Your guide to #Unlocked18

#Unlocked18 marked the 5th year of Unlocking Detention, our virtual ‘tour’ of the UK’s immigration detention estate. Whether you followed the tour from the beginning or you’re just joining us now, we hope you find something to whet your appetite for learning more about detention and how to challenge it. Here’s a guide to the contributions featured in #Unlocked18, with highlights selected by our team of Detention Forum volunteers and images by @Carcazan.

Week 1: Welcome to Unlocking Detention 2018

22 October: Welcome to #Unlocked18!

Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani welcomes you to the 5th year of Unlocking Detention.

22 October: Unlocking Detention timeline

To mark the 5th year of Unlocking Detention, this timeline tells the story of immigration detention reform from 2014-2018. We released one year at a time as #Unlocked18 progressed and the whole timeline is now available.

22 October: Immigration detention: The glossary

To help navigate the world of immigration detention, we created a visual glossary with key terms and acronyms used during Unlocking Detention. The images from this glossary are available to download and share

23 October: ‘When I become untamed’: Reflections on life in detention

A powerful, evocative poem written and recorded by Red (not his real name), while he was detained in Colnbrook detention centre. Red is a member of the Freed Voices, 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. 

25 October: Depicting wisdom: Drawings from detention

Mishka (not his real name) talks about five drawings he created based on his time in immigration detention. Like Red, Mishka is a member of the Freed Voices. Mishka writes, “when I drew these drawings, the pain and trauma blended into these drawings had already healed and turned into wisdom.”

29 October: Week 1: Launching #Unlocked18

Our first weekly roundup for #Unlocked18. Each week of the tour, we published a roundup of everything shared the previous week to make it easier to look back to find your favourite content or see what you’ve missed.

Week 2: Brook House and Tinsley House

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

A blog from Rafiq (not his real name) who was detained in Brook House detention centre. Rafiq says, “I want to speak out about what I experienced there, and I want to talk about how we can fight for justice”.

30 October: #28for28: Working for ‘the better imagined

Anna Pincus at the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group writes 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. 

31 October: How to help end indefinite detention

Zehrah Hasan, Policy and Campaigns Assistant at human rights campaigning group Liberty, writes about Liberty’s campaign to ‘End Indefinite Detention’.

1 November: Live Q&A with Marino in Brook House

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 our first live Twitter Q&A for #Unlocked18.

The live Q&A’s were definitely the highlight of #Unlocked18 for me. It was such a privilege to speak with DAK, Seed, Siarhei and Marino, who were generous in sharing their time, expertise and insight. The behind-the-scenes hiccups (illness, language barriers, phone numbers changing at the last minute, losing phone reception) made it more interesting but also brought home – once again – the difficulty of being heard from inside detention.

Susannah, Detention Forum Coordinator

2 November: ‘I leave you to judge’: Reflections from a visitor

Richard (not his real name), a volunteer with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, has been visiting people detained in Brook House and Tinsley House detention centres for 13 years. He asks, “Do these stories suggest an inadequacy in the detention system of effective legal representation and of support for emotional suffering?”

5 November: Week 2: #Unlocked18 visits Brook House and Tinsley House

Week 3: Prisons and short term holding facilities

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

Benny Hunter, from AVID (the Association for Visitors to Immigration Detainees), reminds us that people detained under immigration powers in in prison are often left forgotten in demands for reform. 

5 November: ‘Your voice can make a difference’: Expert-by-Experience interviews a former minister about the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention

In 2014, Sarah Teather MP, who was then the Chair of the APPG on Refugees started the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention, together with APPG on Migration. In this blog, K.A., a member of Freed Voices who was recently detained and released, interviews Sarah about her experience of running the inquiry, and Sarah asked K.A. about his experience of immigration detention. 

6 November: Welcome and hospitality as a force of resistance and change: Sanctuary in Parliament 2018

Sanctuary in Parliament is an annual event which brings local City of Sanctuary groups from around the country to Parliament to meet their MPs to demand change. In 2018, one of its focus issues was a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani explained how to amplify this demand.

6 November: Immigration detention centres have no place in Manchester or the UK

Lauren Cape-Davenhill, Organiser with These Walls Must Fall, writes about the reopening of a residential short term holding facility near Manchester airport amidst local resistance to immigration detention.

7 November: Immigration detention: Mental torture

A. Panquang, a Detention Forum volunteer and member of the Freed Voices, explores the lasting impact of indefinite immigration detention.

The lack of time limit, the lack of knowledge about who can or might be detained, the lack of control over people’s own immigration process, lack of communication with friends, family and community, the lack of legal advice, access to legal evidence, lack of proper healthcare and the lack of basic humane treatment are instruments used by the Home Office to maximize the mental torture of people in detention.

A. Panquang, Freed Voices

8 November: Detention happens closer than you might think

Katherine Maxwell-Rose, Digital Communications Manager at IMiX, highlights the uncomfortable fact that inhumane detention practices do not just happen elsewhere but also right here in the UK.

