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.”

Unlocking Detention visits Brook House

Last week, it was Brook House detention centre’s turn to be ‘visited’ by Unlocking Detention.

We had some brilliant articles published during Brook House week.  There was a really interesting piece published by our partners The Justice Gap, on the politics of space and time, looking at the Refugee Tales walk along the Pilgrim’s Way, which involved people who had experienced detention first-hand.

This article lead to a discussion on Twitter about making the ‘invisible spaces’ of detention visible, a key aim of the Unlocking Detention project.  Jenny Edkins, Professor of International Politics at the University of Aberystwyth, made the connection between Unlocking Detention and the work of Tings Chak.  You can read more about Tings’ publication ‘Undocumented: the architecture of migrant detention’ here.

During Brook House week, the Immigration Bill 2015 got its second reading in the House of Commons.  Read about what the Bill means for immigration detention, and what happens next, in this piece by Jon Featonby, parliamentary manager at the Refugee Council and parliamentary lead for the Detention Forum.

We heard from Yann, detained in Brook House for 4 months and detained for a year and half overall.

Also last week, Bristol Immigration Detention Campaign released their fantastic Keys to Freedom video in support of Unlocking Detention.  Take a look!

On Friday, we ended the week with our now traditional Q and A with someone detained in the IRC that is the focus of the week’s ‘tour’.  This week, Ray answered your questions.  Ray is currently detained in Brook House.

Catch up on all the questions put to Ray, and his illuminating responses, here.

Some thanks are due:  Thank you to Ray for providing such valuable insight into life in detention, thank you for all your questions, thanks for Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group for putting us in touch with Ray, and a special thanks to Ben from Detention Action for interviewing Ray.

We also continued to get some amazing contributions to our Unlocked15 theme – What would you miss if you were detained? (Or for those who actually have been detained, what did you miss?).  Remember you can still share yours on Twitter, using the hashtag #Unlocked15.

And finally, there was big detention news last week, not related to Brook House.

This is great news, and we hope more will follow.  No reason has been given for the closure at this point, but we like to think that the Unlocking Detention visit to Dover the week before the news broke was the final nail in the coffin!

Unlocking Detention’s visit to Dover

After the visit to the Verne, we moved round the coast and last week, 5 to 11 October, Unlocking Detention ‘visited’ Dover detention centre. 

We had some great blog posts throughout the week – first up was Fraser from Samphire‘s article on Dover and how improvements to conditions at the detention centre don’t make up for the fundamental injustices experienced by those detained there – “soft furnishing don’t hide the bars

none of this hides the fact that detention centres are places for imprisoning people. The people detained see the same locks, bars and security searches as a prison. The detention centre management will therefore always be fighting a losing battle in dressing this place up as something other than a prison. The illusion that this is ‘detention’ rather than ‘prison’ helps both the Prison Service running it and the British public who have voted for it cope with the brutality of imprisoning people with no time limit. It does little to ease the pain for those subjected to it.

We also heard from Joe, who was detained in Dover for three years, and describes it as a “place of mental torture”.

Also on the blog, Waging Peace wrote about their experience at the House of Commons when parliament debated immigration detention last month.  And we heard from Gemma, on how detention affects communities in Nottingham, a long distance from the a physical site of detention but with the threat of detention never far from people’s minds.    There was also a great event on indefinite detention in Bristol, which you’ll hear more about later in the tour!

We heard music and spoken word from people currently or previously detained in Dover, thanks to Music in Detention.

Many of the tweets reminded us that the grim realities of the detention centre are a sharp contrast to the beautiful countryside nearby (just like when we visited The Verne).

Out of sight, out of mind?

We again ended the week with a live Q and A, this time with Grzegorz who is currently held in Dover.  Thank you to everyone who sent in questions, and for Grzegorz for sharing his thoughts with us.

I was in Dover IRC for three years. It is a place of mental torture.

