'The fight is in the street' – our reflections on #Unlocked17

As our volunteers plan for the Detention Forum’s work for 2018, here are some more reflections on #Unlocked17.

Here’s Gareth, with his message!

Gareth said: “Every blog I read moved me in one way or another; out of all those ’Nobody’ was incredibly powerful but Five Guys sent my head spinning. 
Miska writes brilliantly; in just a few words he paints a very clear and graphic picture of each of the five people. Despite the extreme nature of the circumstances, somehow his writing is very matter of fact. Maybe that’s because he could relate directly to the issues and emotions that affected each of five. 
Through his account of these situations, Miska also explains what he was dealing with.
Miska’s account of his ‘big’ bother’s plight hit me the most. As a twin myself, I was staggered by how Miska could write so objectively about his bother’s attempted suicide and deportation.
 
I don’t know whether recording that helped Miska deal with the trauma, but I hope so. 
I wondered how I would have felt in Miska’s shoes during his final meet with his brother: “That handshake was the hardest moment in my life. I haven’t seen him again since” 
Romany (left) and Alice after the parliamentary meeting we organised.

Romany said: “I chose the Unlocked article written by ‘Jose’ of the freed voices group titled ‘Walls of resistance’. It is an incredibly personal account, giving detail of how experiencing detention has made him increasingly political and the way in which this is reflected in the images he displays on his wall. The detail he gives each picture brings up many themes of the Unlocked campaign.
What stuck out for me from the article was the spirit and courage that runs throughout the entire article. It highlights the different ways to resist the oppression of the system, on both a personal/internal level and more systemically. He speaks about how music helped him to survive and finding the strength mentally within himself; ‘I want to get violent with my words, with my struggle, but not necessarily with my body’. His determination continues when he talks about wanting to change the system, on the photo of Karl Marx: ‘It’s more a reminder that it is important to hold on to an idea about how society could, and should, be better.‘
The last thing that I think perfectly resonates with the Unlocked17 campaign is in relation to ‘The Demonstration’ which he says reminds him that ‘the fight is in the street’. The whole #Unlocked17 campaign has been trying to encourage people to fight for the change; he summarises this eloquently as he states ‘The responsibility for the human disgrace of detention must be shared’. Once again, it shows the necessity for expert-by-experience’s involvement in the struggle for detention reform.”
Finally, Eiri said: “That each story is told through a unique voice is what’s captivating about #Unlocked17 blog collection. So it’s hard to pick one from it, but the one that personally stood out for me this year was Ijeoma’s piece, in which she describes what happened when she was detained as a child and its aftereffect. She talks about how it took her almost 10 years before she was able to return to her normal self after detention.
Before #Unlocked17 started, I was standing in an empty canteen in since-then closed the Vern detention centre, helping a queue of men seeking advice. One man, he had the saddest eyes, looked at me, lifted a plastic bag full of paperwork and said ‘There must have been a mistake.’ He was only detained a few days ago, when he was least expecting it.
I woke up from a dream the following morning, hearing his words again. Yes, there must have been a mistake indeed. What sort of mistake are we making, as a society, treating people like this?
Reading Ijeoma’s piece, the man’s words returned to me. If it took her Ijeoma 10 years to recover, how many years will it take, as a society, to recover this practice of mass, indefinite, detention of migrants? What story will Ijeoma, half my age, be telling others about our society in the future? What choices will we be making to undo this mistake? And what actions will be taking for the story of our future?”

The guide to #Unlocked17 blogs is here!