9 November: “Immigrants emigrate, hopeful anticipate

Ralph, detained for a total of 14 months in two prisons and a detention centre, wrote these lyrics reflecting on the impact of the UK’s immigration system on his life and family.

13 November: Week 3: #Unlocked18 visits short term holding facilities and prisons

Week 4: Yarl’s Wood

12 November: Theresa: letter from a hunger striker

This letter was sent to the Duncan Lewis Public Law team by Theresa (not her real name), a young mother, from Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Theresa was one of the leaders of the high-profile hunger-strikes in 2018. She wrote this letter the same evening that she had been refused bail. 

13 November: Resisting state violence: The Yarl’s Wood hunger strike

Fidelis Chebe, Project Director at Migrant Action, writes about the 2018 hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood and other forms of resistance to the use of detention as an instrument of state and corporate violence.

14 November: “For me, Yarl’s Wood was another torture

A blog from Gabby (not her real name), an activist campaigning against immigration detention in the UK who was detained in Yarl’s Wood twice in 2017. She is now an active member of Women for Refugee Women’s network, regularly performing her own poetry and speaking out to call for change.

15 November: Snow: Visiting in Yarl’s Wood

Ali Brumfitt, volunteer coordinator with Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, writes about her experience as a volunteer befriender. She explains, “The journey does not end after detention. Detention changes people. It adds more trauma onto any trauma a person is already carrying.”

16 November: “Every day, they used to walk in and pick somebody”: Living with the uncertainty of detention and removal

Bristol Free Voice, a citizen journalism project, contributed this audio recording of a woman previously detained in Yarl’s Wood reflecting on her experience of detention.

17 November: Eight times in detention: Why?

This blog features words and images produced at one of the weekly ‘drop in’ sessions held by Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, a space where women detained at Yarl’s Wood can come and have a conversation, share a hot drink or play a boardgame. 

22 November: Week 4: #Unlocked18 visits Yarl’s Wood

Week 5: Campsfield House

19 November: Campsfield closing: How did we get here, and what next?

In the first of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at its history and tries to make sense of the government’s recent announcement that Campsfield is to close in 2019.

20 November: Looking back at #Unlocked15: “The involvement of experts-by-experience has always been one of the most meaningful parts of the project

Mishka and Red from Freed Voices (@FreedVoices) interview Lisa Matthews, Coordinator at Right to Remain, about her experience of co-running Unlocking Detention in 2015, and the collective effort involved in bringing it all together.

21 November: Campsfield closing: A history of resistance

In this second part of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at the local history of resistance during the 25 years that Campsfield House detention centre was in operation.

22 November: Q&A with Siarhei in Campsfield House IRC

With assistance from Duncan Lewis solicitors, we spoke to Siarhei, currently detained in Campsfield House. Via interpreter, Siarhei told us about being detained in Campsfield and under immigration powers in prison.

23 November: The voiceless place

Maddy Crowther, Co-Executive Director of Waging Peace and Article 1, co-wrote this blog with Mohammed (not his real name), who has been detained on several occasions. Mohammed talks about the contrast between his treatment in detention and on a recent visit to Parliament.

It’s a big difference to stand in front of huge beautiful doors in Parliament, rather than lay down behind awful steel doors in detention, isn’t it?


27 November: Week 5: #Unlocked18 visits Campsfield House

Week 6: Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

26 November: “We both hoped there wouldn’t be a next visit”: The paradox of visiting detention

In the first of a two-part series from Detention Action, volunteer Anthony talks about his time visiting people detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres.

26 November: “I regularly speak to people who are in absolute despair

In a second blog from Detention Action, volunteer Mary-Ann talks about the eye-opening experience of providing casework support to people detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook.

27 November: Three years after Moroccan Jew’s death in detention, why no inquest?

Hannah Swirsky, Campaigns Officer at René Cassin, writes about the hidden cruelty of immigration detention as news comes that the inquest into the death of Amir Siman-Tov, a Moroccan Jew who died in Colnbrook immigration detention centre in 2016, has been postponed for a third time.

28 November: “Allowing people to see what might be possible”: Volunteering in detention

Two volunteers with JRS UK reflect on what it’s like to support someone in immigration detention. 

I can’t have any certainty that I will see the same person the following week, either because they are not able for different reasons to come and see me or they have been moved to another centre, released or returned to their home country.

Cashel Riordan, JRS UK volunteer

29 November: “I cannot do anything from here”: LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in detention

Gabriella Bettiga, Legal Officer at UKLGIG (UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group), looks at the particular challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ asylum seekers in immigration detention.

It’s hard to choose, much of the content was so affecting, but this was one of two blogs that really brought home the indignity of detention for me (the other was Luke Butterly’s piece on reporting, below). It highlights how immigration detention strips people of their dignity, where LGBTQI+ people who may have left a country where they will have had to conceal their identity for fear of persecution are expected to come out to a Home Office official on arrival or fall foul of the rules and risk deportation.

