A post-detention Scotland?

Scottish Detainee Visitors | Unlocked19

Image courtesy of Scottish Detainee Visitors and illustration by @carcazan

With a declining occupancy in Dungavel, the only Scottish detention centre, Kate Alexander, director of the Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV) is imagining what Scotland would look like post-detention and what it would mean for the visitors who have a well established and effective strategy.

At a recent visit to Dungavel, my colleague and I were told that as part of a programme of refurbishment, prompted by criticisms in the second Shaw Review and the latest inspection report, capacity at the centre had been reduced from 249 to 125. No announcement, no fanfare, just quietly halving the capacity of Scotland’s only detention centre.

It is not an entirely surprising decision. Government statistics show that the last time more than 200 people were detained there was in 2015 and since early 2018, the number of people detained has been under 100. As visitors to the centre, we have been aware of low occupancy at Dungavel for some time. It is one of a number of changes in the landscape of detention that SDV will need to think about as we embark on our strategic planning process for the next three years.

Not only are fewer people being detained, they are being detained for shorter periods. In previous years, our visitors visited people who were held in Dungavel for many months and sometimes years. One man I visited in my early days in SDV was detained there for over four years. Currently, the longest anyone has been detained in the UK is two and a half years. Being detained for this length of time is clearly unacceptable and unjust but compared to the situation at the end of 2011 when one person had been detained for over six years, it is progress.

How does change impact on visitors’ work?

These developments are the result of successful campaigning by people with experience of detention and the organisations that work with them such as Detention Forum and its members. The Government is under sustained pressure to detain fewer people and to do so for shorter periods. There has already had an impact on the experience of visitors. We know that one of the most positive experiences people gain from visiting, is building long term supportive relationships and friendships with people they meet in detention, and these relationships are now shorter and less frequent. It’s an odd position to be in. We are obviously pleased that change is happening, but for our visitors, that change comes at the cost of a changing visiting dynamic.

In her blog for Unlocking Detention a couple of weeks ago, Ali McGinley of the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID), considered the impact that a time limit on detention might have on visiting groups. She argued that with a 28 day time limit, visiting would change to one-off support sessions rather than long term supportive relationships. This is something we have already had to give some thought to. In 2016, when the Government announced its plans to close Dungavel and replace it with a short term holding facility at Glasgow Airport, we faced the prospect of redesigning our services to work with people who would be detained in the new centre for a week or less before removal, or more likely a move to another centre in England. That did not happen and Dungavel remains open, but we are again thinking about how to respond to change. Our thoughts now are more positive. I have never been more hopeful that a time limit will be introduced in the short to medium term. This will be a major step forward for people in detention and those at risk of detention, but we will have to think about what that means for us and our visitors and how we work with people who are no longer held indefinitely.

Alternatives to detention

Discussions of a time limit have always gone hand in hand with discussions of alternatives to detention. Campaigning on detention reform has argued that it is possible for the Government to manage immigration without the use of detention. The Home Office is now committed to a series of pilots of community based alternatives to detention. We have consistently argued that Scotland is the ideal place to introduce alternatives. It has a devolved Government with wide powers and a more positive approach to immigration than at Westminster, a strong and vibrant voluntary sector working on migration, and now it only has capacity to detain 125 people. Furthermore, the Scottish Government has made no secret of its desire to hold another independence referendum. Like last time, any such move is likely to come with a pledge to close Dungavel in an independent Scotland, which means any new administration would have to consider alternatives.

But something SDV, and other organisations like us, will have to ponder as we continue to make the case for alternatives is that they are not about detention at all. They are about moving to a system with no detention. And so, as we look toward the next three years, we might be looking to a time when detention will no longer exists in Scotland and will need to think about whether there will be a role for SDV at all in a post-detention Scotland.

It’s a rather thrilling prospect!

Visiting people held in Dungavel immigration detention centre

Abigail, SDV | Unlocked19

To close this year’s Unlocking Detention by a ‘visit’ to Dungavel and reflect on what’s next, we have asked volunteer visitors of Scottish Detainee Visitors, ordinary people doing extraordinary job of witnessing what’s happening to people locked up in Dungavel, to share their experiences.

Carol (not her real name)

I had heard about Scottish Detainee Visitors from my daughter (who used to be a visitor) but did not think there were visitors from Edinburgh. Have considered volunteering with Freedom from torture but couldn’t find a way to do it. Eventually went on a course with Scottish Refugee Council, which lead to joining SDV.

I was quite unsure about what I would be doing and how I would speak to the people I visited when my visiting started. I am not quite sure what my expectations were, but found it difficult knowing what to talk about, and aware the people we visited were wanting us to help them get out which we could not do so rather frustrating. Having to talk to a person through a glass window, as she was not allowed into the visiting room, was a bit of a surprise.

Another surprise was that the UK detains and often deports Europeans who have committed a crime and served their sentence, rather than releasing them after their sentence.

Before each visit, I make sure I have identification, English money* in case needed, enough paperwork, and pens. If organising visit, I decide who to visit, and phone and text them.

(*Scottish Detainee Visitors give a small cash gift to people who are being removed. They have learned that if the give them Scottish notes, they can be difficult to exchange, so visitors go to a bank that will issue bank of England notes.)

On the way there, we often discuss who we are to visit, and the political injustice that leads to people being detained. On the way back, we are usually talking about the problems and injustices we have just encountered. It worries me there is very little we can do. Nothing encourages me.

Since I started visiting, my view of the UK has changed. I did not realise what an unwelcoming country we are. I did know there were problems for asylum seekers, but never realised the extent of the desire of the government to get rid of people who have families here, and have worked here for many years.

Abigail

I saw Kate Alexander at Scottish Refugee Council whilst i was volunteering there and got interested in visiting after hearing about how much of a difference it makes to people in detention. My son was once in detention so I identified with the need.