Thank you for following Unlocking Detention in 2017!  We have listed all the blogs that were published during #Unlocked on this webpage for easy reference. Did you have any particular favourite? If so, tweet at us at @DetentionForum and let us know!
16 October: Welcome to #Unlocked17
16 October: ‘Do you know what immigration detention is?’ Part 1 Told by Mrs A, expert-by-experience
17 October: ‘Do you know what immigration detention is?’ Part 2 Told by Mrs A, expert-by-experience 
As we begin this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we are sharing this two-part series by Mrs A, submitted by her solicitor at Duncan Lewis. We have not met Mrs A. We have no idea who she is.  We understand that she was detained herself and wants to tell you about the secret world of immigration detention.  And here it is, her take on immigration detention in the United Kingdom.
17 October: #Unlocked17 – a beginners’ level quiz
18 October: For groups wanting to support Unlocking Detention
One of the themes of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour is action.  We are distributing the following material for groups interested in joining the tour.  Please feel free to use them, share with others and so on!
18 October: Verne closes, Shaw looms
Detention Action has been running advice surgeries every month at the Verne detention centre, which is set to close at the end of this year.  Jerome Phelps, Director of Detention Action, considers what our next task is.  
18 October: “We need it now. People are dying.” Freed Voices lobbying for #Time4aTimeLimit
The theme of this year’s Unlocking Detention is ‘action’ so who better to hear from than the Freed Voices group. Earlier this week, Mishka from Freed Voices joined campaigners Fred Ashmore and Timothy Gee from the Quakers to lobby the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable. We sat down with Mishka to ask him a few questions about the experience.
20 October: ‘The Seamed Zones’
Where does ‘invisibility’ of immigration detention centres start?  Ben du Preez, Campaigns Coordinator at Detention Action, stares into the gap between nonplace-ness of detention centres and their material human impact and finds hope in Experts-By-Experience’s power to bring the truth to light.  
Week 2: Yarl’s Wood 
23 October: ‘Everyday in Yarl’s Wood is a struggle’
Boatemaa* was detained in Yarl’s Wood earlier this year.  She was recently released from Yarl’s Wood, to continue with her asylum case, after four months in detention.  She shares her story here.  
24 October: Photo essay ‘To Yarl’s Wood detention centre’
Yarl’s Wood detention centre is perhaps the most high-profile centres in the UK.  This photo essay is for those of you who have never been to this detention centre.
25 October: ‘A country I had called home for 13 years had imprisoned me.’
Families with children were regularly detained at Yarl’s Wood and Dungavel detention centres until the change of policy in 2010 drastically reduced the number of children detained.  Now, a smaller number of families with children are detained in an unit within Tinsley detention centre.  But what happened to many children who were detained at Yarl’s Wood and who are turning into adults in the UK?  Ijeoma Datha-Moore, from Let Us Learn, looks back on her 15-year-old self who suddenly found her and her family detained at Yarl’s Wood.  When she finished writing this piece, Ijeoma said ‘I’ve done it. I can’t tell you how odd it felt, but empowering. I am so proud of myself for being able to do this.’ A big thank you to Ijeoma for sharing her story with Unlocking Detention. 
26 October: Remembering My First Time
Though no official survey exists, UK is one of the few countries around the world where each detention centre has a dedicated visitor’s group, in addition to other groups who visit formally and informally multiple centres.  Hundreds of people must be regularly visiting those held in detention centres, but what does visiting really do?  Sonja Miley of Waging Peace write how she found an answer to this question, during her very first visit to Yarl’s Wood.
Week 2 summary blog: #Unlocked17 visits Yarls Wood
Week 3: Brook House and Tinsley House
30 October: ‘I try to forget about everything that I went through at Brook House.’
Paul* was removed from Brook House to Jamaica earlier this year, after being detained for over two years.  For the last six months of his detention, he had signed up to return voluntarily.  Paul talked to Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, who supported him during his detention, about his attempt to ‘forget about everything’ that he went through at Brook House.  (This is not his real name.)
31 October: Why political pressure needs to be ramped up now
The Detention Forum which runs Unlocking Detention is a network of many groups who have been working together to challenge UK’s immigration detention policy and practice.  Jon Featonby, one of its Coordination Group members, explains why now is the time for everyone to start taking action against detention. 
Week 3 summary blog: #Unlocked17 visits Brook House and Tinsley House
Week 4: Prisons and Short Term Holding Facilities
6 November: ‘There are no real seasons in detention. It’s just a grey blur. White noise.’
Immigration detention is sometimes described as ‘administrative detention in prison-like conditions’.  And the Home Office can detain people under immigration powers in prisons. In fact, as at 26 June 2017, there were 360 people held in prison establishments in England and Wales as “immigration detainees”. But what are the differences between being held in prisons and being held in detention centres?  Sam, from the Freed Voices, contemplates on this question. This piece was originally published in May 2017 by Detention Action.   
