No one left behind: Including people detained in prisons in immigration detention reform

This blog post comes from Benny Hunter at Association for Visitors to Immigration Detainees. AVID is a small, national charity that supports volunteer visitors to people in immigration detention, wherever they are held. AVID has 16 member groups that visit in every detention centre in the UK, and some prisons, and works to raise awareness of immigration detention and advocate for positive change in the detention system.

An earlier version of this blog was published by Right to Remain.

A number of MPs have come forward in support of a time limit on detention and the end to the detention of vulnerable people in IRCs, including Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and a number of Conservative MPs. It is now party policy for the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the SNP. While it’s excellent to see these issues receive cross-party support, those detained in prison are often left forgotten in demands for reform.

In his recent testimony in front of the Home Affairs Committee, Stephen Shaw, author of a recent independent report into the detention of vulnerable people, made an unlikely intervention. He called for an end to the routine deportation of ‘Time-Served Foreign National Offenders’ and described it as “often monstrously disproportionate to the offence”. He said, “I question whether it’s fair for the sixth richest country on earth to expel people who were ‘made’ in this country, who commit crimes here, to third world countries.”

The process of deportation of non-citizens who commit crimes in the UK can be a lengthy one, delayed by complex international bureaucracy and legal appeals – during which time the Home Office often will keep people detained indefinitely in prison. At any one time there are usually upwards of 400 people detained in prisons across the UK under the administrative procedures of the Immigration Acts, having already served their sentence and now awaiting deportation.

Being detained in prison has additional challenges compared with being detained in an immigration removal centre (IRC). There is far less information and external support available and no access to the internet or a mobile phone to research your case or phone a solicitor. In fact, research by Bail for Immigration Detainees last year showed that only 1 in 10 of those held in prison on immigration grounds had access to a legal representative.

There are also no protections for vulnerable people detained in prison, such as survivors of torture or sexual violence. There is no Rule 35 safeguard for people detained in prisons, which under normal circumstances in IRCs allows for medical professionals to call for a review of a person’s suitability for detention on the basis of specific vulnerabilities.

People with deportation orders (including those detained in prisons) are not eligible for the automatic bail hearings introduced earlier this year. Less able to access legal representation and less likely to be released on bail, those detained in prison are at risk of being detained for far longer than those held in IRCs. Quite often the length of time a person spends in detention is totally disproportionate to the prison sentence served.

Last year, one person was detained in the UK for 5 years, 2 weeks and 6 days. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to wait that long, not knowing when you will be deported or released.

Those with refugee status or leave to remain may have their status revoked by a Home Office review, for any criminal offence. Non-UK citizens serving custodial sentences are automatically considered for deportation if their sentence exceeds 12 months but can also be deported after much lighter sentences.

Detention, and the refusal of bail, is often justified on the basis that those who are held “pose a risk to society”. Yet very often such custodial sentences are due to petty crime, related to living in poverty or having no recourse to public funds, or due to immigration crimes such as using false documents.

One of many such examples was reported on by journalist Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, of a teenage boy incarcerated for using false documents, who was held in prison for 16 months after his initial 2-month sentence.

Often those who end up detained in prison grew up in the UK, have their family here and are not aware of their lack of immigration status until they commit a crime and are considered for deportation.

‘Racial bias’ within the England and Wales criminal justice system also weighs against non-UK citizens who commit crimes. In 2016, the David Lammy Review highlighted how ethnic minorities are more likely to receive custodial sentences for some crimes.

No one, regardless of their immigration status or their criminal history, should be deprived of their right to liberty for the convenience of the Home Office and then left in limbo indefinitely.

As we seek out detention reform, we must make sure that we leave no one behind. We must make sure that reform is not only for those seeking asylum but also for undocumented migrants and for those detained in prisons.

While people detained in prison are often a hidden population, a number of volunteer groups provide a vital lifeline of support by visiting. For more information on visiting people detained in prison, contact AVID through our website or see BEST SupportSOAS Detainee SupportDetention ActionMIDST and Liverpool Prisons Visiting Group.

Wondering where people are being detained? AVID and FWDS London have created an interactive map of people detained under immigration powers in prisons across the UK.

“I leave you to judge”: Reflections from a visitor

Image by @Carcazan

This piece comes from Richard (not his real name), a volunteer with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group who has been visiting people detained in Brook House and Tinsley House detention centres for 13 years.  