I had visited my son in detention once and so I had an idea of what detention was like- prison like. I expected Dungavel to be just like Morton Hall or worse but I found it to be better although the fence outside was not what I expected. The fence made it look like a maximum prison.

The most memorable positive experience was when a person I was visiting gave me a playing card case that he made at one of the handcraft sessions with a flag of Zimbabwe and a statement “Abigail Thank you” painted on it as well.

Being a visitor has taught me to have unregarded positive response, that is accepting everyone who comes down to see us when we visit as they are and not being judgemental towards those who would have come having served prison sentences. I just see them all as people who need to be valued and supported the best way we can.

I am sure people who have never visited Dungavel do not know that you cannot take certain things like food, old CDs or DVDs, books, toiletries that have an alcohol ingredient in them etc.  You cannot hand over directly whatever you take for people in detention. Just like visiting a prison, visitors are subject to security checks. Whilst visitors are seated with people they are visiting, there is always an officer watching their every move. People visited cannot use visit room’s toilets. There is however refreshment kiosk machines that visitors and the people visited can obtain snacks from.  The provision of dining tables in the visitors’ room is good although I may not know how frequently they are used.

Before visiting, I check the rota days before to see who is visiting with me and also to see if I am driving. I need to make sure I have my ID so I am not stopped from visiting.  If I am organising a visit, I print out previous visit reports and people’s list.  I collect all the necessary paperwork to give to people in detention.  If I have read on the visit report of individuals confirmed for removal, I take £30 for each person so when they get to their destination they have a bit of cash with them.  I make sure I have used the convenience room before I head off to avoid being desperate whilst waiting outside the gate.  I have found it helpful to phone the people on the visit list so they can expect us and be waiting near the visit room.

It feels good on the way to Dungavel as I think about the good cause of visiting people in detention but can be very stressful on the way back at the realisation that there is not much we can do as visitors to get people out of detention. It is not a good feeling when during the visit you learn that a person has been given a ticket to be removed to their home country where they will face danger or even death on arrival.

But when we are informed about the release and grant of bail for people we had visited, that is encouraging.

My view of the UK has changed since visiting people in detention in the sense that I thought the UK observed human rights but I have found the Home Office to be a law in themselves especially regarding the indefinite length of stay for people In detention.

If I had the chance to meet the Home Secretary, I would say, stop the inhumane system of putting people in immigration detention centres. And close all detention centres and find an alternative way of managing people’s immigration statuses.

Almuth

I applied to become a volunteer visitor after volunteering in Calais because I wanted to do something to support people affected by the UK’s “Hostile Environment“.

I was nervous about how to speak with people in detention as somebody who’s in a privileged position by comparison. However, I found it much easier to chat with people in Dungavel than I’d feared.

It’s hard to say what my most memorable experience has been but I was really moved when, during our last visit before Christmas, we were given a beautiful card for Scottish Detainee Visitors signed by all the people we’d been seeing and who were still in Dungavel at that time.

Surprisingly, it has been uplifting to meet people in detention – some of them having been detained for many months and who are very scared of the possibility of being removed – who provide wonderful emotional support to others in Dungavel and look out for new and particularly vulnerable people there.

Following the Panorama expose of staff brutality against people detained in Brook House and evidence of very abusive, inhumane actions in other detention centres, it can be easy to imagine that many or most people working in detention centres have a racist attitude and engage in abusive behaviour. That doesn’t seem to be the situation in Dungavel, where people routinely say that “the staff are fine – it’s the Home Office whose fault it is we’re here”.

Instead, at Dungavel, we’re seeing an inherently oppressive and abusive system (abusive in terms of detaining people indefinitely simply because of their immigration status) being implemented by people who’re perfectly ordinary and friendly and who may think they’re helping the people they help keep locked up. That in itself seems very depressive – although, of course, it would be far worse if there were staff behaving in such an appalling way as happened at Brook House.

I think people who don’t know about immigration detention need to know this.

Firstly, people are forced to waste months if not more of their lives, locked up with nothing to do and no control over their lives and future. Secondly, people’s spirit and mental health are being eroded as the weeks and months pass by in immigration detention. And thirdly, it is an oppressive system that is entirely arbitrary and Kafkaesque.

When I organise a visit, I spend time looking through the last visit report and people’s list and writing out two lists of who I’ll ask for – a minimalist one to hand to the staff and one with more info for the visitors. I try to phone as many of the people to see as possible and leave messages – and make sure we have money for anyone getting removed and enough paperwork between us. During the journey, if somebody missed the last Edinburgh visit, we update him/her and share anything important to know. But otherwise, we have nice chats about family, holidays, etc.

When I started visiting, I was really worried about my future status as an EU-27 citizen because of Brexit and had a great deal of stress involved in getting Permanent Residency (before the easier Settled Status applications were announced). Although my situation couldn’t be compared to that of people in immigration detention, it felt as if the Home Office cast a shadow over a lot of my life. Even more so because we were hosting an asylum seeker at the time who’d been in Dungavel before and was at high risk of being detained again.

I wouldn’t want to meet Priti Patel (who was the Home Secretary before the General Election). How could I speak with somebody who basically doesn’t believe in the common humanity of people wherever they come from and for whatever reasons they are here – and who displays no empathy in her speeches and decision-making.

Ruth

I had started reading about immigration in the UK and found out about detention, which before that I didn’t even know existed as I think many people still don’t. I found that lots of detention centres have visiting groups and I had a look to see if there was one in Scotland and then found out about Dungavel and Scottish Detainee Visitors.

I was nervous about visiting for the first time and really didn’t know what to expect but when you reach the gates and barbed wire fences it does still shock you at how intimidating a place it is. Then I felt guilty about that because at least I got to leave.

Lots of the stories about how many people are treated by the Home Office are very memorable for the wrong reasons. But the great positive memories are meeting friends who I made in Dungavel in Glasgow for coffee or lunch after being released and especially when one friend got his leave to remain and we chatted about how great it was to spend time just like normal friends and most people get to do daily and completely take for granted.