7 November: ‘No one has even thought of me or visited me’ – immigration detention in prisons
When we talk about immigration detention, of course we think of immigration detention centres.  But hundreds of people are also detained as “immigration detainees” in many ordinary prisons.  Ali McGinley of AVID shines light on this forgotten group of people and their daily struggles to be heard.
7 November: Parliamentary meeting on immigration detention on 16 November – is your MP attending?
8 November: An open letter: “My name is Nobody”
For many involved in asylum and migration justice work, immigration detention was a taboo subject for a long time and, in some quarters, it still is. One of the reasons for this is the mixed nature of those incarcerated. It is not just “model” asylum seekers who find themselves in detention: people from all sorts of experiences and life trajectories get incarcerated because they do not have a right type of passport or visa. But ‘As a society, how and who do we deem worthy of our empathy?’. Isabel Lima, visual artist and researcher, shares with Unlocking Detention her open letter about Nobody, a man with ‘many qualities and faults’ who finds himself in limbo. This letter is based on a true story and Nobody was anonymised for security reasons. 
9 November: If I am ever detained
There is understandably huge interest in knowing what immigration detention centres look like: barbed wire and prohibition of cameras inside the centres increase people’s curiosity.  But can you see the impact of immigration detention with your eyes?  What does immigration detention do to us? In this blog, Eiri Ohtani (@EiriOhtani), the Project Director of the Detention Forum shares her reflection and that of her colleague, Heather Jones (@Heather_Jones5) who has been visiting Yarl’s Wood detention centre for many years. They visited Alice* who was detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. (This is not her real name.)
Week 4 summary blog: Week 4: Prisons and Short Term Holding Facilities
Week 5: The Verne
13 November: ‘The Verne is closing but for those of us who experienced it, it will always be open’
We are told that the Verne detention centre will be closed at the end of 2017.  But is it really closing in the minds of those who were detained there? ‘Juan’ from Freed Voices responds to this news with this poem.
13 November: “When you see injustice – speak out!”: These Walls Must Fall in Manchester
Without people taking action, change won’t happen.  Luke Butterly of Right to Remain reports back on a recent campaign event of These Walls Must Fall which took place in Manchester.  This blog was originally published on Right to Remain’s website here.  
14 November: Won’t somebody please think of the children
The impact of immigration detention is not confined behind the gates of the detention centres: it involves people’s children, families, friends etc. Nick Watts is a child & family practitioner and co-founder of the charity Migrant Family Action, that provides specialist social work, advocacy and youth work to families who are oppressed as a result of their immigration status. Nick explains here what types of impact immigration detention has on children whose family member is detained.
15 November: The Verne IRC: on either side of the razor wire
Maddie Biddlecombe is a member of Verne Visitors Group in Portland and sent us this reflection.  The Verne detention centre is set to close at the end of 2017.   
16 November: Trafficked into detention
Trafficked people in detention are being denied the full protection of the Home Office’s flagship system for protecting victims of modern slavery, according to new research by Detention Action. Many victims of trafficking are taken to high-security detention centres after being picked up in raids on places of exploitation such as cannabis factories. Once in detention, they are treated as irregular migrants to be removed, and find it difficult to access support for victims of modern slavery. Susannah Wilcox of Detention Action explains how came to light through Detention Action’s casework and what their research found. 
16 November: Going Behind the Walls
Located on the Isle of Portland, off Weymouth in Dorset, the Verne epitomises the Government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to detention. In this blog, Ruth Jacobson of the Verne Visitors Group describes how this isolation compounds the many harms of indefinite detention, how the group seeks to challenge this, and their reaction to the announced closure of the Verne.     
19 November: #Unlocked17 Parliamentary Meeting on Immigration Detention
Week 5 summary blog: Week 5: #Unlocked17 Visits The Verne
Week 6: Campsfield House
20 November: Walls of resistance
This piece is written for Unlocking Detention by ‘Jose’ of the Freed Voices group (the author’s name has been altered to protect their identity). ‘Jose’ was detained in Campsfield detention centre.   
21 November: Detained for sleeping rough
Increased detention and deportation of EU citizens from the UK has been in the news for some time, especially in the context of debates surrounding Brexit.  NELMA has been working with EU citizens who have been detained while sleeping rough.   
21 November: WORKSHOP 11 DEC, GLASGOW – Oral histories of immigration detention: ethical approaches in research and activism
22 November: Slave Wages: How Our Clients Shone a Light on Detention Centre Exploitation