In 2005 I heard about the work of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and got in touch with them to satisfy my curiosity. Since then I have been one of their many volunteers visiting people detained in Tinsley House and Brook House.

When I talk to people about what I do their eyes typically glaze over and the subject gets changed, maybe with a: “they shouldn’t be here anyway” or “they should be sent back to their countries, where they belong”. Would these people change their minds if they were able to meet and listen to the stories of people who are detained?  I believe they would. That is why the more the plight of people in detention is publicised, the better the chance they will be treated fairly.

It’s possibly true that not all those detained have a legal basis to remain in the UK, but so many have been through such awful experiences that it beggars belief that we choose to lock them up indefinitely, isolated from the support they deserve.

One of the first people I visited was originally from West Africa, but had been brought up since the age of 11 in Europe. Then, some 25 years later, he found himself threatened with removal to a country of which he barely had any recollection. Despite there being no proof that he was from that country, he was removed without appropriate travel documentation and consequently denied entry on arrival. The escorts who had accompanied him on the plane from the UK found a way of changing the minds of the immigration officials and he was allowed in. That marked the beginning of a struggle to start a life without his wife and two sons who he had been forced to leave in the UK, and not knowing any local language or customs. To this day, 11 years later, he is still struggling and cries down the phone to me in desperation.

Another young man was from a war-torn African country, where he had been captured and tortured. He escaped to the UK and was detained while his asylum claim was being processed. When I met him he was in an advanced post-trauma state, suffering from flashbacks and nightmares, plus a good deal of anxiety. He spoke only basic English but conversation did not seem important to him. Each week he met me and sat quietly, often with tears running down his face as he faced his internal demons. Each week I felt my attempts at reassurance and comfort were far too inadequate and doubted he would show up to meet me again next week. But he did.

Do these stories suggest an inadequacy in the detention system of effective legal representation and of support for emotional suffering? I leave you to judge.

Image by @Carcazan

Live Q&A with Marino in Brook House IRC

This week, Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Brook House and Tinsley House detention centres, near Gatwick Airport. The Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group put us in touch with Marino (not his real name), who joined us on the phone from Brook House for a live Twitter Q&A on Thursday afternoon. A huge thank you to Marino for his time and insight.

Read on to find out more…

How to: Help end indefinite detention

Zehrah Hasan is the Policy and Campaigns Assistant at human rights campaigning group Liberty. In this blog, Zehrah writes about Liberty’s campaign to ‘End Indefinite Detention’. Zehrah tweets at @zedhas3

The UK is the only country in Europe that locks up people without release dates.

Alongside other campaign groups, faith leaders and all opposition parties, Liberty is calling for an end to the ineffective, inhuman and unnecessary system of immigration detention – and the first step is a 28-day time limit.

Despite reports in the news, many people are still largely unaware that indefinite detention takes place in the UK, and the reasons why it is happening.

You can help raise awareness, and make an end to this system a reality by taking the very simple steps in Liberty’s End Indefinite Detention campaign toolkit.

More than 55,000 people have signed our petition, calling for a 28-day time limit – and it’s about time Ministers took note of the wide public condemnation of indefinite detention

It is crucial that we all come together to make the case for a 28-day time limit loud and clear.

Evidence shows that people’s mental health significantly deteriorates after just one month in detention.

And Home Office guidance says 28 days is a sufficient period of time to effect someone’s removal from the UK, where certain conditions are met, even in complex cases. If the purpose of detention is indeed removal, then this time limit could and should apply to all detention cases.

There is also clearly no justification for indefinite detention when comparing it to time limits for deprivations of liberty in other legislative contexts. Pre-charge bail, for example, is limited to 28 days – and the justification is that “in many cases… being imposed on people for many months, or even years, without any judicial oversight – and that cannot be right.” The same logic must also apply for immigration detention.

A 28-day time limit has long been called for by parliamentarians, the UN and human rights campaigners alike – and the more people who throw their support behind it, the more MPs are likely to listen. Remember – they work for you. Sign the petition today.

Liberty is also asking MPs to sign a pledge to commit to legislating for a 28-day time limit in the upcoming Immigration Bill – and nearly 600 people have sent postcards to their MPs urging them to do just that. You too can send a postcard for free today.