This blogpost is part of ‘Thinking Outside the Box’ – a Detention Action series which featuring the reflections of those with direct experience of detention, or of working with people in detention. This piece was written by Joe from the Freed Voices group especially for Unlocking Detention, which this week looks at Dover IRC in Kent.

I was in Dover IRC for three years.  It is a place of mental torture.

You go through four separate gates before you enter Dover IRC and I got more and more scared with each one we passed through. The first gate is the big stone arch and there are two officers who take a movement order from the driver of the van; the second gate is attached to a small office. I remember a small lady coming up and running a metal detector over the car before coming into our van and asking me to confirm my name; gate number three is a big metal structure and the driver got out and signed some paperwork before we went on; at the last gate they just waved us through.

I as put in Deal House in Dover IRC and all you could see when you looked out of the window as the sea. You felt you were on the edge of a nation, sitting on the border. Sometimes you would get French signal on your phone or French stations on the radio.

As a survivor of torture I went into Dover IRC with existing mental health issues. The lack of a time limit made these worse. You can’t look forward. It is a never ending sentence – a life sentence – only I had not committed a crime.

The female officers were supportive at Dover IRC. They would encourage you to keep going. Sometimes they would smile. But many of the male officers at Dover were rude. It was normal to hear them shout ‘go back to your country!’ They demonised us. I think it made it easier for them to do their jobs.

We were dependent on one hair clipper for 100 people in Dover. It would stay in the wing office and you’d have to give them ID to get it. Sometimes you had to wait for three weeks before it was your turn. We had no real way of cleaning the clippers, as nothing with alcohol in it was allowed inside. I developed lots of skin conditions on my head from sharing the clippers.

You don’t notice the seasons in Dover. You were in a cage inside and they made no difference to you. The only way you could really tell it was changing was by what clothes the guards wore when they came inside and out.

Unless you are working in Dover then you are locked up in for nineteen hours a day. All you can do is think. Think, think, think…you go crazy. It’s even worse in a single room. There is no-one to talk to. It is just you and your head.

I tried to take my life five times. But I thought about my kids and I couldn’t do it. They pulled me through detention.

There is a big pressure to work in detention, even though it is only for £1 an hour. Firstly, working in detention is the only way to leave your cell – otherwise you are there all day. Secondly, if you don’t work then the Home Office can say that you are ‘not complying’ with Immigration and this can count against your case. Working in detention is also a way to control people in detention. If you complained, you can lose your job. And if, for example, you have family far away then you have to work otherwise you cannot afford to call them.

I went for bail ten times but they turned it down because I had no address to go to. They also rejected my S4 application on many occasions. Finally, BiD helped me try to find out why I wasn’t being allowed free. I will never forget how I felt when I received the fax from them with the explanation. It said that the Home Office had been keeping me in Dover because I had committed murder, kidnapping and sexual assault. I had done none of these things. I had only claimed asylum. I hadn’t been charged with any kind of crime.

I think about Dover IRC every day. All the time. It as if it has merged with my traumas from back home to become one.

Soft furnishings don’t hide the bars

This piece was written by Fraser Paterson, who works at Samphire. You can follow them on Twitter at @samphire_

Many people will know Dover as Britain’s main border with Europe and living here you are occasionally reminded on those clear days when you can see Calais. However, for Unlocking Detention we are focussing on the lesser-known side of the Dover border – its detention centre.

I manage the Detention Support Project at Samphire – a charity that provides emotional and practical support for people detained in Dover’s immigration detention centre. This detention centre holds 401 men and is run by the Prison Service. Samphire’s work involves coordinating a volunteer visitor scheme as well as our staff’s casework – aimed at helping people detained get access to legal advice and other support. We also have a project that runs a phone line and supports people released from detention nationwide.