I think most people even if they have heard about immigration detention don’t know where Dungavel is. It is completely isolated and in the middle of nowhere so for people that do have families it’s very difficult for them to visit, especially if they don’t live in Scotland.

On the way to a visit I try to keep and open and positive mindset but I worry about it if I’ve had a bad day at work before setting off or I’m feeling tired but knowing how lucky I am to even be able to work and not have to worry about deportation, immigration policy or many other issues that people in Dungavel have to deal with motivates me.

I worry a lot more about the UK and the way the immigration system currently works but also feel so lucky and so guilty that I benefit from so many privileges that come with simply being born in the UK.

If I met the Home Secretary, I would tell her to speak to actual people affected by policies but using compassion and humanity instead of treating everyone as if they are lying.

 

Week 8: #Unlocked18 visits Dungavel

During week 8, the final full week of Unlocking Detention 2018, we visited Dungavel IRC, in Scotland.

Dungavel is very isolated: more than 30 miles from Glasgow, 14 miles from the nearest train station, 6 miles from the closest town (Strathaven) and no local bus route. It was originally a 19th century hunting lodge and summer retreat for the Duke of Hamilton. Since then it has been used as a prison, hospital and training college, before being converted into an IRC in 2001, with capacity to hold 249 (mostly men, with space for 14 women).

Dungavel is the UK’s only long-term detention facility outside of England. This means that people who are transferred between Dungavel and other IRCs in England have to find a new solicitor each time they cross the English-Scottish border, because of the different legal systems. This can wreak havoc with someone’s bail and immigration case.

In 2016, the government announced that Dungavel would close by the end of 2017. However, this was dependent on opening a new 51-bed short term holding facility at Glasgow airport, and when planning permission was refused, the government abandoned its plans to close Dungavel.

It was a jam-packed week, with 8 blogs published alongside a twitter tour of Dungavel IRC. Read on for a summary of the week.


Among other announcements this week came the news that Campsfield House, slated to close in May 2019, closed ahead of schedule as the last people being held there were transferred or released.

For many autumns to come

Mishka, a member of Freed Voices, shared a letter he wrote to someone very close to him from detention on the eve of his impending removal from the UK. Mishka explained his motivation in publishing this very heartfelt, intimate letter.

One of the reasons I decided to share this piece is to convey the message that detention not only affects the individuals being detained; it affects relationships as well. I also want to convey the message that in detention you have humans, who like many others, have/had their own stories, own reasons, own dreams and hopes; who love/loved other humans and also are being loved/were loved by other humans. 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.

Separation and abandonment as a result of detention

A. Panquang, a member of Freed Voices (@FreedVoices) and Detention Forum volunteer, wrote a blog reflecting on the long-term impact of indefinite detention on the families and communities of people who have been detained.

The Home Office has said many times that taking one parent away is not separating a family. That is not true. The family remains broken with one parent away. The trauma of separation affects all members of the family, including children, parents and pregnant mothers. I often say that I wouldn’t wish for my worst enemy to experience life in a UK immigration detention centre. The impact on one’s mental health is overwhelming and long-lasting. It is to the UK’s shame that this happens on our shores. 

Because of detention | In spite of detention

Life After Detention (LAD), a group of people with experience of immigration detention based in Glasgow, contributed a collective poem paying tribute to the ways in which detention has shaped their lives. The first part, ‘Because of Detention’, reflects on the ongoing devastation caused by indefinite detention. The second, ‘In spite of detention’, highlights the more positive aspects of building a life after detention, though still in the shadow of it. 

In spite of detention I volunteer with three charities

I go for walks in the park

I meet new people in Glasgow

I am going to make a new life for myself

I have plans to be successful

In spite of detention, my friends have regained their smile

They have managed to start a life in Glasgow

They found hope again

They fell in love with Scotland

Detention made me stronger than before. I now have confidence to deal with people; to deal with everything

When a “good” inspection report is bad news

Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, provided a critical overview of the latest HMIP inspection report on Dungavel IRC.

I found reading the report profoundly frustrating. Staff at the centre will no doubt be satisfied with the inspectors’ overall assessment of their work. The Home Office will be relieved that the headline findings are not of a centre dominated by violence, abuse and self-harm.

But the fact that an inspection that finds that nearly half of the people detained feel unsafe might be considered a win is a scandal.

We know what needs to happen. The UK Government has said that it wishes to reduce both the scale and length of detention. It is clear what they need to do to achieve that. They must immediately introduce a 28 day time limit on detention, end the detention of vulnerable people and support the development of a range of community based alternatives to detention.

Hidden in plain sight: Working with trafficked people in detention

Beatrice Grasso writes about a recent report from JRS UK on the indefinite detention of trafficking survivors. While JRS’s research draws on case studies from Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigration removal centres (IRCs), this issue affects people detained across the UK. The campaign #DucMakesGlasgow highlighted the plight of Duc, a trafficking survivor detained in Dungavel and Colnbrook IRCs earlier this year.

The negative impact that continued detention has on these men can hardly be underestimated. All of them tell us that detention reminds them of their previous captivity at the hands of their traffickers, and that this leads them to having flashbacks, nightmares and re-experiencing the abuse. Most of them carry physical marks of the torture, scars as visible reminders of what has happened to them, and other health problems resulting from a long history of abuse. And yet, they are often not officially recognised as victims, and even when their accounts are accepted, they are kept in detention because of their “unacceptable behaviour” or the “danger to the public” because of their convictions, a direct result of their exploitation. Despite showing clear indicators of abuse and vulnerability, they remain hidden in plain sight of those authorities who should protect them.

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

Luke Butterly from Right to Remain, a UK-based human rights organisation challenging injustice in our asylum and immigration systems, wrote about ways of supporting people at risk of being detained while reporting.

If you are involved in a community project supporting asylum seekers or other migrants, you can set up a scheme to help people to prepare for, avoid, or better deal with detention and the threat of detention.