Lobbying MPs is a vital tool to make sure those with decision-making power are properly informed and listen to the concerns of their constituents.

You can personalise your postcard to include anything about indefinite detention that you find particularly troubling. A few facts to get you started include:

    • Detention costs the public purse millions every year – roughly £76 million.
    • The majority of people in detention are released back into the community – by the end of June 2018, at least 56 per cent were granted leave to remain or released on immigration bail.
    • Evidence shows that the severity of harm to a person’s mental health increases drastically after just one month in detention.
  • Respected professional bodies, including the British Medical Association and the Bar Council, have joined the call for a time limit.

Indefinite detention is a waste of money and devastates lives. Only with parliamentary support can we end this system.

Liberty’s Campaign Pack includes everything you need to take the campaign into your own hands and educate others.  It includes event ideas and activities, testimonies of people in detention, further reading, and our three-step guide to lobbying your MP.

With these practical tools to hand, people across the country can help inform and organise around this issue. Whether in a school, workplace, community group or among family and friends, by discussing the problems and raising awareness, you can help end indefinite detention once and for all.

Order a Campaign Pack from our website today.

Indefinite detention is a stain on the UK’s human rights record – yet thousands of people continue to be deprived of their liberty every day.

As one of the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers said in March 2018*:

“The protest is about their system of indefinite detention … They detain people who came to this country as minors and who are culturally British. They wait until they are 18 and then they are detained … Why do they detain them? You keep them here for more than a month, that’s torture enough … They will tell you that they have proper medical facilities. But you will wait for a month to see a doctor … After three days of hunger striking, we don’t know what is going to happen. But we have given the Home Office our viewpoints … Please take action to talk to the Home Office. Our voices aren’t heard because we are in here … Help us out there, to get our voices out. It’s important that people can hear our anger.”

If you agree that this injustice must end, take action today.

*Testimony kindly shared by Detained Voices.

#28for28: Working for “the better imagined”

Refugees Tales Logo | Unlocked19

This blog comes from Anna Pincus at the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group about her work with Refugee Tales’ ’28 tales for 28 days’. This campaign began on 11 September and featured the release of 28 videos of tales over 28 days, to highlight the need for a 28 day time limit for immigration detention. The finale of #28for28 was The Detainee’s Tale written by Ali Smith read in the Palace of Westminster by Niamh Cusack on 25 October. Anna tweets at @AnnaPincus1 and @RefugeeTales

It was an idea born in an informal meeting in the House of Lords. We’d discussed recent experiences of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group visitors and frustrations at the lack of bail addresses, with people being released from detention to no address. We’d shared that the Panorama documentary about Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) had won a BAFTA but that in spite of the toxic culture revealed, G4S had their contract renewed to run the IRC. We’d agreed that indefinite detention was indefensible and it was almost time to end the meeting when a Peer said ‘Why not show videos of the tales in a calendar? How about releasing one tale each day for 28 days?’ Highlight the need for a 28 day time limit?

It sounded beautiful in its simplicity. A secular advent calendar! We left to make plans. Our publisher, Comma Press, swung into action. The simple idea needed funds. Lots of funds for the filming. Actors and writers reading the tales gave their time for free but the travel, filming and video editing time needed money we didn’t have. We turned to Crowdfunder for the first time and incredibly, after 28 days, we had 170 donors who had pledged over £12,000. We had individually given money before to crowdfunding projects and we knew how that felt – there was a pleasure and satisfaction in the giving. What we were unprepared for was how we would feel as the donations were pledged when we were receiving the funds. Most came with a comment: ‘the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group is not only doing a vital job highlighting the injustice of indefinite detention – with the Refugee Tales project they are doing it with creativity and inspiration’ and ‘indefinite detention has been happening for far too long. Let’s see that 2019 brings it to an end’. We were left with a sense of the trust our supporters had given us. And we were hugely encouraged by the fact that most supporters were unknown to us. Public feeling against indefinite detention was manifesting through our appeal for funds. This was the first miracle.