Catherine, Detention Forum volunteer

29 November: Double-header Q&A: DAK and Seed answer your questions from Harmondsworth IRC

DAK and Seed (not their real names), both detained in Harmondsworth detention centre, spent two hours answering questions sent in from across the UK. DAK had been detained in Harmondsworth for over a year; Seed for a few weeks – and yet both told us about the uncertainty, oppression and wastefulness of indefinite immigration detention.

30 November: “We are not outsiders, we are one of your own”: Hearing Voices peer support groups in detention

Mishka and Red (Freed Voices) and Akiko Hart (Hearing Voices Project Manager at Mind in Camden) discuss the role of peer-facilitated support groups for people who hear voices in immigration detention.

6 December: Week 6: #Unlocked18 visits Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

Week 7: Morton Hall

3 December: “I have seen that the detention system in the UK is broken

Rhiannon Prideaux, a visitor with the Morton Hall Detainee Visitors Group, tells us about the experience of visiting people in detention for over three years. She concludes, “I still think of the people that are detained there every day with no idea what will happen to them and hope that some time in the near future we will see some drastic changes to how the detention system is run in the UK.”

4 December: “There was a chance justice would be done

Mishka at Freed Voices (@FreedVoices) interviews Tamsin Alger, Deputy Director at Detention Action about her experience of the Detained Fast Track (DFT) strategic litigation and campaign. The DFT litigation was one of the key highlights of the 2015 Unlocking Detention timeline.

6 December: Immigration detention is mental torture

Souleymane, a member of Freed Voices, was detained for three and a half years. He writes, “Detention is worse than prison, because in prison you count your days down and in detention you count your days up… and up… and up…”

6 December: “Once a criminal always a criminal”, especially if you don’t have a British passport

Celia Clarke and Rudy Schulkind at BID (Bail for Immigration Detainees) write about the ‘hidden scandal’ of people detained in prisons.

This blog by BID describing the specific and additional disadvantages faced by people detained under immigration powers in prison stood out for me. It also lays out how detention relates to, and is a consequence of, other features of the hostile environment. 

Charlotte, Detention Forum volunteer

7 December: Your pocket Home Office phrasebook: A dialect of dehumanisation

Patrick Page, senior caseworker at Duncan Lewis Solicitors (@DLPublicLaw) and founder and editor of No Walls, contributed this widely-read blog on the insidious language used to dehumanise people in detention.

8 December: “The stain of detention will haunt us for the rest of our lives, but I don’t want it to define us”: Experts-by-experience give evidence to the JCHR inquiry

A. Panquang, a member of Freed Voices and Detention Forum volunteer, talks about giving evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into immigration detentionalongside Michael, another member of Freed Voices.

13 December: Week 7: #Unlocked18 visits Morton Hall

Week 8: Dungavel

10 December: For many autumns to come

Mishka (Freed Voices) shares a letter written from detention to someone dear to his heart on the eve of his intended removal from the UK. He writes, “Detention is in some ways a graveyard of dreams and hopes and the ghosts of dead dreams and hopes can linger within those walls for months and years.”

This piece moved me on several levels. It’s beautiful, lyrical, intensely human, shattering, selfless and ultimately positive and very uplifting. Despite the anticipated outcome for him, Mishka renews the reader’s faith in the human spirit.

Gareth, Detention Forum volunteer

11 December: Separation and abandonment as a result of detention

A. Panquang, a member of Freed Voices and Detention Forum volunteer, examines the lasting impact of the separation of families when a parent is detained.  

11 December: Because of detention | In spite of detention

Members of the Life After Detention group (LAD) based in Glasgow reflect on the ongoing devastation caused by indefinite detention, as well as the more positive aspects of building a life after detention. 

12 December: When a ‘good’ inspection report is bad news

Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, dissects the latest HMIP report on Dungavel detention centre.

13 December: Hidden in plain sight: Working with trafficked people in detention

Beatrice Grasso, Detention Outreach Manager with JRS UK, writes about their report on the indefinite detention of trafficking survivors. She explains, “Despite showing clear indicators of abuse and vulnerability, they remain hidden in plain sight of those authorities who should protect them.”

13 December: “If I don’t come back, call my lawyer”: Practical solidarity for people at risk of detention

Luke Butterly from Right to Remain talks about ways of showing practical solidarity for people at risk of being detained, including setting up a local signing group.

This is the second blog that really brought home for me the indignity of detention (alongside Gabriella Bettiga’s piece on LGBTQI+ people in detention). Reporting seems to be an exquisite bit of nastiness in this cruel system. As well as showing us the indignity imposed on vulnerable individuals, both of these pieces describe how immigration detention and the hostile environment affect us all. How can a good society allow such indignities to be carried out in our name?  

Catherine, Detention Forum volunteer

14 December: Rebuilding a life after detention

Indre Lechtimiakyte, who coordinates the Ex-Detainee Project for Samphire, tells us about the hopes, fears and challenges faced by people released from detention across the UK. 