The tide turns on public opinion

Media interest was revived in the Dover border this summer amidst fears of a ‘swarm of migrants’ coming from Calais. However, Dover detention centre has been at half-capacity since July in anticipation of the surge of refugees that never came. In August, Samphire spoke out against these misleading stories. However, sadly it took pictures of a drowned boy on a beach to shift public opinion and drive a movement to welcome refugees.
We saw the power of this change in opinion when we held our well-attended Facts Over Fear discussion event in Dover. Samphire is also supporting a Refugees Welcome Here demonstration on 17 October. This shows the number of people who are willing to be positive about immigration and refugees, even in a town just down the road from where Nigel Farage launched his anti-immigration election campaign.

Modest increases in the resettlement of refugees to the UK were a welcome result of this public pressure, but we are resettling only 4,000 refugees a year from a region hosting 4.1 million Syrian refugees. More importantly, there is little use in helping refugees abroad if we overlook those who reach our shores. This is one of several reasons why Unlocking Detention is important – detention divides our communities and is no way to welcome refugees.

The ‘not-a-prison’ paradox

Member of Parliament David Burrowes said in the detention debate on 10 September 2015 that:

“Detention centres are essentially prisons with soft furnishings and some plants”

However, in comparison with the other detention centres, Dover detention centre is further hampered by its Napoleonic era buildings that can’t help but give you a sense of creeping dread as you enter. This was aptly put by the 2014 prison inspectorate report:

“Dover is probably the last custodial facility in Britain that is still surrounded by a moat.”

However, this gets to the contradiction of immigration detention. In response to inspection reports the Prison Service – who run the detention centre – have made a genuine effort to make the place less ‘prison-like’. Some ‘soft furnishings’ have been placed in the visits hall in place of the bolted down tables and a lot of the exposed brick as you enter has been plastered and painted. In addition, the Detention Centre Rules, recognising that people detained are not serving a criminal sentence, are more lenient than in prisons – allowing detainees to use mobile phones and wear their own clothes.

However, none of this hides the fact that detention centres are places for imprisoning people. The people detained see the same locks, bars and security searches as a prison. The detention centre management will therefore always be fighting a losing battle in dressing this place up as something other than a prison. The illusion that this is ‘detention’ rather than ‘prison’ helps both the Prison Service running it and the British public who have voted for it cope with the brutality of imprisoning people with no time limit. It does little to ease the pain for those subjected to it.

Just holding the keys: Detention of children and the mentally ill

It’s important to remember that the Prison Service, just like all of us, are trying to do a good job. None of us want to go to work feeling that we’re harming the world and the Prison Service officers in Dover are no different. This is seen in the ‘not a prison’ paradox but it is also seen in the ‘just holding the key’ justification.

This is illustrated by the 13 year old boy I met recently – he was detained for three weeks in Dover detention centre. This was a result of a catastrophic failure of the age assessment process which should never have allowed his detention. After I met him, I left the visits hall shaking a little at seeing someone so young, so small and so afraid detained with adults. His eyes had welled up as he spoke to me.

As upsetting as it was, it didn’t surprise me. Last year the Refugee Council wrote of errors in age assessment that lead to children detained in Dover and this child was a sad reminder that progress is not being made. We referred the child to the Refugee Council and helped him get out of detention. However, what mystified me at the time was that no staff in the detention centre had questioned the Home Office’s age assessment – why no officer protested when they looked at this boy and thought of their own child.

When I raised this with the management of the detention centre I was told that the Prison Service cannot question people’s detention – no matter how young. The Prison Service, as with the private detention service operators, are in the battle for contracts. It’s for the Home Office to choose who to detain, it’s for the contractor to hold the keys. The fact that no safeguard in detention operates as it should doesn’t factor into the equation – their existence gives everyone enough peace of mind to feel they’re doing a good job.