Finding places to film wasn’t easy but Becca at Comma searched for free space and it came to us from Liberty, Fyvie Hall, John Rylands Library Manchester, Cambridge University, the Poetry School, Shakespeare Institute, Chethams Library, the Bar Council to name a few. We approached Niamh Cusack who is a good friend of the project having hosted an event in Canterbury in our first year. Niamh generously explained our request to actors who were generous in turn and agreed to read at short notice. Before long we had Kamila Shamsie, Jeremy Irons, Maxine Peake, Patrick Gale, Neel Mukherjee, Zoe Wanamaker, Christopher Eccleston, Abdulrazak Gurnah and many more. The film maker, Ricardo, of SagittaMedia became used to the commute from Manchester to London ‘turtle like’ with his filming equipment packed into a bag on his back and Mary Barrett from our team took the role of shoot assistant along with Isabel, Oliver, Sylvia, Nicky and Sal. We were soon planning crowdfunding rewards, allocating tales to actors to read, and having extraordinary conversations (whilst still trying to find emergency accommodation for people released from detention with no address). Nima Taleghani can read The Smuggled Person’s Tale by Jackie Kay. Julie Hesmondhalgh can read The Dependant’s Tale by Marina Lewycka’. And when the first film was delivered and we watched it to check it was fine… Then all of a sudden we realised the simple-sounding idea was complex in its realization. All the varied powerful emotions of the tales were laid out before us. And as we watched many tales as they were delivered, we sensed that they set out systemic failings and repeated themes. The connections made us feel that this collection was a powerful tool to highlight injustices that demanded change. This was the second unexpected miracle.

Another meeting and another idea. Molly Rosenberg at the Royal Society of Literature suggested that the RSL share space on their website for the tales. For them this would particularly be the tales read or written by their Fellows. It was agreed we would write to other literary organisations inviting them to do the same. The email went out and very soon we had organisations all over the country hashtag sharing space with #28for28. And once this was aired on Twitter, further people contacted us and asked to share space. Thank you Molly and Annette. This was the third miracle.

When launch day arrived, we were unprepared for the intensity of the experience. In a large charity the social media may be run by people who may not also be working with traumatised clients. We were doing it all. And because we knew the subject of each tale and the detail of their suffering, each tweet and each post had an emotional weight as the torture or brutality was brought into sharp focus. Day three and 25 to go. We wondered at times how we could bear the multiple layering of stories. And soon it slipped into a routine. Get up – tweet 10 times to cover the morning commute. And we started to hear from the public ‘I get up at 6 and get ready for work to sit down at 6.30am to watch the tale’. ‘Do you realise it was posted after 6.30am today? I had to carry it round and watch while I got ready for work’. People with limited mobility who hadn’t been able to attend our walk or events were eager to see the videos. People who had seen the tales read during a Refugee Tales walk said when they watched the reading they saw a new detail, felt it in a different way, they cried, ‘I wept into my cereal’, and encouraged us: ‘I can’t wait to see each morning which tale is next’. We had wanted the tales to be read, then watched in this video manifestation and we hadn’t imagined how it would feel to hear from viewers about their experience of the tales. The feedback made us aware of our audience in a vivid way and there was a shared sense of outrage emerging. People watched and wanted to do something. To walk with us or write to their MPs. This was the fourth miracle.

There are so many highlights of the videos of tales. Jeremy Irons was strong in his telling of the Prologue. Niamh’s understanding was exquisite in the Detainee’s Tale. Nima Taleghani left us with hope at the end of Jackie Kay’s final tale of the 28. And the messages keep coming: ‘I watched the tales and I want to walk’.  ‘My MP says he’ll meet me with you’. ‘Can I still donate?’

We realise we measured time in story. Opening out the 28 days has given us a new sense of the time. It felt a long time. An age. It felt too long to be incarcerated and not a lot to ask. And the tales remaining on the website calendar have more work to do. They need to be shown and seen. We have talked to picture houses and galleries, to local groups keen to walk and arrange showings of the films in community centres and church halls. 700,000 people connected with the tales on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook alone. Yes, as before, we are left looking for accommodation for people released with nowhere to go but now when we do that work we have a keen sense of a growing body of people walking alongside us and with the same hope for an end to indefinite detention. We’re looking to the next miracles and all of a sudden our goal of legislative change feels as if it has the support of a movement.

Join us and watch the videos if you haven’t seen them yet. A summary film of 28 statements about indefinite detention was released at the finale event of the project in the Palace of Westminster and this is a powerful presentation of many issues about detention voiced by writers and actors thanks to the excellent work of Ricardo at Sagitta Media. Here is the link:

The calendar is open on; please do share and write to your MP. As Ali Smith wrote, we are working ‘for the better imagined’. We handed the baton to #Unlocked18 and thank the Detention Forum for the opportunity to reflect on #28for28.