14 December: Life after closure: The experiences of the Verne Visitors Group

Ruth Jacobson writes to us from the Verne Visitors Group, established in 2014 to support people detained in The Verne detention centre until its closure in December 2017. “What should be we doing now we were no longer going to be taking the coast road up to the Verne citadel with its deliberately forbidding entrance tunnel and massive walls?”

18 February (better late than never!): Week 8: #Unlocked18 visits Dungavel IRC

Week 9: International Migrants Day

17 December: “It is only an accident of fate that I was born in the UK.” Interview with Baroness Hamwee about her detention reform work

K.A., an expert-by-experience and member of Freed Voices, interviewed Baroness Sally Hamwee, a long-term advocate for detention reform in the House of Lords. She was recently named a Detention Forum Champion in reocognition of her tireless work in challenging immigration detention.

18 December: On International Migrants Day – reasserting humanity and dignity of people in immigration detention

Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani concludes #Unlocked18 with a rousing piece calling on us to continue to assert the presence, humanity, rights and dignity of everyone affected by detention.

Week 2: #Unlocked18 visits Brook House and Tinsley House

This is the first week that #Unlocked18 has focused on specific detention centres. From the 29th October to the 4th November, we ‘visited’ Brook House and Tinsley House, two detention centres next to the runway at Gatwick airport. Over 600 people can be detained across these two sites, both of which are privately run by G4S.

Here’s a recap of the week.

Rafiq’s story: “We can make this world like heaven, or we can make it like hell”

The week began with a blog by Rafiq about his experiences of being detained in Brook House. Rafiq successfully challenged the Home Office in court over the conditions in Brook House – the judge said that the Home Office had failed to look at the rights of Muslim in detention properly, and had discriminated against them.

Rafiq says:

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.

The blog was accompanied by an illustration by @Carcazan.


The second blog of the week came from Anna Pincus of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, focusing on the #28for28 campaign. The #28for28 campaign featured 28 videos of the stories of those who have experienced detention, released over 28 days to highlight the need for a 28 day time limit. Anna’s blog tells the story of the campaign: from idea to crowdfunding to realisation, how it was received, and what comes next. Anna reflects:

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.

How to: Help end indefinite detention

Zehrah Hasan, Policy and Campaigns Assistant at Liberty, wrote a blog about their campaign to end indefinite detention. Zehrah’s blog clearly sets out the actions you can take to help end indefinite detention: from signing their petition, to writing to your MP, to organising your own campaign event.

Live Q&A with Marino in Brook House IRC

On the 1st November, we held the first live Twitter Q&A of #Unlocked18. We spoke to Marino (not his real name), who has been detained in Brook House since May. If you missed it, you can find a full recap here.

A huge thank you to Marino, and to everyone who sent us questions.

‘I leave you to judge’: Reflections from a visitor

The final blog of the week came 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 for 13 years. He reflects on the stories of two of the people he visited during that time, and on the responses of some of the people he talks to about detention, asking:

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.

Get involved!

Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who has been participating in the tour this week, and who has sent us selfies! On our website, you can read more about how to get involved and take action.

“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…

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


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:

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

Mapping detention

Images courtesy of Freed Voices

At Unlocking Detention, we occasionally receive emails from people, including those who say they are journalists, asking us to let them join the “tour”. These requests stem from misunderstanding: some assume we are organizing physical, guided tours of the inside of these immigration detention centres, while we are actually running a “virtual” tour unearthing facts and voices from these centres.

While their interest is welcome, it also makes us feel uneasy – what legitimizes our gaze inside these centres, when it is not for an official purpose of monitoring or supporting people inside the centres? Should these centres be open for casual inspection by anyone who happens to be curious, knowing that people who are detained there are having a truly devastating time of their lives? When does this gaze transgress into the sphere of voyeurism? What makes us think that we can fully understand immigration detention through seeing its infrastructure?

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.

A few weeks ago, during the fallow days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the Freed Voices group met to reflect on a busy twelve months of campaigning and to mark the conclusion of ‘Unlocking Detention’ – Detention Forum’s annual, virtual tour of the UK’s detention estate.
In homage to the latter – (which digitally ‘visited’ those sites of indefinite incarceration up and down the country that the Government would otherwise have you believe are ‘out of sight, out of mind’) – the group conducted their own exercise in ‘mapping detention’.

To begin with, they plotted the general outline of a detention-centre (most Freed Voices members have experienced several different IRCs so chose the detention centre which resonated most). Then they filled in ‘key landmarks’, such as their rooms, healthcare, the canteen, visiting rooms, legal services, the shop, the yard, welfare and/or induction areas.

Next, Freed Voices members detailed the different demographics that might make up any given detention centre – where were the detention centre staff based? Where did new arrivals come in? Where were their friends in relation to their own rooms? Did different national or religious groups congregate in different spaces? Who dominated the yard? What was their typical movement through the detention centre on any given day?

Lastly, they designed a post-it key, with different colours to represent different emotional states. The group then pin-dropped these across their maps in different loci they associated most with that particular feeling.

Feeding back to each other, and reflecting on their respective maps, several outstanding themes emerged.

