Live Q&A with Gil, detained in Dungavel

This week Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Dungavel detention centre, the only detention in Scotland and a site of much contention after the government announced plans earlier this year to close it and open a Short-Term Holding Facility in Glasgow – you can read Scottish Detainee Visitors‘ analysis of the situation as it stands, here. On Friday afternoon, Ben from Detention Action conducted a live Twitter Q&A with Gil, currently detained in Dungavel. Here’s the recap:


Q and A with Ali, currently detained in Colnbrook

This interview with Ali, who is detained in Colnbrook, took place last week and we planned as usual to tweet the Q and A throughout the afternoon on the Friday of Colnbrook week of #Unlockd16.
On Friday morning, news broke that a man had died in Colnbrook and that a murder investigation had been launched.  As the interview with Ali was not live, there are no questions about this terrible news, or how the people detained in Colnbrook are dealing with such a stressful situation.
We decided it was important to go ahead with getting Ali’s voice out into the wider world.
Here’s the full interview:

From inside Colnbrook: my drawing is my feeling

Jay has been detained in Colnbrook for 3 months.This is the second time he has been detained – he was previously released from detention in 2014.
Jay spoke to Ciara from Detention Action about the impact of detention and how for better or worse, drawing helps to focus his mind in difficult circumstances.

My drawing is my feeling. When I feel something bad or good I have to draw something. When I draw something bad, it’s because everything is bad and all day long it will feel like that. I don’t know how to explain, when I draw something it makes me feel no bad no good, just to keep my mind busy. My drawing is to escape the torture.
I came to the UK to study English and to stay away for a little while, to keep safe, while the situation was not safe in my home country. I was very political before detention. At home I was involved with student protests – protesting education, protesting everything the government is doing to destroy my country. But freedom of expression is a problem.
DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] is not like the UK or Europe. When you say something the government doesn’t like, you can be in trouble with police or the army. I had to leave.
I didn’t leave my country to come here and claim asylum. But now my situation’s changed and it’s becoming more and more difficult for me to go home. I joined a resistance movement in the UK. They are all over the world except for in the DRC. Before I was just a member, and in the end I was working for them in London. I thought I could go back but when I spoke to my friend – he said ‘don’t come. They will kill you.’
I used to draw before I was in detention. I don’t know if the pictures have changed now but I draw many things about me. Drawings about returning home and what will happen if I go back and how I am afraid.
Now I’m feeling very bad. I don’t know what I’m doing here. In 2014 and 2015 I was in here. I was reporting when they took me, they didn’t just say I was going to the IRC [immigration removal centre/detention centre], they said they were deporting me. I refused to go to Heathrow. One officer said when they come back to me again, if I’m still strong, they will restrain me and tell everyone I’m crazy. I’m not crazy.
That made me feel very bad, very bad. And every time for 2 weeks I was watching on computer how they beat people. Sometimes they can inject you, to make your body feel lazy and tired.
‘One day god will judge this country of Home Office’
Anyway, they already kill my mind before my country kill my body back home. When they will send me at home to be kill and my story will finish in this world.
I was a detainee when I was 19 in 2014.
My name is Jay.

Q & A with Mayalex, currently detained in Yarl's Wood

This week Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Yarl’s Wood detention centre – perhaps the best known of all the UK’s sites of detention, and which will once again be the site of protest on 3 December
Earlier this week, Ben from Detention Action conducted a Q&A with’Mayalex’ who is currently detained in Yarl’s Wood.  We tweeted the interview live this afternoon (Friday).
Here’s the whole interview, and the thoughts of others joining in the conversation:


Live Q&A with Christopher and Jose, both detained in Campsfield

This week Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Campsfield detention centre, run by Mitie, the largest single private provider of detention services to the Home Office. (In a first for our regular live Q&As) on Friday afternoon, Ben from Detention Action conducted a live Twitter Q&A with two friends currently detained in Campsfield – Christopher and Jose. You can recap the whole interview below:


Live Q and A with Mark, detained in the Verne

This week Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ The Verne detention centre, in Dorset.  On Friday afternoon, Ben from Detention Action conducted a live interview with Mark who is currently detained there.
Ben alerted those following the Q and A that, as with last week, communication was going to be difficult – the remoteness of the Verne means there’s always a bad phone connection.
And the interview was going to be difficult in other ways too.  The interviewer knows Mark well. At one point he was going to join the Freed Voices group but was re-detained…back to The Verne.