Week 1: Launching #Unlocked18

Image by @Carcazan

Welcome to our first weekly roundup for #Unlocked18. Each week of the tour, we’ll be recapping what’s been shared the previous week so you can look back to find your favourite content or see what you’ve missed.

Preparation began for this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, now in its 5th year, began well before last week’s launch.

The first week of #Unlocked18 officially began on 22 October. The tour runs until International Migrants Day on 18 December, visiting a different detention centre each week and featuring content from people currently in detention, people who have previously been detained, local and national organisations, volunteer visitors, faith groups and more. You can find the tour schedule here.

Welcome to #Unlocked18

Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani welcomed followers old and new to the 5th year of Unlocking Detention, taking the chance to look back over what’s been achieved during those 5 years, and what is still to come.

Red’s poem: When I become untamed

Red, a member of the Freed Voices, recorded ‘When I become untamed’, a poem he wrote while detained in Colnbrook detention centre, near Heathrow, for 10 months. Red’s poem is accompanied by a haunting illustration by Detention Forum volunteer Shadia.

(The Freed Voices are a group of experts-by-experience campaigning for immigration detention reform. For those of you wanting more information about ‘experts-by-experience’ and other technical terms, we’ve published a glossary of detention-related jargon – or read on below!)

Mishka’s drawings: depicting wisdom

Mishka, also a member of the Freed Voices, contributed a series of drawings based on his time in Harmondsworth detention centre. The drawings evoke the often unthinking cruelty inherent in the immigration detention system. They reflect Mishka’s use of black humour in not only surviving but also finding wisdom in his experience of being detained.

Immigration detention glossary

As part of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we’ve published a glossary of detention-related terms that you may or not have come across before, starting with ‘indefinite detention’ and ending with ‘judicial oversight’. Please feel free to share these images yourself, and let us know if there’s others you think we should add.

Immigration detention timeline: from 2014 to today

As this is the 5thyear of Unlocking Detention, we are taking the opportunity to look at key events in the the story of immigration detention reform since it began in 2014. We’ll be releasing a series of interviews with people involved in detention reform over the years and will update the timeline as we go.

Get involved

In addition to following @Detention Forum and #Unlocked18 on Twitter and Facebook, there are other ways you can get involved with Unlocking Detention. You can spread the word online and in person, tweet us a ‘selfie’ with one of our message cards, attend an event near you, or volunteer with a local visitors group. You can find more suggestions about how to get involved and take action on our website.

We can make this world like heaven, or we can make it like hell

This blog comes from Rafiq, who was detained in Brook House Immigration Removal Centre. It was originally published by No Walls. Rafiq is not his real name but has been chosen to protect his identity. 

My name is Rafiq. I am an asylum-seeker from Bangladesh. I was persecuted in my home country because of my membership of the opposition party. If I go back there I will be dead. But the Home Office locked me in detention, in Brook House, and threatened to send me back to Bangladesh. I want to speak out about what I experienced there, and I want to talk about how we can fight for justice. 


In Brook House detention centre we were locked in our rooms over 13 hours a day. I felt trapped. And the rooms were disgusting. In every room there is a toilet, but it didn’t have a lid or even a screen. This means that your room-mates can see you on the toilet. This is humiliating and degrading. I used to try to hold on and not use the toilet, but this was excruciating and very uncomfortable. I used to deliberately eat less food so that I wouldn’t need the toilet. Detention is like hell. 

Also, I couldn’t pray in the room as it was not clean, you cannot properly follow Islam with a toilet in the room in which you pray and with this sort of uncleanliness and smell within the room. The room smells badly, but you can’t open the windows, they are locked. It made me feel so ill.  


I wanted justice. I told my solicitors to write a letter to the Home Office, to say my detention and the conditions I was suffering in were illegal. The Home Office released me, but I continued with the case in court. I didn’t want anyone to go through what I went through.  

The case was heard in the High Court earlier this year. I went every day. The judge said that the Home Office had failed to look at the rights of Muslim detainees properly, and had discriminated against them.  

I was so grateful, it was an honour to be able to bring this respect for others. It was worth making this fight, everyone should come forward and fight.  