Firstly, the group acknowledged how they had (at least initially) all interpreted the exercise’s leading direction – ‘to draw the outline of the detention centre’ – very differently. Some members experienced greater freedom of movement throughout their incarceration and could detail the wider physical perimeters of the detention centre in great detail.
Others (despite, in some cases, spending longer periods of time in detention) did not map out anything beyond their wing. As John* explained, “this is really where day-to-day detention happens – everything you need to know about detention is on your wing.”

All agreed, however, that this was equally applicable to their rooms – that the essence of detention boiled down to four brick walls, complete with one or two bunks, maybe a toilet, and more often than not a hermetically sealed window (occasionally with a birds-eye view of a nearby airport).
Boone, who was detained for 7 months in Colnbrook, adjacent to Heathrow, said that ‘every minute and a half a plane flew past the window. Each one reminded me I was going to be deported back to my country. My room was my hell.” Omid said ‘my room was hopeless(ness)…I thought I never ever go out and that’s why in my nightmares I can see this room.” Shariff described his room as ‘My Coffin’.

Second was the extent to which members described how their identities had been unmade, made and remade again whilst they had been detained. Almost all noted how their primary physical/emotional interaction with detention had been under the cloak of darkness, arriving in a blacked-out van, usually at around two or three in the morning, handcuffed, and marched through high-security gates like a criminal.

Joe, a survivor of torture from East Africa, spoke about how, when he arrived at Dover detention centre (where he spent the next two years) he had to pass through its three enormous gates. At the first one, they registered his name and country of origin. At the second, they frisked him. At the third, they gave him a ‘Prison Number’ and waved him through. “I had never committed a crime in my life, I received no trial, and yet I was given a life-sentence?”

John, who was predominately detained in Colnbrook, spoke about being stripped of the most important aspect of his identity: his humanity. He recounted how he had been spoken to like an animal, caged like an animal, and barked at by immigration officers like an animal – and not in a figurative sense, but with an actual guttural canine-growl.

Thiru, a survivor of torture from Sri Lanka, highlighted his time in segregation – or the ‘Isolated Rooms’, as he called them – as the darkest part of his detention experience (a sentiment concurred by several other members). Thiru described how here, in solitary confinement, his past and present traumas had merged into one. He said he felt; “Tortured again. Only this time I wasn’t sure why. Back home, I knew it was because of who I was. But here, it was because of who I wasn’t. It was confusing.”

Freed Voices members largely agreed that the inevitable result of these kinds of experiences – the violence of segregation, the dehumanisation encouraged by staff, the deteriorating sense of self – was an intense distrust in everything around them. On one hand, this was directed at the individuals and systems that compounded their detention: Home Office-picked solicitors, the complaints system, welfare, healthcare staff.

But it also occasionally, tragically, resulted in a self-imposed isolation, either from those going through similar experiences and/or from those with shared national, ethic or cultural backgrounds. Both Omid and Thiru marked out on their maps where people from their home country of origin, Iran and Sri Lanka respectively, tended to congregate in detention. But they also noted how, over time, they had both drifted away from these groups, and in turn, the social links/bonds to their ‘pre-detention identities’. Omid said; “I must be alone in Harmondsworth. After time, everyone the same to me. I see just faces, all the same.”

This dissolving of national identities was not the case for Michael, who has been based in the UK since he was 12, and who spent his two and a half years of detention exclusively in Morton Hall.

His English fluency, English upbringing, and English partner were all a cause of social stigma within detention, where he wasn’t enough of an Other. At the same time, his proposed deportation promised to wipe clean these cultural indicators, erasing any sense of self in one fell swoop: “I grew up in the East End on pie and mash. I supported Chelsea. I went to British school. And now I’m an illegal immigrant about to be deported? I had no idea whether to hold on to who I was in detention, or let it go.”

Michael did note however, that some sense of self was salvaged whenever his partner – someone from outside Morton Hall’s walls – came to visit. Only then was he reminded who he was and what was normal.

This was echoed by other members, who also relied on some kind of external ‘force’ (real or imagined) to help puncture the mind/identity-bending bubble of detention. Boone took great solace in the Colnbrook’s chapel, which he said brought him closer to his family, ‘even though they were thousands of miles away’. Joe’s room at Dover IRC looked out over the sea and he spoke about how, on a clear day, he could see France and that this vague outline of land became a source of calm: “It helped me focus. I remember why I came to the UK in the first place.”

Others reiterated the vitality of visitor-groups, like the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group, Detention Action or the Verne Visitors Group, who provided practical advice and support but also treated them ‘as individuals’. “We weren’t just numbers to them,” reflected Michael.
Lastly (although perhaps unsurprisingly), was the omnipresent black cloud of indefinite detention. Fogging every other aspect of life in detention, the psychological impact of not-knowing when they would be released was the singular, outstanding theme Freed Voices members kept coming back to. ‘Torture’ was repeatedly used to express the horror of endless incarceration.