Toufique Hossain, Director of Public Law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, specialises in challenging Government policy and practice in asylum and immigration law, with a particular focus on unlawful detention policies. He tells Unlocking Detention about the strategic litigation case of “slave wage” in detention centres he has been involved with and what it is like to represent people who are caught up in this never-ending nightmare of immigration detention.  
23 November: “Time After Time”: music from Campsfield House detention centre
In this blog, Ruth Nicholson describes a day of Music In Detention’s songwriting workshops in Campsfield House. Ruth is a musician, and a volunteer both for Music In Detention (MID) and the Detention Forum. This blog was originally published by Music in Detention in March this year here where you can also listen to the music recorded in Campsfield.
23 November: ‘Young arrivers’ caught in immigration detention
Dan Godshaw (@DanGodshaw) has worked for NGOs on migrant advocacy and support for 10 years. He has visited people held at Brook House IRC as well as supporting Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group’s (@GatDetainees) research and campaigning work since 2013. Dan holds an MA in Migration Studies from The University of Sussex, and is currently an ESRC-funded doctoral researcher on immigration detention and gender at The University of Bristol. 
24 November: ‘When I first visited someone in immigration detention I knew I must speak out.’
Immigration detention is an important issue for many Friends (Quakers). Bridget Walker, who is part of the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, details the conditions she witnessed and those endured by detained peoples.  This blog was originally published by Quakers in Britain 
Week 6 summary blog: Week 6: #Unlocked17 visits Campsfield House
Week 7: Harmondsworth and Colnbrook                                       
27 November: Five guys
Reflections on indefinite detention are often framed in the singular, as personal and introspective testimonies. In this special piece for Unlocking Detention, however, Mishka from Freed Voices, sketches five guys that shaped his experience of Harmondsworth detention centre and continue to dominate his thoughts today, post-release. 
28 November: Ten years on: reflections on a decade working on the injustice of detention
Immigration detention and the detention estate sometimes appear permanent and unchanging. However, underneath the surface, things are changing. Tamsin Alger, Casework and Policy Manager at Detention Action, looks back at a catalogue of actions people in detention, she and her organisation have taken to challenge immigration detention over the last 10 years.  
29 November: Four days in Colnbrook
This blog was written by Helen*, a US citizen who travelled to the UK and was detained earlier this year. She spent four days in Colnbrook detention centre, before being returned to the US.  In this blog, she recounts her experience.
30 November: The Importance of Being With
Beatrice Grasso is Detention Outreach Manager at Jesuit Refugee Service UK where, with volunteers, she supports many detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres. In this blog, she explains how their mission “Accompany, Serve and Advocate” informs and shapes their work in these detention centres, ‘places most people don’t even realise exist’.
1 December: From British playgrounds to Immigration Removal Centres
Authors: Candice Morgan-Glendinning and Dr Melanie Griffiths (University of Bristol) The following post is informed by an ESRC-funded project running at the University of Bristol. The research examines the intersection of family life and immigration policy for families consisting of British or EEA nationals and men with precarious or irregular immigration status. Further project information, including a report and policy briefings can be found here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/ethnicity/projects/deportability-and-the-family/
Week 7 summary blog: Week 7: #Unlocked17 visits Harmondsworth and Colnbrook
Week 8: Morton Hall
4 December: Mapping detention
In this piece, Freed Voices members are our guides to the psycho-geography of detention centres, including Morton Hall which Unlocking Detention is visiting this week. The piece was originally published on Detention Action’s webpage here in 2016, in response to Unlocking Detention. Please do visit the original webpage which contains a full piece with more visual material. *The names of some Freed Voices members in this piece have been changed.
5 December: It’s about time – a time limit on immigration detention
Since the publication of Detained Lives (which Tamsin Algers refers to in her earlier blog here), a campaign to end UK’s practice of indefinite detention has been gathering pace.  Rachel Robinson, Advocacy Manager for Liberty, argues why the time is now to end this practice once and for all.  
6 December: 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
7 December: 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.
8 December: ‘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) had 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.  
Week 8 summary blog: Week 8: #Unlocked17 visits Morton Hall 
Week 9: Dungavel
11 December: 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. 
12 December: 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.  
13 December: 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.
18 December: 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.
19 December: “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.
Week 9 Summary: #Unlocked visits Dungavel

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
===========================================================
“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.)