And it’s not just children, Britain detains torture survivors because the doctor who sees them face to face feels they’ve done their job when they report it to the Home Office. The caseworker at the Home Office will then reject that report without seeing the face of the person detained. We also detain people with severe mental illness and Samphire have seen this repeatedly over the last year. When Samphire have raised it as an issue we’re again told that the detention centre are only holding the keys. This leaves us in a battle to try and support a mentally ill person to both trust us and to interact effectively with a legal adviser.

Taking responsibility

On all of these issues, we as voters and the Prison Service running the detention centre are lacking the same thing – responsibility. We are imprisoning people. Often those people are children, people who have suffered torture or the mentally ill. It’s not enough to say that you’re just holding the keys, just as it’s not enough to say that you didn’t vote for this – we all need to take the responsibility to change it.

Dover week…

The Unlocking Detention team looks back on the week they visited Dover detention centre in Kent.
The Dover week was a busy week like other weeks, but this time with the Detention Inquiry’s second evidence session taking place on Thursday (and we also had our Quarterly Meeting, which always needs a lot of preparation…)

Many blog pieces came out this week, and we would like to thank all the contributors.

We had permission to republish this powerful piece by Abdelhay Tali, who was detained in Dover in the past.

If you go to his blogpage here, you can also see the map of the detention centre he drew.  You can also read other pieces he wrote about his experience of detention here, highly recommended.

One of our members, Samphire, which visits people held in Dover detention centre contributed this piece.  Immigration detention is a national policy but how the local residents who live side by side the detention centres see it must be unique to each area.

The photo they supplied was one of our all-time favorites…  You will see why.

There was this video…

It feels odd to see this detention centre, a modern evil created by modern states, located on this rather historic site.

Many of the criticisms made by the HMIP cluster around this fundamental ambiguity about the place – that it is a prison which is not supposed to be a prison.  It looks like a prison, it feels like a prison, those who work there treat it like a prison, but it is not a prison.  The outcome of this ambiguity is that migrants who are held there experience it as a prison, though the key aspect of prison sentences, as the knowledge of how long you have to stay imprisoned and counting down your days before release, is nowhere to be found.

For those of us who are not physically there in the detention centres, their sheer cruelty makes this feel unreal.  Why keep people in a place like that for administrative convenience of the state?  A tweet like this reminds us that, as we  dissect and pontificate ever more about immigration detention, many people are actually there, right at this moment.

In our work over the last few months – particularly our work encouraging more organisations to be involved in the detention inquiry – we have come to know many great organisations who are not specialising in detention as such but who knew so painfully what the long-term impact of immigration detention is on people.  Room to Heal was one of them, and we got talking about the ethics and difficulties of asking people to share their experience of detention.  We ourselves touched upon this issue here.  We were delighted to receive this contribution to Unlocking Detention from Room to Heal.

The fact that not everyone can speak out on detention should make those who make a living out of talking about detention, set policies and procedures about detention and carry out daily practices detention sit up. Most of them/us are very likely to be operating in the darkness, with a hazy idea of what detention really is.  There are many thousands and thousands of voices which will not be heard, even when a question, ‘What does detention do to you?’ is posed.

We ourselves heard from individuals who told us that their friends and peers were simply too afraid to talk about detention because they have been completely traumatized by their experiences.  One person told us how her friend who, having secured refugee status, is still unable to open the front door of her flat because she was worried that someone might come again to ‘get her’ to detain her.  The person said ‘My friend was detained for many years.  I think her mental health is getting worse and worse.  We keep on telling her ‘You’ve got your status, you don’t have to worry about detention.’, but it doesn’t make any difference to her’.

Another person said that he encouraged his friend to come and share his experience of detention so that the inquiry panel can learn from it.  He said ‘On hearing the word detention, my friend just froze.  He just couldn’t come.  He was just too scared to even think about it again’.
We think these voices, whether audible or not, are so important to the parliamentary inquiry panel.  That’s why we have insisted from the very beginning that people’s experiences must take the centre stage of the inquiry.  After all, organisations working on detention issues have always been vocal, have published many reports, briefing papers, consultation responses.  There is so much “official” evidence about detention already available.  We wanted to make sure during the inquiry that people who are detained or have direct experience of detention are not treated as dreaded “case studies” but real people whose lives experiences are valuable and who have something to say to the government.