Freed Voices members were quick to point out that it was almost impossible to delineate and dissect other aspects of life in detention – whether it be the activities available to them or conditions more generally – in separation from indefinite detention. Timelessness infected everything. At one point in the exercise, Thiru covered almost his whole map in post-it notes in an attempt to explain the geographical translation of this pervasive emotional violence. Shariff said that indefinite detention meant that ‘even the smallest details in detention make you lose hope’. Joe spoke about the mental and physical fatigue that comes with bearing this psychological weight everyday: “I felt every second of my detention. I was there more than two years. It was exhausting.”

“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.
There are many ways that children who do not have British citizenship can enter the UK, including as unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors, as dependents and through birth, where neither parent has citizenship or settled immigration status. Children who are not citizens, or ‘young arrivers’ often face difficulties growing up in the UK, but their rights are generally more extensive than those of adults. It is far less likely that they will be detained or deported than adults. Once children approach 18, they move from protected to unprotected status. Many are not able to secure settled immigration status, but even when they do, they risk automatic deportation orders if they go to prison.
Having spent a significant part of their formative years in the UK, some adults end up detained in Immigration Removal Centres while the government tries to deport them to places that feel foreign. This can be a frightening process which dramatically challenges identities and rights that they previously took for granted. But there has been little written on the topic and no research about this group in relation to immigration detention.
A new research project I conducted with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group (GDWG) uncovers ways in which people who arrived when they were under 18 become detained as adults, and explores how detention affects them as a distinctive group. The report, Don’t dump me in a foreign land: Immigration detention and young arrivers, provides a platform for the voices of people whose conceptions of safety, belonging and Britishness have been shaken by the immigration controls they are now subjected to. Drawing on interviews with those held in detention and practitioners who work with them as well as analysis of Home Office documents, we established a number of key findings which showed that that young arrivers share common routes to detention and experience specific forms of harm while detained.
First, young arrivers in detention are likely to have experienced trauma as children and to have been in the care system. Inadequate support and inappropriate care placements can leave them vulnerable, and local authorities sometimes fail to regularise immigration status and citizenship. A lack of guidance as well as use of police intervention to deal with disruptive behaviour can lead to early convictions.
Social services are the main reason I’m [in detention]…If they didn’t just see me as caseload, if they saw me as a person instead, all of this could have been avoided with one thing – getting me a passport…that should have been part of their duty of care…the actual care was bad enough, but not doing that was even worse (Anthony, Brook House)
Second, detained young arrivers are likely to have been through the criminal justice system. Crimes that lead to deportation orders are often minor and are inextricably tied to growing up as marginalised young people in Britain, but their status as foreign national prisoners mean that they are treated differently to their British peers. Young arrivers are not adequately informed about the possibility of detention and deportation, and are not granted opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
[Young arrivers in detention] grew up on council estates where people sold drugs and got into trouble. We never knew any different…The judge said that I’m a product of this environment, that I didn’t come to this country to commit a crime. He’s learnt this in the UK so he’s our problem (Ahmed, formerly detained)
Third, young arrivers feel deeply connected to the UK, and being detained triggers intense shock. Detention causes people who had previously felt British to begin to feel foreign, excluded from society and the identity they had grown up with. Detention causes fear about being deported to places where they have few connections, meaning that post-deportation futures are unimaginable and feel impossible.
They’re trying to send me somewhere I don’t know…I’ve never been to Jamaica…I’ve never even been on a plane before…It’s not right on anybody to detain or deport them, but I think it’s 10 times worse for someone…who doesn’t know nothing else…I’d be shocked. I can’t really imagine it (Christopher, The Verne)
Finally, young arrivers, who often have substantial networks of family and friends in the UK, face difficulties in maintaining relationships in detention which leaves them isolated from their support networks. Young arrivers are also likely to experience prolonged detention and are particularly vulnerable to mental illness while detained. These findings show that recent Home Office guidance to prevent vulnerable people being detained in response to Stephen Shaw’s Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons are not being implemented.
I used to jump and scream if someone shouted. I’m taking Clomipramine. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and PTSD… [in detention] there is no enjoyment for me…I’m alone…sometimes I feel that my heart will blow up…you need education, hospital, nice food, nice people…You can’t find this in here. You just wait. Depression affects me a lot (Bidar, Brook House)
These findings led to a series of policy recommendations for government, local authorities and support services. GDWG urges the government to implement the following key recommendations without delay:

  • Indefinite immigration detention should be brought to an end and replaced with a 28-day limit and community-based alternatives.
  • The 2016 Home Office ‘Guidance on adults at risk in immigration detention’ should be implemented properly and administrative factors should never take precedence over safety and wellbeing.
  • Young arrivers should be classed as a potentially vulnerable group generally unsuitable for detention and Home Office guidance should consider the dynamic nature of vulnerability in detention.
  • When people arrive in the UK as children, settled immigration status should be granted swiftly. They should then automatically be on a path to citizenship.
  • There should be an advocate who takes responsibility for regularising every child’s status and, one this is achieved, registering them as a British citizen.
  • Links between criminality and growing up in Britain, including within the care system, should be recognised. Young arrivers should not be demonised as foreign national prisoners and automatic deportation orders should not be issued.