A signing support system also means that the person going to sign knows people are looking out for them, and that there is a plan in place if things go wrong and they are detained. This can reduce the psychological burden of reporting at the Home Office.

A system like this can save valuable time: friends and supporters can start finding out exactly where the person is, what has happened, and what can be done to help straight away.

Ultimately, none of us are free until we get rid of this unjust and inhumane policy altogether. Standing with those at risk of detention can play a real role in both supporting people today, and building the kind of society we want for tomorrow.


Rebuilding a life after detention

Indre Lechtimiakyte, caseworker and coordinator of the Ex-Detainee Project for Samphire, reflects on her work assisting people who have been released from immigration detention.

In the beginning it was exceptionally difficult. What do you say to a fellow human being who is overcome with emotion when talking to you on the end of the telephone, because, after living in this country for 15 years, they find themselves separated from their family? He wants you to buy him bus tickets to go to see his family and to say goodbye for the last time. How do you explain to a homeless individual that homeless charities will not help him, because he has no recourse to public funds? Or that the charity has run out of emergency money that month so can’t give him cash to wash his clothes?

Life after closure: The experiences of the Verne Visitors Group

In a timely blog given the recent closure of Campsfield IRC, Ruth Jacobson from the Verne Visitors Group explains what has happened to the group since the Verne’s closure a year earlier.

Looking back on the year since closure, we are cautiously optimistic for the future. At the broader level, it does seem that attention is finally being paid to the injustices of the current system. Within our local area of operation, we know that the experiences of visiting will stay with our members for far longer than the lifetime of the Verne IRC and will help them to take on the challenges we all encounter from biased and/or misinformed conversations in our local communities.

Unlocking Detention timeline 2014-2018

To mark the end of #Unlocked18 and five years of Unlocking Detention, we completed our Unlocking Detention timeline, which highlights campaigning and advocacy achievements over five years of detention reform.

#Unlocked18 draws to a close

As this was the last full week of #Unlocked18, with the tour finishing on International Migrants Day on 18 December 2018, we shared some highlights from what has been a vivid and thought-provoking couple of months.

https://twitter.com/Mishka_anonym/status/1074984277580890112

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?

Mohammed

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.

Hidden in plain sight: Working with trafficked people in detention

Content warning: torture. Image by @Carcazan

This blog comes from Beatrice Grasso, Detention Outreach Manager with JRS UK, who recently published a report on the indefinite detention of trafficking survivors. While JRS’s research draws on case studies from Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigration removal centres (IRCs), this issue affects people detained across the UK. The campaign #DucMakesGlasgow highlighted the plight of Duc, a trafficking survivor detained in Dungavel and Colnbrook IRCs earlier this year.

Sitting in the bustling Welfare Office in Harmondsworth as one of our regular outreach drop-ins is about to start, I find myself looking at the faces of those waiting. Some are there to see us, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), where they already know they can come to for a listening ear and a friendly face; others are waiting to see a solicitor or the Home Office. Some look defiant, ready to fight their case and make their voices heard; others already look defeated, depleted of all energy. All of them hold on to the hope that when they leave the office they will be slightly better off than when they entered. In a system built on uncertainty, their greatest achievement would be to receive some answers: “What will happen to me?”, “When will I be allowed to leave this place?”, “Why am I here?”. The same questions are repeated over and over again, in the hopes that one time, this time, they will finally have an answer.

And that’s when I notice them, sitting together in a corner, talking quietly amongst themselves. They look young, though their faces betray a difficult past, lost childhoods and immeasurable suffering showing clearly without the need for words. One breaks off from the group, tentatively making his way to our table, encouraged by his friends and our smiles, a rare sight in that place. The volunteer who accompanies me is a Vietnamese religious sister, and it is to her that the initial conversation is directed, as he apologises profusely for not being able to speak any English. In a place that generates isolation by its very nature, cutting people off from wider society, some people end up being trapped in their own language too.

Once the young man (whom we’ll call Xuan) starts talking, it becomes very quickly apparent that he has a lot to say. And soon, comforted by the reassuring presence of my companion on the day, he starts sharing a truly harrowing account of exploitation and abuse, starting from a childhood on the streets of Vietnam and culminating in being trafficked to the UK as a minor, forced to work in a cannabis farm and ultimately made to pay by being disbelieved and imprisoned. One by one, the rest of the group all make their way to us. The details of their stories vary, but the broad elements are very similar: most of them were forced to work in cannabis farms in the UK and brutally tortured if they tried to refuse or to escape; they were arrested during police raids, convicted and subsequently transferred to detention on completion of their prison sentence.

Over the last year and a half, we have worked with 13 Vietnamese men who, like Xuan, displayed clear indicators of trafficking and were being held in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook. They came to us looking for comfort, someone to acknowledge their experiences and, in some ways, their very existence in a system where they go largely unseen, trapped in a web woven by their abusers. Fear, shame, threats to family are ever-present shadows hanging over them, making it almost impossible to know who to trust. Dealing with an immigration system that routinely challenges disclosures and tends to not believe individuals is also taxing: one man told us he had never believed his traffickers when they told him that he should not approach authorities because they would only deport him, but he now thought they had been right all along.

The negative impact that continued detention has on these men can hardly be underestimated. All of them tell us that detention reminds them of their previous captivity at the hands of their traffickers, and that this leads them to having flashbacks, nightmares and re-experiencing the abuse. Most of them carry physical marks of the torture, scars as visible reminders of what has happened to them, and other health problems resulting from a long history of abuse. And yet, they are often not officially recognised as victims, and even when their accounts are accepted, they are kept in detention because of their “unacceptable behaviour” or the “danger to the public” because of their convictions, a direct result of their exploitation. Despite showing clear indicators of abuse and vulnerability, they remain hidden in plain sight of those authorities who should protect them.