We were pleased to be able to help our member, Waging Peace, bring one of their clients to Parliament on the day of the detention inquiry evidence session.  Mortada gave evidence to the panel, alongside with two people from the Migrant Refugees Communities Forum.

We were also assisting one more person to give evidence on the day, but he was not able to make it.  He was scheduled to give evidence from detention during the first oral evidence session in July, but unfortunately the phone connection didn’t work out and he missed his chance to speak to the panel.  Luckily he has now been released from detention and living in the community – which, of course, raises the question of, why was he detained in the first place?

Our phone is not very ‘smart’, so we were not able to do live-tweeting from the evidence session.  But our members Rene Cassin and Detention Action did a superb job of capturing the key moments of the session.  You can read the recap of the session by clicking the link in the tweet below.

One of the recommendations made by a panel of former ‘detainees’ was this.

And will the panel listen?

The most memorable of the tweet of the week was the one by Abdelhay whose work was featured during the week.

From Unlocking Detention team

Psychological weapons used against detainees

This blog post was written by Abdelhay Tali, who has experienced immigration detention, and originally appeared on his blog.

This is a thorny issue, through time and the acquisition of experiences; people learned that it is not necessary to do muscular effort and even without talking, one can persuade.

In Dover, methods are multiple, authorities have build and developed laws, trained wardens to reach good results. In addition to laws enacted by the authorities jailers also develop their own tactics which they add to what they have learned. It’s experience, and I have special appreciations for experience and its importance.


When arrived at the reception, phones will be confiscated and the detainees deprived of their use, I asked the jailers why? one of them told me it’s because of its camera, well, that makes you think that they do not want you to take pictures of the place. The matter is confiscation itself, perhaps before the advent of phones that contain a camera, they used to confiscate them to not record any voices…

You should understand, as a detainee, and before leaving the reception, that you do not deserve to have people rights, you are not a person that can be trusted by the community. With their uniforms, they also make you understand that they are protecting the community, protecting it from you.


Rumors are considerable weapons, even governments can tame and guide their people by using them, with the help of the media which pave the way, in Dover, there were rumors.

Well, it is simple and can be seen, to pass a rumor or an idea, the guards rely on the leader or the model, for every group or race has someone to whom everybody wants to talk, be present with, and be seen by others with.When this model speaks, most of detainees respect him and believe him, or at least take his words into consideration. Somehow, a guard passes the idea, his or authority’s, passes it to a leader, and this one, involved or not, marketed it within his group, whether this group is Asians, Africans or people from non-member countries in the EU. (After the entry of some Eastern European countries that are relatively poor to the European Union, is no longer a need for Asians and Africans to stay. And what I noticed in Dover is those posters and guidance on the walls that were written in multiple languages, but the nationalities in the center were somewhat different, it seems that these languages posters have not been reviewed since the financial crisis of 2008, there are languages that must be added, and others must be removed.)

A few days before going home, I received a rumor about a Lady scouring the place to take information from and about the detainees to provide the authorities with it, detainees used to say (she is with them), this sentence shows that there were two camps, or they thought that there are two camps, and this was one of the most important observations that I’ve noticed, perhaps thinking about two camps aroused because of human feelings, and perhaps it was created because of a rumor.

I headed towards her and I asked her about her work and role in Dover, she turned out to be from one of the universities and a part of her research was getting interviews and information from removal centers. I learned that day that rumors weapon is important and effective, but also shows what scare its users.