I presented the research to an audience of practitioners, academics, people formerly held in detention, students and local community members at The Hive in Dalston on the 2nd November. The presentation was followed by a panel Q&A, chaired by Thangam Debbonaire (MP for Bristol West and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees), with Ridy (an artist and expert by experience, held in detention for more than 5 years), Melanie Griffiths (researcher on immigration detention and deportation, University of Bristol) and Hindpal Singh Bhui (Detention Team Leader, HM Inspectorate of Prisons). The discussion was lively and hopeful, and it was inspiring to see a large audience so engaged and passionate about the problem of immigration detention. To conclude this blog post, I’ll explore three important points raised in the discussion.
In response to claims by the research participants that their treatment by immigration authorities was racist, an audience member asked the panel to describe examples of institutional racism. In their responses, the panel addressed differential media attitudes that present the detention and deportation of white migrants from powerful countries as abhorrent compared to relative silence over migration controls far more commonly applied to black or other racialised migrants. They also talked about the many levels on which institutional racism operates on those in detention – from administrative decisions to predominantly detain people from particular racialised groups, through to the postcolonial logic of controlling, objectifying and excluding people from former colonies.
Another audience member made the point that detention is intimately linked to deportation and asked why, by detailing the experiences of young arrivers in detention, we were not going further to challenge the practice of deportation more broadly. There was agreement amongst the panel that challenging deportation is vital work because of the potential impact on safety, family life, identity and wellbeing of young arrivers as well as the fact that there is growing evidence that deportations often fail and lead to re-migration. However, from a campaigning perspective, the panel agreed that a focus on detention was needed at present in the context of renewed media and parliamentary interest in the issue.
The final question put forward in the discussion was what we, as ordinary people, can do to support and change policy and practice towards young arrivers. Several valuable ideas were put forward by the panel members and by the chair. They included contacting your MP directly and persisting until you get a response, working carefully with journalists to shift mainstream representations of young arrivers, volunteering with a local detention visitors group or other support service and, crucially, helping to create cultural change in attitudes through grassroots campaigning work and everyday conversations with friends and family, colleagues, and other acquaintances.
This research is a tool for change, and I would encourage organisations and individuals to use it to help bring about a transformation in the way that young arrivers are treated in the UK, as well as to encourage meaningful detention reform more widely.

Week 3: #Unlocked17 visits Brook House and Tinsley House

Between 30 October and 5 November, #Unlocked17 visited Brook House and Tinsley House, near Gatwick airport. Brook House has 448 beds, and Tinsley 119. When Tinsley House was established in 1996, it was the UK’s first purpose-built detention centre. Since then, the UK’s detention estate has expanded substantially: there are now nine immigration removal centres (people are also detained in short-term holding facilities and prisons).
We’ve also seen a lot of action taken this week, with people speaking out against immigration detention and calling for change. This includes a #TheseWallsMustFall workshop in Manchester, a new report from Women for Refugee Women, and lots more selfies! Scroll down for a round-up.

Inside Brook and Tinsley

The average length of detention in Brook House, according to the 2017 Prison Inspector’s report, was three months. The inspection team found 23 individuals who had been detained for over a year. The report states, “The length of detention had increased substantially and no work had been undertaken to understand this“.

Two years in Brook House

This week we heard from Paul, who was detained in Brook House for over two years. Paul recalls, “After a year and a half in detention, I reached a point where I had simply had enough. I thought: release me back to my life in the UK, or remove me to Jamaica, if you must, but please let me get out of Brook. I just didn’t want to be stuck in a prison next to the runway at Gatwick anymore…. 
When I signed up to return, I thought that at least then I would get out of Brook quickly. But it took nearly 6 months still.”

Paul’s story is yet another reminder of why it is #Time4aTimeLimit.

We also revisited some powerful blogs written by experts-by-experience about Brook and Tinsley in previous years.
In 2016, we heard from Ajay, who wrote a letter to his former self – the one he knew before he was detained in Brook House. He writes, “I had to collect ALL my strength to write this letter. I am writing it in difficult circumstances. … I think detention changed me a lot to be honest. I wonder if you’d even recognise me now if we saw each other.”

In 2015, we heard from Yann. He was detained for four months in Brook House. He was then moved to Morton Hall, then Colnbrook, and finally Harmondsworth. Altogether he was detained for a year and a half before being released back into the community.

Thank you to all those who share their experience – and to those who have sent messages of support and encouragement! 

Time to write to your MP

On the blog this week, Jon Featonby explained why now is the time for everyone to start taking action against detention, to ramp up political pressure for change: “The next six months are crucial in terms of opportunities to push for reform of a system which, as Unlocked will show, is broken…
Whether it’s writing to your MP, asking to meet them in their constituency surgery, or simply tweeting at them, we can all do something.
You can ask your MP to write to the Home Secretary asking her to introduce a time limit on detention, ask a question in parliament, or sign up to this Early Day Motion calling for reform.”