After 7 long months in detention, Xuan was finally released with appropriate care thanks to the support and involvement of many different individuals. Many others were, sadly, not so lucky and disappeared soon after being released without adequate support arrangements in place. Others yet are still fighting to make their voices heard, knowing that we at JRS and many others will be standing beside them, giving a voice to the voiceless and restoring hope to those who have lost it, and ensuring that what was hidden is brought to light.

When a ‘good’ inspection report is bad news

This blog comes from Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, who support people detained in Dungavel immigration removal centre (IRC) and tweet at @SDVisitors

The latest inspection report on Dungavel IRC, published on 16 November, makes interesting reading. Dungavel usually receives positive reports from inspectors, in stark contrast to other detention centres and this one follows that pattern to a great extent, though there has been a deterioration since the last inspection. The inspectors praise the staff working at the centre and the relationships they try to build with people detained there.

As visitors to people in Dungavel, we meet many people who have been detained elsewhere in the detention estate and they agree that being detained there is better than being detained in Harmondsworth, Morton Hall, Brook House or any of the other places they have experienced.

And yet, the inspection report also shows that 41% of people detained in Dungavel at the time of the inspection felt unsafe. These feelings of insecurity and lack of safety came from being detained indefinitely, with no time limit, and were exacerbated by being surrounded by others who were stressed and sometimes angry at their circumstances.

As visitors to people detained there, we know this also to be true.

The inevitable conclusion is that no matter how well a detention centre is managed, it is impossible to detain people indefinitely without causing harm.

At the time of the inspection, 38% of people in the centre had been detained for more than 28 days, four people had been there for 6-12 months and two people had been in Dungavel for over a year. The longest someone had been detained there was 440 days. And remember, these figures are only for the time people had spent at Dungavel. A quarter of the people detained there at the time of the inspection had been transferred from another detention centre or short term holding facility, so had been detained for longer. And none of them knew when their detention would end.

Unlike other recent inspections, the report doesn’t explicitly call for a time limit on detention but does raise significant concerns about Home Office practice. The issues highlighted include:

  • Many people (39%) were transported to the centre at night for reasons of operational convenience rather than necessity, and over half of the people in detention had spent over four hours in escort journeys to get to Dungavel. Half had problems on arrival and a third felt depressed or suicidal.
  • Poor Home Office casework planning led to the inappropriate detention of an elderly disabled couple. Staff at the centre immediately assessed them as inappropriate for detention but it took five days for them to be released.
  • In most of the rule 35 reports examined in detail by inspectors, the Home Office accepted evidence of torture but did not consider this to be sufficient to release people from detention.
  • Dental care was significantly worse than at the previous inspection. This was no longer provided on site and waiting times had doubled. Appointments were frequently cancelled due to lack of escorting. This was described as ‘unacceptable’.

Again, these issues are familiar to us as visitors to Dungavel. In the last year we have been particularly aware of people experiencing severe dental pain and not being appropriately cared for or treated. In one case, the dental pain was related to previous experience of torture.

The report does not let the management of the centre off the hook entirely. It makes a number of recommendations for improvement. Importantly, inspectors repeat the concerns they raised at the last inspection about the inherent risks involved in detaining women in a predominantly male centre and note that specific policies to address this are underdeveloped.

This is a concern we share. Our experience is that women can feel isolated and frightened in Dungavel. This is exacerbated by the accommodation provided for them which, if full, can be cramped and feel over crowded. This is particularly the case as women are less likely to take advantage of the relative freedom of movement around the centre and grounds that is available at Dungavel, due to the fact that public space is dominated by men. We try prioritise visiting women who are detained but are concerned that some may even feel reluctant to come to the visits room because it is also dominated by men.

I found reading the report profoundly frustrating. Staff at the centre will no doubt be satisfied with the inspectors’ overall assessment of their work. The Home Office will be relieved that the headline findings are not of a centre dominated by violence, abuse and self-harm.

But the fact that an inspection that finds that nearly half of the people detained feel unsafe might be considered a win is a scandal.

We know what needs to happen. The UK Government has said that it wishes to reduce both the scale and length of detention. It is clear what they need to do to achieve that. They must immediately introduce a 28 day time limit on detention, end the detention of vulnerable people and support the development of a range of community based alternatives to detention.

Because of detention | In spite of detention

Content warning: torture. Image by @Carcazan

This contribution comes from the Life After Detention group (LAD) based in Glasgow and facilitated by Scottish Detainee Visitors. Between them, members of LAD have lost 4 years and 8 months of their lives to detention. The first part, ‘Because of Detention’, reflects on the ongoing devastation caused by indefinite detention. The second, ‘In spite of detention’, highlights the more positive aspects of building a life after detention, though still in the shadow of it. 

Because of detention

Because of detention I have lost my way forever

Because of detention I experienced fear, disrespect, feeling absolutely hopeless, pressure, sadness, sickness and some kind of disability that I never had felt in all my life

Because of detention I was always waiting, waiting, waiting…

Because in  detention male officers came and looked at us at night,  I can’t sleep, I’m scared

Because of detention my future is broken

Because of detention my family is broken. My relationship didn’t survive and now I only see my son twice a month

Because of detention I am a nervous wreck, terrified of the authorities.

Because of detention my life changed.  Not knowing when I would get out took away my mental health, my confidence, my hope

Because of detention I lost all my belongings, including the only photos I had of my late father

Because of detention, I am sick; really really sick.  I am not who I was three years ago

Because of detention I was constantly reminded of the torture in prison in my own country

Because of detention I can’t sleep for a week before signing at the Home Office in Glasgow

Because of detention I am always terrified of being detained again

The 10 people in our group were detained for a total of four years and eight months.

That is 1,709 days that none of us can get back again.

41,000 hours of life, simply, lost.

And for what?

In spite of detention

In spite of detention, I found my partner and feel I have been given a good life. We’ll get married. Now I have a gift from God. It’s a little angel.

I like learning English.