Your English Is Good

I have been told this sentence by many jailers during the three first days in detention, in an ordinary place and normal times I probably wouldn’t care that much, but in detention you feel like your whole body, spirit and mind are together, and your awareness is ON all the time. the first thing that would spring on anybody’s mind is that they wanted to use me to do some tasks, as they were giving 6 pounds/day to detainees to do a job, but then you thought that maybe it is not as simple as that, maybe there is something else.

I wasn’t able to discover why I’ve been told that all the time by all those people, because the CARRY ON thing had happened before I could reveal the secret, and of course, they all stopped talking to me after that. Well perhaps it’s not that big a deal.

It looked a bit like this

Deal House, it was the name of the building I was living in, I moved from Sandwich after living there for a couple of days with 4 other people in a room, they were all smokers and I’m not one, so I moved. in Deal they suggested to go and register in education to learn how to use a computer and/or to cut somebody’s hair, they were very looking down on their education system while they were explaining it to the detainees, it was as they were saying: (you are just sitting all the day, why don’t you go there to kill some time?)

If you go to the office in Sandwich house, you’ll find on the left of the TV a wooden box that looks like a prison cell, inside that cell there is a happy looking monkey, wearing the usual black and white prison uniform.

If asked why? they can not give an answer good enough to convince even themselves. At the end, we can’t blame those jailers, they have been taught to be like that. This monkey is surely there to be giving a clear message, and it’s definitely giving more than one.

Not a minor offence: The unlawful detention of unaccompanied children

Image courtesy of Michael Collins

This piece by Judith Dennis was first published by openDemocracy on 3 November 2014.  Judith is Policy Manager at the Refugee Council.

Despite pledging to end child detention for immigration purposes in 2010, the UK Government is still quietly locking up children. It’s getting away with it by calling them adults.

Dover Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) sits on the site of a 19th century fortress, isolated on top of a hill overlooking the sleepy seaside town.
For day trippers, the view across the Channel may be quite appealing with the famous white cliffs plunging dramatically into the sea. For those incarcerated behind the barbed wire fences, the view must feel entirely different; a chilling reminder that you are on the edge of Britain, being held at arm’s length by a government intent on removing you at the first opportunity.
Dover IRC used to be a prison. For all intents and purposes, it still is, except these days it’s used solely to house immigration detainees – up to 401 adult males in total. Although it’s officially no longer a prison, Dover IRC is run by the prison service and the Independent Chief Inspector of Prisons has recently described it as ‘prison like’.
It’s not hard to see why.
The building is covered in razor wire and staff patrol carrying batons. It’s surrounding by a disused moat, the legacy of the former fortress. It’s not difficult to imagine what it’s like to be housed there during the winter with the wind whipping in from the sea; cold, damp, dirty and unforgiving.
Inside, the Independent Chief Inspector of Prisons found living spaces to be cramped with little privacy. The showers are faulty, and it’s not unheard of to find mice scuttling about. Inspectors also had concerns about the high level of strip searches and detainees being moved in the dead of night.
Dover IRC is not a pleasant place. But it’s even worse if you’re a child.
In December 2010, the coalition government pledged to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. It was about time.
But if you scratch beneath the surface of the promise, you will soon discover that the Government isn’t keeping its word. Children are still locked up, quietly, in places like Dover IRC. And the Government’s getting away with it by calling them adults.

