, who was then the Chair of the APPG on Refugees started the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention, together with APPG on Migration. In this blog, K.A., a member of Freed Voices who was recently detained and released, interviews Sarah about her experience of running the inquiry. Sarah also asked K.A. some questions about his experience of immigration detention. K.A. currently lives in Edinburgh. Sarah left parliament in 2015 and is now Director at Jesuit Refugee Service UK, based in London, one of the member organisations of the Detention Forum. You can see the Unlocking Detention timeline here.
xx October 2018, Edinburgh
My name is K.A., born in Ghana and currently living in Scotland. I spent five months in immigration detention between September 2017 and February 2018. Eight months after my release from detention, I am still trying to put the pieces back together and there is not a single day I do not get flashbacks of my experiences in detention. It’s a permanent scar that never leaves you.
I would like to ask you:
- What were views towards the use of immigration detention before you started the parliamentary inquiry?
- Was there any particular watershed moment during your time on the inquiry panel or any incident that shifted your views in any way and what was it?
- What is the one thing that you would want to change regarding the government’s policy on the use of immigration detention?
Kind regards, K.A.
xx October 2018, London
Thanks for asking me those questions. My answers are as below:
- I had met people in immigration detention as an MP and talked to people who had left. It was what they said about their experience of its damaging impact that prompted me to set up the parliamentary inquiry. I wanted to see whether we could get consensus across parties in any way that might limit its use.
- The moment when we took evidence down a crackly mobile phone line from inside detention was incredibly powerful. Realising the man giving evidence to us had been in detention in Heathrow IRC for three and a half years was shocking. Another who had previously experienced detention multiple times also gave very strong evidence in person, including a line that stuck in the committee’s mind about counting the days up in detention*.
- I would want to see a time limit of 28 days imposed on how long someone can be detained. But really I want to see the Home office weaned off it’s reliance on detention altogether.
Would you mind if I ask you some questions?
- What do you think the government policy on immigration detention should be?
- What gave you hope when you were detained and gave you strength to carry on? And what gives you strength now?
- What advice do you have for anyone who has experienced detention who might be reading this?
Kind regards, Sarah
xx October 2018, Edinburgh
Thank you for your answers. It is always refreshing to know there is someone who is ready to sand up to an oppressive system.
With regards to your questions,
- I would like to see a reasonable time limit on immigration detention and also it is used in only exceptional cases and as a last resort, as spelled out in the immigration rules. Again there should be an independent body that can supervise the government department responsible for this to avoid abuse. There are clearly defined rules that detention should be used sparingly but because detention has become an industry, detention has become the preferred and easy choice.
- I have to say the first couple weeks was the most difficult and I almost fell into depression, but after a while I realised I had to pull myself together and seek help. I always believed throughout the ordeal that at least there will be someone out there who will listen to me. And speaking to charities like Detention Action and Medical Justice gave me hope that there were some people out there who cared. What gives me strength is the belief that once I have good health there is nothing that I can not do.
- What I would say to people out there reading this is never give up. You only lose when you give up. More importantly, tell your story. These little voices coming together that will send out the greater voice to make a difference. Your voice can make a difference.
Kind regards, K.
Image by @Carcazan