I have a diamond on my finger!

In spite of detention, my life is good. I keep myself busy. I volunteer every week, go to English classes and attend church on Sundays.

When I go to the Home Office to sign I am scared, as I remember detention; this stops me sleeping at night

Life in detention is very hard. Life after detention is good, if the Home Office don’t put you back again

In spite of detention I go to college. I like studying

I like to meet people in Glasgow

I water tomatoes

I go to church

I like to drink a lot of tea

I feed frogs!

In spite of detention I have made new friends; we share food and stories. We laugh. I see people building a new life despite everything; I see strength, bravery and determination

In spite of detention I now I go to different social groups like LAD. I have made many friends. God blessed me with two beautiful daughters. They are my whole asset. I have built up a family life stronger than ever before.

In spite of detention I volunteer with three charities

I go for walks in the park

I meet new people in Glasgow

I am going to make a new life for myself

I have plans to be successful

In spite of detention, my friends have regained their smile

They have managed to start a life in Glasgow

They found hope again

They fell in love with Scotland

Detention made me stronger than before. I now have confidence to deal with people; to deal with everything

The guide to #Unlocked17 blogs is here!

Thank you for following Unlocking Detention in 2017!  We have listed all the blogs that were published during #Unlocked on this webpage for easy reference. Did you have any particular favourite? If so, tweet at us at @DetentionForum and let us know!

16 October: Welcome to #Unlocked17

16 October: ‘Do you know what immigration detention is?’ Part 1 Told by Mrs A, expert-by-experience

17 October: ‘Do you know what immigration detention is?’ Part 2 Told by Mrs A, expert-by-experience 
As we begin this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we are sharing this two-part series by Mrs A, submitted by her solicitor at Duncan Lewis. We have not met Mrs A. We have no idea who she is.  We understand that she was detained herself and wants to tell you about the secret world of immigration detention.  And here it is, her take on immigration detention in the United Kingdom.

17 October: #Unlocked17 – a beginners’ level quiz

18 October: For groups wanting to support Unlocking Detention
One of the themes of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour is action.  We are distributing the following material for groups interested in joining the tour.  Please feel free to use them, share with others and so on!

18 October: Verne closes, Shaw looms
Detention Action has been running advice surgeries every month at the Verne detention centre, which is set to close at the end of this year.  Jerome Phelps, Director of Detention Action, considers what our next task is.  

18 October: “We need it now. People are dying.” Freed Voices lobbying for #Time4aTimeLimit
The theme of this year’s Unlocking Detention is ‘action’ so who better to hear from than the Freed Voices group. Earlier this week, Mishka from Freed Voices joined campaigners Fred Ashmore and Timothy Gee from the Quakers to lobby the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable. We sat down with Mishka to ask him a few questions about the experience.

20 October: ‘The Seamed Zones’
Where does ‘invisibility’ of immigration detention centres start?  Ben du Preez, Campaigns Coordinator at Detention Action, stares into the gap between nonplace-ness of detention centres and their material human impact and finds hope in Experts-By-Experience’s power to bring the truth to light.  

Week 2: Yarl’s Wood 

23 October: ‘Everyday in Yarl’s Wood is a struggle’
Boatemaa* was detained in Yarl’s Wood earlier this year.  She was recently released from Yarl’s Wood, to continue with her asylum case, after four months in detention.  She shares her story here.  

24 October: Photo essay ‘To Yarl’s Wood detention centre’
Yarl’s Wood detention centre is perhaps the most high-profile centres in the UK.  This photo essay is for those of you who have never been to this detention centre.

25 October: ‘A country I had called home for 13 years had imprisoned me.’
Families with children were regularly detained at Yarl’s Wood and Dungavel detention centres until the change of policy in 2010 drastically reduced the number of children detained.  Now, a smaller number of families with children are detained in an unit within Tinsley detention centre.  But what happened to many children who were detained at Yarl’s Wood and who are turning into adults in the UK?  Ijeoma Datha-Moore, from Let Us Learn, looks back on her 15-year-old self who suddenly found her and her family detained at Yarl’s Wood.  When she finished writing this piece, Ijeoma said ‘I’ve done it. I can’t tell you how odd it felt, but empowering. I am so proud of myself for being able to do this.’ A big thank you to Ijeoma for sharing her story with Unlocking Detention. 

26 October: Remembering My First Time
Though no official survey exists, UK is one of the few countries around the world where each detention centre has a dedicated visitor’s group, in addition to other groups who visit formally and informally multiple centres.  Hundreds of people must be regularly visiting those held in detention centres, but what does visiting really do?  Sonja Miley of Waging Peace write how she found an answer to this question, during her very first visit to Yarl’s Wood.

Week 2 summary blog: #Unlocked17 visits Yarls Wood

Week 3: Brook House and Tinsley House

30 October: ‘I try to forget about everything that I went through at Brook House.’
Paul* was removed from Brook House to Jamaica earlier this year, after being detained for over two years.  For the last six months of his detention, he had signed up to return voluntarily.  Paul talked to Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, who supported him during his detention, about his attempt to ‘forget about everything’ that he went through at Brook House.  (This is not his real name.)

31 October: Why political pressure needs to be ramped up now
The Detention Forum which runs Unlocking Detention is a network of many groups who have been working together to challenge UK’s immigration detention policy and practice.  Jon Featonby, one of its Coordination Group members, explains why now is the time for everyone to start taking action against detention. 

Week 3 summary blog: #Unlocked17 visits Brook House and Tinsley House

Week 4: Prisons and Short Term Holding Facilities

6 November: ‘There are no real seasons in detention. It’s just a grey blur. White noise.’
Immigration detention is sometimes described as ‘administrative detention in prison-like conditions’.  And the Home Office can detain people under immigration powers in prisons. In fact, as at 26 June 2017, there were 360 people held in prison establishments in England and Wales as “immigration detainees”. But what are the differences between being held in prisons and being held in detention centres?  Sam, from the Freed Voices, contemplates on this question. This piece was originally published in May 2017 by Detention Action.   