The invisible children of the detention system

One of the biggest issues unaccompanied young people seeking asylum face on arrival in the UK is that they are usually unable to verify their date of birth with official documents.
Most countries from which refugees come do not register births in the same way as in this country, although some will have documents that can help provide information about age.
Refugees may have to travel on documents that do not belong to them or have been obtained fraudulently; this is accepted in international law in recognition that people may not be able to obtain passports or travel documents from a government from which they are escaping. Such documents are likely to have an adult’s date of birth because children shouldn’t travel alone.
Children may also be advised or decide themselves to state that they are an adult if encountered on their journey, to avoid being separated from a group or to protect themselves from adults who may want to exploit them.
Home Office policies say that unaccompanied should not be detained unless one or more of the following criteria apply: i) there is credible and clear documentary evidence that they are 18 years of age or over; ii) a full and detailed local authority age assessment setting out the reasons for the conclusion that the applicant is 18 years of age or over has been seen, and the local authority has stated that the assessment was conducted in compliance with guidelines; iii) their physical appearance and/or general demeanour very strongly indicates that they are significantly over 18 years and no other credible evidence exists to the contrary. In this latter case, no age assessment needs to be pursued.
But these policies aren’t working: immigration officials and social workers are getting it wrong and the consequences can be devastating. Children are being unlawfully detained as adults, alongside adults, despite the Government knowing it can cause them lasting psychological and physical harm.
In 2013 alone, the Refugee Council secured the release of 36 young people from Dover and places like it. Following age assessments, 12 of these vulnerable children were judged to be under the age of 16. Two were under 15.
These figures are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. No one knows what happens to the children whose plight is never discovered, or who are removed before anyone has the chance to help them.

Child or adult, who decides?

There are two main ways that children can end up being wrongfully detained. The first is if a child has had a poor age assessment by social services who have judged them to be an adult. If a child is detained on the basis of a poor age assessment, going to court is often the only way to secure their release. Until the case reaches court, the child is left languishing in detention. This is despite the fact that it has been shown that the damage inflicted on children deprived of their liberty is usually compounded by the length of time the child is detained.
Otherwise, children can be detained on the say so of an immigration officer. Although Home Office policy states that immigration officers can detain someone if they appear to be significantly over 18, the Home Office has said that in practice, this means that the immigration officer judges them to be over the age of 25.
This is extremely concerning. Appearance is a particularly unreliable indicator of age, especially when children are going through puberty. We all know someone under 18 who’s managed to buy alcohol just because the shop assistant thought they looked older.
Yet if an immigration officer decides a person appears to be over the age of 25, no superior needs be consulted, no age assessment is required and the person enters the asylum system as an adult.
The solution is obvious, but rarely implemented: if an asylum seeker claims to be a child at any stage in the process, they should be given a full, lawful age assessment by social services.

The consequences of getting it wrong

Alone, scared and confused, there are few ways for a child to cry for help. There are few people listening.
Finding children inside detention centres can be heart breaking. Sometimes they’re excited to have a visitor. Sometimes they’re aggressive, understandably angry and scared.  One boy the Refugee Council discovered said nothing to us but instead started to take his clothes off. He was covered in blood. He’d been self harming.
There are other dangers too. We know of children who have been molested inside detention centres. One boy, who has now had his refugee status for years, is still on medication as a direct result of his time being unlawfully detained. He tells us he still has nightmares.
Children who are unlawfully detained often receive compensation as an acknowledgement of their ordeal; small but significant sums doled out to try and teach the Home Office about the human cost of its actions.
The children arriving alone in the UK via Dover will have undoubtedly endured a long and perilous journey, completely at the mercy of people smugglers. Many will have suffered abuse and witnessed death along the way, not to mention the trauma they will have suffered which forced them to leave their home country and loved ones behind.
Dover’s white cliffs should symbolise safety; a chance to overcome past experiences and rebuild young lives. Instead, the imposing prison on the top of the hill, and places like it, beckon.
No asylum seeker should be detained for administrative convenience. It ruins lives and wastes money. But detaining vulnerable children in a system build for adults is a particularly distasteful form of state sponsored cruelty.

Looking beyond the border in Dover

By Fraser from Samphire.  Samphire are a member of the Detention Forum.

Dover Immigration Removal Centre stands above the town of Dover on its Western Heights, holding around 400 detainees. I work for Samphire, a charity in the town of Dover which provides emotional and practical support to those detainees in Dover and to ex-detainees nationwide.