Speaking out against immigration detention

This week, Jose of #FreedVoices spoke at Amnesty’s #WriteforRights event:

Manchester says #TheseWallsMustFall

Also this week, a full house for the #TheseWallsMustFall workshop in Manchester. There’s a whole Storify for the event here.

We are still here: new report from Women for Refugee Women

This week Women for Refugee Women launched a new report assessing the government’s Adults at Risk policy. It finds that the approach “is not working to safeguard and protect women who are vulnerable, and prevent them from being detained.” 


The selfies keep on coming! It’s brilliant to see so many people challenging immigration detention and saying it’s #Time4aTimeLimit. Here are just a few of them…

“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.)
I was held at Brook for over two years. I’m Jamaican by birth, but had been in the UK over 20 years. I originally stowed away on a ship to get out of Jamaica, to escape persecution. I had built a life for myself in the UK, I had family in London. I made some mistakes in my life and took some bad decisions. Nothing, though, prepared for how me hard it was being in detention. It was really stressful. You are locked up and you just don’t know when you’ll get out.
When I arrived at Brook House, I didn’t know what was going to come next, but I thought something might at least happen quickly – whether they released me or deported me. Other detainees told me about it being possible to get bail, to be released. It was a comfort to me to think there were options. But it didn’t happen. Something happened in the courts, and my bail application had to be withdrawn. I had a solicitor, but to be honest they weren’t much help. Legal aid rules meant it was restricted. And after the try for bail…nothing. I was stuck, just waiting, waiting for news.
At Brook, they lock you up for a lot of the day. We are woken and allowed out at 8am, then locked up at 12 for roll call, then 12.30 is lunch. In the evenings they lock you up again to check everyone at 5, then 5.30 is dinner. In the evenings, there were activities: for example, gym, or church. But you are locked up again in the wing at 8. And there are no windows. There is very little fresh air, and little to do.
In my time at Brook, I shared cells with lots of other people. It would often be 4 or 5 in the morning when a new person was moved in with me. I would often sit with them and comfort them. They’d just arrived in detention, they didn’t know what to do; they were often in tears. It was so stressful for them. The cells were hard, two of you in the space, and a toilet in the room.
I was aware of a lot of people taking drugs, and a lot of people self-harming. People hurting themselves and needing medical help – it would happen every day.
I’ve seen Panorama [the programme screened 4th September 2017, which showed undercover footage from Brook House, capturing horrifying abuse and attitudes from staff]. Someone sent me the video. There were definitely moments where it was like that [as captured by Panorama]. But when those things were happening, when someone was hurting themselves or clashing with officers, we would all be ushered away. So it was usually hidden.
To cope, I made myself a routine. It was terrible being locked up all the time. I was stressed out, and I knew how hard it would be if I did nothing, if I was left just thinking all the time. So, each day, I went to the gym, I took Spanish classes, and – in the afternoons – I worked in the laundry, trying to save the little money I was paid. I took art classes and even won prizes. That kept me occupied. Because otherwise, the thoughts overwhelm you. People lose their minds in there.
I had a visitor, Mary, from Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, who visited me every week and gave me a lot of help, particularly getting healthcare. I needed eye operations while I was held at Brook, and I waited months and months to get the treatment. While I was waiting for my cataract operations, I really struggled to get around the centre. For some time I had one eye with an eye-patch while it recovered from treatment, and one eye still with a cataract, and so I could barely see. I kept walking into things; it was very frustrating. I felt very vulnerable. I remember having to count the steps to the shower so that I could work out where I was.
After a year and a half in detention, I reached a point where I had simply had enough. I thought: release me back to my life in the UK, or remove me to Jamaica, if you must, but please let me get out of Brook. I just didn’t want to be stuck in a prison next to the runway at Gatwick anymore. The Home Office didn’t seem to be doing anything. I didn’t have faith in my solicitor; I could not reach them most of the time, they always seem to busy. I was at a point where I had to make a decision. So I took the hard choice to apply for voluntary return.
When I signed up to return, I thought that at least then I would get out of Brook quickly. But it took nearly 6 months still. My final departure was 4 months after the Home Office had promised. I was on 2 flights that were cancelled. On one of the flights, the airline wouldn’t take me in the end because they thought I might create a problem. But I was leaving on voluntary return! It didn’t make any sense. Mary and I had to keep talking to the High Commission and the Home Office to try to work out what had happened. No-one took responsibility for the mistakes, and no-one seemed to care how distressing it all was for me. I was very down, and desperate.
When I was finally on the flight back to Jamaica, I felt good. I was scared about what would happen when I landed, but I was just processed quickly through the airport and let go.
It’s hard being back in Jamaica in some ways. There’s a lot of poverty and I had been away a long time. But at least I’m not in detention anymore. I’m free now. It’s as if a burden is off my back. I try to forget about everything that I went through at Brook House. I’m trying to move on. I just want to live.