Life isn’t easy now. I don’t sleep properly at night, I have sleeping pills but they don’t work. I have flashbacks every night, because of the Home Office and what I experienced in detention.  

I find it hard to trust anyone, I can’t look at other people, I don’t feel normal, I don’t make friends, I don’t feel safe. I have mental health issues and PTSD, because of what I experienced in Bangladesh and in detention.  

I haven’t seen my family for eight years now, can you imagine, and for a long time I wasn’t even able to communicate with them. I don’t get any asylum-support from the government. I don’t get a house, any shelter, any food.  

Life is like, when you go to sleep, and you are dead, then you wake up and you are still alive, and you are grateful to be alive. I look out the window and I think “Oh, I see, it’s the UK, then life is going on.” It’s not a happy life, but if I was in Bangladesh, I would be dead. That’s what life is like.  


I really want to sort this mess out. The Home Office is totally dark. That’s the main problem. You can’t touch them, you can’t see them, you can’t speak to them. If it is dark, you can’t do anything. We really need to know who is organising this.  

But we need to fight for justice so that the rules and regulations are fair for everyone. When I was in detention, we had people from all over the world, from Asia, Africa, Europe, we were all the same, we were all suffering, we have the same emotions, the same feelings. The rules are not fair, they discriminate and are racist. The Home Office just changes the rules for their benefit. But justice should be fair for everyone.  

I changed things by taking it to court. This country has a great and fair justice and I know people around the world follow British justice. I really love it. I went to court every day when my case was being heard. I really want to change things for everyone, not just myself; I love to share with everyone.  


My advice to anyone fighting the Home Office darkness is this: stay strong. You need to be very strong. You should try to understand the rules and the regulations, fight for justice, go to the court. If we fight, one day it will be right and fair for everyone.  

We have the ability to change these things, but nothing will change unless we fight. We have to come together, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand. We have to come forward, and look for justice.  

I am a Muslim, I am human, and I have to respect everyone, and all creatures.  

If you respect other humans, it doesn’t matter where they come from, they will respect you. We are living for each other, but first we have to change ourselves. If we don’t change ourselves, then how can we change others? 

So we are living for each other. We can make this world like heaven, or we can make it like hell. It’s all in our hands.  

Image by @Carcazan


Depicting wisdom: Drawings from detention

Trigger warning: suicide and self-harm

Like Red, whose poem we published earlier this week, Mishka is a member of the Freed Voices, a group of experts-by-experience who are committed to speaking out about the realities of immigration detention in the UK. In this blog, Mishka talks about the following images he drew based on his time in immigration detention. Mishka writes under a pseudonym and tweets @Mishka_anonym

I made these artworks a few months ago but so far I had only shared them on Twitter. Therefore I am glad that these will be shared on Unlocking Detention 2018 as well.

The reason I decided to create these pieces was to give a message to others who are not very aware of these experiences of immigration control. I hope that they will get the message I was intending to convey.

Audience-wise, I made these for people with compassion and empathy – but not sympathy because sympathy turns me off – who would get the message I was trying to convey.

I drew these artworks using computer software called Sketch Book Express. I drew them a few years after I was released, between November 2017 and February 2018. I was released from detention in 2014.

I enjoyed drawing them. I remember I used to draw one per week at that time. Even though my drawing skills are basic, I thought I would be able to convey a meaningful, strong message in the form of an artwork. A few people have told me that these drawings give a strong message, and I believe them.

The time it took to draw each of these varied. I would say on average it took 30 minutes to draw each one but some took a bit more time.

There must have been a trigger for me to choose these themes. For example: I remember why I decided to draw about reporting with the Home Office. It was because I remembered at the beginning of this year, my mum was asked to report with the Home Office. I grasped that she did not like going to report with the Home Office and was nervous, and I understood why.

I have been in that position before. This is why I decided to draw the painting about reporting with the Home Office. I had been in mum’s position, and I grasped the set of feelings that would have gone inside her mind when she was asked to report with the Home Office. So, I put that in a drawing.

The reason I drew the painting with chains and handcuffs is because they actually took me to the hospital A&E department in 2014 with a long chain and handcuffed with two detainee officers on both sides while hundreds of patients and visitors were watching, just like in the drawing.