Dover: on the cliffs

Perched on this hill facing the English channel, the weather plays a large part in the experience of detainees in Dover detention centre. On good days the sun splits through the wire and the fences and it feels airy and relatively bearable. You can see France sometimes, although that is easier to appreciate when your stay is for an afternoon rather than months or years. But in winter, the wind whips the rain into your face and your thoughts are not of France but of staying warm and dry.

The detention centre is built around a set of fortifications originally built to defend the country against Napoleon (complete with a moat). This, together with its location so close to France, makes it an easy metaphor for how many Dover residents see the UK’s immigration system – an outpost defending against foreign hordes. However, that metaphor ignores the complexities both of Dover and the detention centre that stands above it.

The detention centre is not a simple processing point for those who come off the boats from Calais. In reality, most detainees we meet have been transferred there from another centre, or have been detained at one of their weekly signing appointments with the Home Office. Many have been in the UK for years and some for decades.

For many, particularly the stateless and unreturnable, they can face an arduous shuffle around the detention system that can take years with no time limit or sentence to count down to. For them Dover is anything but a point of arrival or departure.

Dover: in the town

Down in the town itself, tourists passing through Dover from France only glance at the picturesque Dover Castle perched on the white cliffs to the East as they drive through a town unable to thrive on its tourist attractions. So it’s little surprise they’re not aware of the detention centre hidden from sight on the hill to the West.

That oversight extends to most of the town’s residents as well. In this part of the country the most innocuous conversations turn to the topic of immigration with bewildering speed yet there seems little interest in the 400 migrant residents that Samphire work with. In our work and personal lives we hear the same views on migration that have been entrenched and reinforced by the media despite the fact that the truth of those affected by the immigration system stands so close to the residents. It’s hard not to feel that the more striking border is not between Calais and Dover but within Dover itself.

Between two Dovers: Samphire’s work

Since 2002 Samphire have organised for members of the local community to visit detainees in Dover to help ease the loneliness and stress inherent in immigration detention. We’ve then brought our experience the other way and we raise awareness in the local community using the insights gained from our work at Dover detention centre. In this way we hope to bridge the gap between these two sides of Dover.

Meanwhile Samphire’s Ex-Detainee Project provide support to many of those left in poverty and unable to work after release from detention. This serves as a reminder that detainees’ problems don’t end on release from detention – at which point fences and wire are replaced by electronic tags and the restraints of poverty.

We’ve also expanded our Detention Support work as the shrinking legal aid available and the complexity of the immigration and asylum system pose extreme challenges to the residents at Dover detention centre. We provide a link to solicitors and other services and we have a small Legal Project that tries to fill the increasing gaps in legal provision.

In the midst of this the Prison Service, who run the centre, express a genuine desire to maintain good conditions for detainees. However, we see in all areas of our work the toll immigration detention has on the wellbeing of detainees and their families. The difficulty of trying to maintain decency while detaining migrants indefinitely is something that we don’t see being resolved.

If you’d like more information about Samphire you can visit their website or follow them on twitter @samphire_

“As the weeks pass their demeanour changes”

Refugee Action are members of the Detention Forum and used to provide advice about assisted return to people in detention, before the Home Office withdrew the contract.  These are some of the experiences of one of their caseworkers.

[At Dover IRC], we run an advice surgery at the removal centre. Today it’s grey, windy and drizzly, but on a clear day we can see France. At the centre, detainees of all nationalities approach us cautiously; some about returning, others just desperate to talk to someone new. Depression is common; I’ll sometimes meet someone perky, but as the weeks pass their demeanour changes. It’s sad. I try to build a good rapport with my clients; they tend to be lovely people considering all they’ve experienced.

[At Harmondsworth IRC] I complete AVR [assisted voluntary return] applications for asylum seekers and irregular migrants. I’m also approached by an Israeli conscientious objector, an extremely frustrated Nigerian client, and a client who believes he’s been unlawfully detained. I refer him to Bail for Immigration Detainees and plan to follow up the other cases later.