The next question for Mark comes from Scottish Detainee Visitors:

Another question from Scottish Detainee Visitors:


The next question came from a participant at a recent workshop on Unlocking Detention run by Right to Remain in Cambridge, written about here.
How many pairs of shoes do you have that are not flip flops? (asked someone who visits people in detention, so knows this is a common issue!)

Another question for Mark, currently detained in the Verne, arguably the most isolated of all detention centres in the UK:


The Verne: let my people go

The Verne
By Mo*, 12 months in detention**
Detention in the Verne is like being stuck in an island, in an island, in an island, in an island. Your cell is the centre. It is where I am most lonely, forever.
I have been in the Verne one year. I am the asylum seeker. No-one tell me anything about the process of detention. No one tell me I would be here very long time. No one tell me nothing. The most I get is the monthly report. Every time the same thing – ‘we are making enquiries’, ‘we are trying to get travel documents’, ‘we are investigating’, ‘we decide we still detain you’, excuse after excuse after excuse after excuse. Nothing clear. No path. No way out of the Verne.
They never bring me removal directions and I am here 12 months. No ticket, nothing. They know they cannot remove me. So why am I still here?  Don’t need to be locked up for them to find travel documents. And Verne is still a prison, for sure. It walks and talks like a prison. Big prison doors. Big prison walls. Big prison guards.
Here in the Verne, we say ‘we are a sardine tin in the sea’. It does not feel like UK. Or France. Or anywhere. We are lost.
The Verne has big effect on me. My physical body has been hit, I am feeling much weaker. I suffer from attacks – from guards and from other detained people who don’t understand people can be different. In my head, I am depression, anxiety disorder. I am stress, I am running wild. There is fear everywhere. If it is not for the deep sense of injustice I am feeling deep in my heart, I am kill myself long time ago. 100% this is about life in detention, 100%. Journey through asylum is of course very difficult, always, for everyone, but this…this is torture of the brain.
There are many people who should not be in the Verne. Many vulnerable people here. Mental health problems everywhere. My eyes keep dropping. I want to cry when I see what is around me. That government stop vulnerable people from detention is a lie. Here, all people has vulnerability. They should let us go.
Every time the library opens here, I am ready. I read the newspaper to keep my mind fresh. Sometimes I would read about detention.
Usually, when I read about detention I read about the taxpayer, the cost. They are not talking enough about the suffering, the abuse.
But this country is not like other countries. The politics at the moment, after Brexit – we are paying for it, the migrants. They say they locking up people only as last option.  All these people can’t be in detention for ‘last option’! 30,000 ‘last options’? Every year? I had legitimate Section 4 bail application and they stop it so they can keep me in here. Why?
They say I must stay inside for ‘public good’? Outside the Verne I am good. Outside the Verne I am myself. Outside the Verne I am healthy. Outside the Verne I volunteer. Outside the Verne, I know it’s not easy. But inside the Verne, everyone loses.
I have lost confidence in the system. There is no transparency. No independence. It is difficult to trust people who lock you up like monkey in a cage.
They can’t deport me, so why not they let me go?
Let me go! Let me go! Let me go!

The author’s real name has been changed to protect their identity.
** Since writing this piece, the author has been released from the Verne, their one year in detention – costing the author their mental health and the taxpayer £33,000 – seemingly serving no purpose whatsoever.
Picture credit: Patrycja Pinkowska

Live Q and A with Abdi, detained in prison

This afternoon, Ben from Detention Action conducted a live Q and A with ‘Abdi’ who is currently detained, under immigration powers, in a prison.
Ben asked Abdi questions that you, the public, had sent us via Twitter and Facebook and at the various Unlocking Detention events Right to Remain and Detention Action have held recently.  Thank you to everyone who sent us a question!

Ben could only speak to Abdi for ten minutes at a time – the maximum length of time those detained in prison can use the phone for. 

A question from AVID, the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees:

Next question is from someone who came to Right to Remain’s annual gathering in September:
do you know how long you will be in here? How long you could be in here?

Some questions from Scottish Detainee Visitors:
Are you in a separate part of the prison now that you are in immigration detention?  Are you able to leave your cell more?

Next up:
The Home Office say they only detain people in prison in exceptional circumstances.   Are there others there in prison with you, detained under immigration powers?

Another question from Scottish Detainee Visitors:
When were you told you wouldn’t be released at the end of your sentence? How did that make you feel?

Another question from the Right to Remain gathering:
Have you got any legal assistance?

A question from Kalina Shah @KalinaShah:
how many hours are you made to stay in your cell, and are you given any free time?