7 November: ‘No one has even thought of me or visited me’ – immigration detention in prisons
When we talk about immigration detention, of course we think of immigration detention centres.  But hundreds of people are also detained as “immigration detainees” in many ordinary prisons.  Ali McGinley of AVID shines light on this forgotten group of people and their daily struggles to be heard.

7 November: Parliamentary meeting on immigration detention on 16 November – is your MP attending?

8 November: An open letter: “My name is Nobody”
For many involved in asylum and migration justice work, immigration detention was a taboo subject for a long time and, in some quarters, it still is. One of the reasons for this is the mixed nature of those incarcerated. It is not just “model” asylum seekers who find themselves in detention: people from all sorts of experiences and life trajectories get incarcerated because they do not have a right type of passport or visa. But ‘As a society, how and who do we deem worthy of our empathy?’. Isabel Lima, visual artist and researcher, shares with Unlocking Detention her open letter about Nobody, a man with ‘many qualities and faults’ who finds himself in limbo. This letter is based on a true story and Nobody was anonymised for security reasons. 

9 November: If I am ever detained
There is understandably huge interest in knowing what immigration detention centres look like: barbed wire and prohibition of cameras inside the centres increase people’s curiosity.  But can you see the impact of immigration detention with your eyes?  What does immigration detention do to us? In this blog, Eiri Ohtani (@EiriOhtani), the Project Director of the Detention Forum shares her reflection and that of her colleague, Heather Jones (@Heather_Jones5) who has been visiting Yarl’s Wood detention centre for many years. They visited Alice* who was detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. (This is not her real name.)

Week 4 summary blog: Week 4: Prisons and Short Term Holding Facilities

Week 5: The Verne

13 November: ‘The Verne is closing but for those of us who experienced it, it will always be open’
We are told that the Verne detention centre will be closed at the end of 2017.  But is it really closing in the minds of those who were detained there? ‘Juan’ from Freed Voices responds to this news with this poem.

13 November: “When you see injustice – speak out!”: These Walls Must Fall in Manchester
Without people taking action, change won’t happen.  Luke Butterly of Right to Remain reports back on a recent campaign event of These Walls Must Fall which took place in Manchester.  This blog was originally published on Right to Remain’s website here.  

14 November: Won’t somebody please think of the children
The impact of immigration detention is not confined behind the gates of the detention centres: it involves people’s children, families, friends etc. Nick Watts is a child & family practitioner and co-founder of the charity Migrant Family Action, that provides specialist social work, advocacy and youth work to families who are oppressed as a result of their immigration status. Nick explains here what types of impact immigration detention has on children whose family member is detained.

15 November: The Verne IRC: on either side of the razor wire
Maddie Biddlecombe is a member of Verne Visitors Group in Portland and sent us this reflection.  The Verne detention centre is set to close at the end of 2017.   

16 November: Trafficked into detention
Trafficked people in detention are being denied the full protection of the Home Office’s flagship system for protecting victims of modern slavery, according to new research by Detention Action. Many victims of trafficking are taken to high-security detention centres after being picked up in raids on places of exploitation such as cannabis factories. Once in detention, they are treated as irregular migrants to be removed, and find it difficult to access support for victims of modern slavery. Susannah Wilcox of Detention Action explains how came to light through Detention Action’s casework and what their research found. 

16 November: Going Behind the Walls
Located on the Isle of Portland, off Weymouth in Dorset, the Verne epitomises the Government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to detention. In this blog, Ruth Jacobson of the Verne Visitors Group describes how this isolation compounds the many harms of indefinite detention, how the group seeks to challenge this, and their reaction to the announced closure of the Verne.     

19 November: #Unlocked17 Parliamentary Meeting on Immigration Detention

Week 5 summary blog: Week 5: #Unlocked17 Visits The Verne

Week 6: Campsfield House

20 November: Walls of resistance
This piece is written for Unlocking Detention by ‘Jose’ of the Freed Voices group (the author’s name has been altered to protect their identity). ‘Jose’ was detained in Campsfield detention centre.   

21 November: Detained for sleeping rough
Increased detention and deportation of EU citizens from the UK has been in the news for some time, especially in the context of debates surrounding Brexit.  NELMA has been working with EU citizens who have been detained while sleeping rough.   

21 November: WORKSHOP 11 DEC, GLASGOW – Oral histories of immigration detention: ethical approaches in research and activism

22 November: Slave Wages: How Our Clients Shone a Light on Detention Centre Exploitation
Toufique Hossain, Director of Public Law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, specialises in challenging Government policy and practice in asylum and immigration law, with a particular focus on unlawful detention policies. He tells Unlocking Detention about the strategic litigation case of “slave wage” in detention centres he has been involved with and what it is like to represent people who are caught up in this never-ending nightmare of immigration detention.  

23 November: “Time After Time”: music from Campsfield House detention centre
In this blog, Ruth Nicholson describes a day of Music In Detention’s songwriting workshops in Campsfield House. Ruth is a musician, and a volunteer both for Music In Detention (MID) and the Detention Forum. This blog was originally published by Music in Detention in March this year here where you can also listen to the music recorded in Campsfield.

23 November: ‘Young arrivers’ caught in immigration detention
Dan Godshaw (@DanGodshaw) has worked for NGOs on migrant advocacy and support for 10 years. He has visited people held at Brook House IRC as well as supporting Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group’s (@GatDetainees) research and campaigning work since 2013. Dan holds an MA in Migration Studies from The University of Sussex, and is currently an ESRC-funded doctoral researcher on immigration detention and gender at The University of Bristol. 