What I happened was, while I was in detention, I became very ill. Then they took me to the A&E department. I could not even walk due to the severe pain caused by my illness, but this is how they took me to the hospital. I was chained to the hospital bed as well.

I still remember people were looking at me with confused faces. Even though it was a hard experience at that time, now in a way it feels funny when I remember the faces and reactions of those confused people, visitors, patients.

I had a long beard at that time, as I did not care about grooming my beard while I was in detention. I was heavily tattooed and I was escorted by two detainee officers on both sides, with chains and handcuffs. People in the in the hospital were like, “Who is this peculiar alien?” This particular first-hand experience is the reason I drew this.

All these artworks are directly linked to my past difficult and painful experiences that I had endured. In other words, these themes that I have chosen are about unpleasant or painful experiences that I have overcome already. Before I started drawing any of these, I looked back at those memories and experiences to envisage ‘old me’ in that position. Then, I draw these, adding a bit of black humour as well.

Lastly, the pain and traumatic experiences you endure in life eventually turn into wisdom. This wisdom helps you to see the world differently with a greater understanding. Also, the pain and harsh experiences you go through in your life can break you, but they can make you as well. So, when I drew these drawings, the pain and trauma blended into these drawings had already healed and turned into wisdom. These themes no longer feel painful or unpleasant; instead, it feels like they depict wisdom.

With thanks to Mishka for sharing his thoughts and drawings.

If you would like to share your own drawings, paintings, photographs or other visual images as part of Unlocking Detention, please get in touch on Twitter (#Unlocked18) or at

“When I become untamed”: Reflections on life in detention

Trigger warning: references to death

This poem was written and recorded by Red*, a member of the Freed Voices. The Freed Voices are a group of experts-by-experience, people with lived experience of immigration detention who are committed to speaking out about the realities of immigration detention in the UK. Between them, they have lost over 20 years to detention.

Here, Red tells us about the context of writing ‘When I become untamed’.

I was in immigration detention for 10 months. I thought that I would be there for a short period of time until things were clarified. I thought I was there due to a misunderstanding. I have always been naive, and this time was no exception. 

I wrote this poem while I was detained in Colnbrook IRC, near Heathrow airport. I was held in Colnbrook the whole time I was detained, until I was released earlier this year.

Writing a poem was a way to exorcise the demons that grow inside you while you are in detention: feeling hopeless, helpless and oppressed; feeling like there’s nowhere to go and there’s nothing you can do to overcome the situation. In detention, there’s only uncertainty and you have to fight to stay alive and keep your mind sane. All the frustration and negativity that grows inside you can take control of your thoughts and your life. I was trying to defend myself from all these things when I wrote this poem. It is inspired by the impossibility of communicating with members of my family while I was in detention.

*Red is not his real name but has been chosen to protect his identity.

Image by @Carcazan


Immigration detention: The glossary

To help navigate the world of immigration detention, we’ve created a visual glossary with key terms and acronyms you might come across during Unlocking Detention.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is an Immigration Removal Centre?

There are 8 immigration removal or detention centres across the UK where people can be locked up indefinitely, plus a number of other ‘short term holding facilities’ where people can be held for less time. You can find a list here. People can also be detained under immigration powers in prisons.

I’ve heard the term ‘indefinite detention’ before – what does that mean? How long can people be detained for?

Along with many other organisations, experts-by-experience, parliamentarians and others, the Detention Forum is calling for an end to indefinite detention. You can read more about why we are asking for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention here.

Hang on, what’s an ‘expert-by-experience’?

To learn more about experts-by-experience and see them in action, take a look at the Freed Voices, a group whose members have lost over 20 years in immigration detention in the UK.

Who else is keeping an eye on immigration detention in the UK? Where can I find out more?

These are just some of the experts and organisations keeping an eye on immigration detention policy and practice in the UK. You can find out more about them, and see some of the reports they have published, here.

I can see that the Detention Forum is calling for certain changes to be made, including a 28 day time limit on detention. But what does ‘judicial oversight’ mean?

You can read more about our call for automatic judicial oversight (and other changes that the Detention Forum would like to see) here.

And what is an ‘alternative to detention’?

Alternatives to detention can be difficult to understand at first glance. Read our FAQ for more information.

If you would like to share these images yourself, you can download them here.

If you see a term you’re not sure about, let us know and we can add it to the glossary. You can contact us via Twitter (#Unlocked18) or email (