How often can you see your friends and family?  Can you receive regular visits?

A question via the Unlocking Detention Facebook page:

question 2


And another question via the Facebook page, thanks to Eleri of Swansea City of Sanctuary:

"It’s like an apartheid that’s gone underground"

This blog post was written by June, who is currently detained in Yarl’s Wood.  This piece was originally published on Women for Refugee Women’s blog and has been republished with their kind permission here.


Yarl’s Wood is like prison, your freedom has been taken away, your rights don’t apply. They talk to you like you’re a child. If the fire alarm comes on, they’re like “go to your room, go to your room, go to your room!” even though we’re old enough to know what the fire alarm means. Those of us who’ve done health and safety know that your room is the last place you should go – we should go to the fire exit.

We’re in the middle of nowhere here. No one is seeing what is happening, so they use that opportunity to manipulate and dictate. They push things under the carpet until it is their word against ours. We don’t know what the next thing is going to be. We have to use everything we have to protect ourselves and each other. They use their uniforms to exercise their power.

When I’m talking about this, I just feel like exploding because everyone has this mindset that Britain is safe, that everyone can exercise their rights here. But it’s not. It’s like an apartheid that’s gone underground. You don’t know who is going to believe you when you speak about it.

After you leave here, that’s when you suffer more. We get to know each other and love each other and understand each other. People outside can’t understand in the same way. The pain we go through makes us strong, we bond and care for and protect each other. If you hear a scream, even if you are eating, you drop everything and run to see what is happening to one of us. If I let them treat one of us this way, tomorrow it might be me they come for.

The food is terrible. When I first came here I couldn’t believe when I saw a woman carrying a tray with a jacket potato and chips. The other day we had pasta and rice. No sauce. It’s like they’re trying to choke us with pasta, rice and bread! They don’t care, they don’t care at all. They just think ‘who are you going to tell this to and they’ll believe you?’

As an asylum seeker you can’t work [in the UK, outside of detention], but some of the women here work, washing dishes for £1 an hour. I’m too political to find myself washing their dishes; if I’m going to work here, they can issue me a work permit and pay me minimum wage!

They always threaten you with Kingfisher [segregation] for anything. They say it’s not prison but it applies the same. Even the bedding, the cutlery looks like in prison. In prison it’s better because you know you’re serving your sentence and then that’s it.

My journey always meets with pain, trauma and abuse. It’s always up-hill. Yarl’s Wood is just part of my journey.

When I came to Britain I had a taste of being cared for, of being considered someone at last by people I met in the community. It’s an experience I’m grateful for and will never forget. It’s from that experience, that’s how I know that what’s happening here is not right. Even when the hope is lost, I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The woman called 258

Abri wrote this blog, the third of a series of three, for Detention Forum member Women for Refugee Women from inside Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in July 2014.

I didn’t know how much of a crier I was until my time in Yarl’s wood; I have formed friendships with some extraordinary women, who have been through a lot in their lives; I have listened to a woman detail her story of how she has been travelling for the past 14 years of her life and how she was smuggled into the country in a fridge. But the one that really touched my heart, mainly because of what she suffered in this country after all she had been through; locked up in Yarl’s wood for the past two years, is a woman I’m going to call 258, after her room no avocet 258.To me this woman is brave, strong and courageous, she is a friend and her strength has brought me hope.
258 was detained in March 2011 and released in May 2014, after she had suffered a lot in many ways: her health had deteriorated, she had injured her back and she is now confined in a wheel chair. Throughout her time in detention she has been in and out of health care and solitary confinement and sometimes she was on suicide watch for many days. How she survived two years in Yarl’s wood I really don’t know, I won’t be able to make two years, I can’t do it.
I know from my 5 months experience how it feels, how much you miss even the small little things; just the other day my friend and I jumped at what sounded like a barking dog and we convinced ourselves it was a dog, even though in reality it couldn’t have been, because of where we are in the middle of a Business Park. I know how long a day seems and some days you just can’t take it, You want to scream from the top of your lungs, let me out, I want to go out! But the fear of solitary confinement always stops me.
This doesn’t even begin to explain what 258 went through, two years of her life confide in Yarl’s wood, the cost on her health, the pains of her heart, the awful memories of her past and the fears of being forgotten and the careless regard for her life., It sure seemed like human rights didn’t apply to her. What makes me angry about 258’s story is the fact that after two years of detention, the case continues unresolved, For me this is a miscarriage of justice. 258 deservesher freedom and accountability for the loss of two years of her life.