Safiyyah (not her real name) has lived in the UK with her family over ten years. She explains how she was suddenly detained with her sister at a reporting centre, then taken to Sahara Unit in Harmondsworth detention centre and later to Yarls Wood detention centre.
My orange dress with a black cardigan are my detention clothes – I was wearing them when I was
detained on one Thursday. Even today when I wear them, I call them “my detention clothes”. That is
the day which I can never forget.
My family need to report every four weeks. When we arrived there around 9:30am on that
Thursday, my sister and I were told by an immigration officer at the counter that we had a short
interview booked and we had to wait.
We were separated from our mother and made to wait in a locked interview room where even the
windows were locked. It was airless. About an hour later, someone came to give us another security
check. They left and locked us from outside again.
Hours passed and by mid-afternoon, my sister and I were started to feel hungry and also desperately
needed to go to the toilet. The chairs we were sitting were uncomfortable. Another officer was
passing by, so we knocked the door from inside and told him that it has been a very long time for a
The officer then came in and told us that our case has been refused and the refusal letter had been
sent. I was surprised, because we did not receive it and told him that. He was adamant that we did
receive it, either us or our solicitor, but we calmly assured him that we had not received any such
letter. He then said that he was going to go back to his office and bring proof of the recorded
delivery and that it had been received by us. He came back around an hour later, and said he was
not able to find any tracking number for the post but it did not matter, as he can serve it to us in
person now. He wrote down the date on the top of the refusal letter, gave it to us and said we had
now been detained.
My sister and I started panicking. He said that he had already informed our mother about our
detention and she had gone to the solicitor to apply for bail. We were then moved from the
interview room to a holding room: all the people there were crying, knowing that they were in a
serious situation. We were being taken to Harmondsworth detention centre.
The immigration officer then came to the holding room and gave us our mother’s phone, it wasn’t a
smart phone, so we were allowed to have it. Then the phone rang after a few minutes – it was our
mother. We started screaming into the phone “Please get us out of here.” and we could hear our
mother also crying hysterically on the other end of the line.
“That night was torture for us”
We then waited there for hours for the immigration van. All the men were taken first, and we waited
for the van to come back. It was around 10pm by this time. I saw they were putting handcuffs on
everyone to take them from the building to the vans outside. They put the handcuffs on my sister
first and when I saw this, it felt as if everything had finished for me. I must have cried all the way
from the reporting centre to the detention centre.
When we reached there, they took our pictures and had a nurse look at us where I told the nurse
that I take anti-depressants and he gave me some. Then they provided us with some food but by
that time, we were not hungry at all. Afterwards, they took us to the Sahara Unit which is the female
only unit in Harmondsworth with 13 rooms. The rooms face each other and each room contains
three beds but only two people are allocated to each room. My sister and I were given one room
together. That night was a torture for us.
Next day, an immigration officer came to see us and handed us a letter. It said our removal was
imminent and our deportation flight was booked in four days. After hearing this, I could feel that my
mental condition was deteriorating. I felt hopeless and helpless. My sister was sleeping and I could
not discuss with her but I felt as if I had to tell someone about my condition. I went to the welfare
team in our unit and they then filled out a Rule 35 form for me that night. And the next morning, I
was placed on a constant watch for my own safety.
The deportation date was approaching. I knew my mother and an MP were doing everything they
can to get us out of this situation and I was feeling worse. I was sitting waiting for my turn to see a
nurse, when the welfare officer walked in and told me that our flight had been deferred. I fainted as
soon as I heard the news and I was treated by the nurse. But, later on, we also received the bad
news that we were going to be moved to Yarl’s Wood detention centre the next afternoon.
Unsupervised and not in handcuffs
At Yarl’s Wood, we were then called to attend another interview. It began again with the
immigration officer asking us that if we knew why we were brought to the detention centre, when
another officer came into the room and asked the immigration officer to go with him somewhere. As
soon as he left, a chilling sensation went through me that maybe another flight has been booked for
us. My sister and I were just crying. The immigration officer then came back into the interview room
and gave us the best news that we had been released on bail. The officers then gave us a train ticket
from Bedford to our place. When we walked outside unsupervised and not in handcuffs, we felt like
we got our freedom and life back.
After the detention, our family have become more protective of each other and more close-knit.
Before when we used to go to reporting, it would just be normal but now when we go, it feels as if
we are walking into a prison. All three of us shiver with fear as soon as we walk into the reporting
centre building. I feel as if my heart will burst out of my chest and this horrible feeling is there every
time we report now.
I am actually confused as to what the ending to this blog could be. Obviously, my main purpose for
writing this piece was so that the people see our situation and the Home Office gives us visa that we
need. But my hope for the future is also that no one goes through what we and what thousands or
millions of others go through each second in immigration detention. That humiliation and the
betrayal by the Home office where they use the “detain first and ask questions later” tactic. We just
want to live in the UK and integrate and contribute to the society in a positive way.