24 November: ‘When I first visited someone in immigration detention I knew I must speak out.’
Immigration detention is an important issue for many Friends (Quakers). Bridget Walker, who is part of the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, details the conditions she witnessed and those endured by detained peoples.  This blog was originally published by Quakers in Britain 

Week 6 summary blog: Week 6: #Unlocked17 visits Campsfield House

Week 7: Harmondsworth and Colnbrook                                       

27 November: Five guys
Reflections on indefinite detention are often framed in the singular, as personal and introspective testimonies. In this special piece for Unlocking Detention, however, Mishka from Freed Voices, sketches five guys that shaped his experience of Harmondsworth detention centre and continue to dominate his thoughts today, post-release. 

28 November: Ten years on: reflections on a decade working on the injustice of detention
Immigration detention and the detention estate sometimes appear permanent and unchanging. However, underneath the surface, things are changing. Tamsin Alger, Casework and Policy Manager at Detention Action, looks back at a catalogue of actions people in detention, she and her organisation have taken to challenge immigration detention over the last 10 years.  

29 November: Four days in Colnbrook
This blog was written by Helen*, a US citizen who travelled to the UK and was detained earlier this year. She spent four days in Colnbrook detention centre, before being returned to the US.  In this blog, she recounts her experience.

30 November: The Importance of Being With
Beatrice Grasso is Detention Outreach Manager at Jesuit Refugee Service UK where, with volunteers, she supports many detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres. In this blog, she explains how their mission “Accompany, Serve and Advocate” informs and shapes their work in these detention centres, ‘places most people don’t even realise exist’.

1 December: From British playgrounds to Immigration Removal Centres
Authors: Candice Morgan-Glendinning and Dr Melanie Griffiths (University of Bristol) The following post is informed by an ESRC-funded project running at the University of Bristol. The research examines the intersection of family life and immigration policy for families consisting of British or EEA nationals and men with precarious or irregular immigration status. Further project information, including a report and policy briefings can be found here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/ethnicity/projects/deportability-and-the-family/

Week 7 summary blog: Week 7: #Unlocked17 visits Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

Week 8: Morton Hall

4 December: Mapping detention
In this piece, Freed Voices members are our guides to the psycho-geography of detention centres, including Morton Hall which Unlocking Detention is visiting this week. The piece was originally published on Detention Action’s webpage here in 2016, in response to Unlocking Detention. Please do visit the original webpage which contains a full piece with more visual material. *The names of some Freed Voices members in this piece have been changed.

5 December: It’s about time – a time limit on immigration detention
Since the publication of Detained Lives (which Tamsin Algers refers to in her earlier blog here), a campaign to end UK’s practice of indefinite detention has been gathering pace.  Rachel Robinson, Advocacy Manager for Liberty, argues why the time is now to end this practice once and for all.  

6 December: Over 150 people demonstrate to mark 24 years since Campsfield ‘House’ opened
This blog was written by Bill MacKeith, joint organiser of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, for Unlocking Detention. Photos: Campaign to Close Campsfield

7 December: Putting stock Home Office statements in the stocks
New Freed Voices member, John P.*, was recently released after ten months detained in Morton Hall IRC in Lincolnshire. For this #Unlocked17 special, he sat down with Detention Action to go through his thoughts on some of the stock phrases the Home Office trot out in response to anti-detention campaigners. * John P. is not the author’s real name. This has been changed to protect his identity.

8 December: ‘A Prison For My Heart’
Coming out is often be a nervous and fearful experience – what does it feel like to that in immigration detention? Umar (not his real name) had to do that to protect his life. We are grateful to Umar who said he wanted share his story in order to raise awareness about the plight of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees and made this story publicly available, though was anxious to conceal his identity.  

Week 8 summary blog: Week 8: #Unlocked17 visits Morton Hall 

Week 9: Dungavel

11 December: Visiting Dungavel for another year…
This week, #Unlocked17 is visiting Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre. In this blog, Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV), reflects on another year of visiting Dungavel, and takes us on the journey that visitors make twice a week. Visitors also prepare a report after every visit, which Kate reviews. Here, she highlights the patterns she sees in these reports: of visitors’ concerns about the health of those in detention, frequently linked to the length of time people have been detained; of people’s frustration, anger and distress at their detention and the complex immigration processes they are caught up in; and of their worries about their families on the outside. 

12 December: If only everyone could be welcomed as warmly as Paddington…
Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe are activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now, a democratic movement in the UK which campaigns in solidarity with people in the global South. They write for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.  

13 December: Life After Detention: A Film
The harm caused by detention does not end once a person is released. For many, the trauma of detention, and the struggles with uncertainty, continue. This is the subject of ‘Life After Detention’, a new film made in collaboration with the Life After Detention group from Scottish Detainee Visitors. The group filmed aspects of their life in Glasgow on their mobile phones and worked with film-maker and SDV volunteer, Alice Myers, to create the film. It was premiered at an Unlocking Detention event on Tuesday 12 December at the Glad Cafe in Glasgow.

18 December: Guantanamo Bay, A Tube Ride Away
In the final week of Unlocking Detention, we are now looking at where we will go from here. And we believe it is a perfect opportunity to publish this speech delivered last month by Jose, from the Freed Voices group to launch Amnesty’s #WriteForRights project. Jose says, ‘hope calls for action, just as action is impossible without hope’ and shares what gave him hope when he was in detention and when he is campaigning to end indefinite detention. The speech was originally published by Detention Action.

19 December: “If more people knew what was going on, more would recoil in disgust and demand explanations.”
This year’s Unlocking Detention featured over 40 blogs. Massive thank you to everyone who contributed and shone a light on the reality of immigration detention! As we conclude this year’s tour, some of the volunteers running the project share blogs that have left special impression on their minds. If there was any blog that especially resonated with you, do let us know which one and also why.

Week 9 Summary: #Unlocked visits Dungavel

Week 9: #Unlocked17 visits Dungavel

In the ninth and final visit of #Unlocked17, the focus was on Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre.
Dungavel is 30 miles from Glasgow on country roads, with a journey time of about 45 minutes. But people are brought here from all over the UK, so a journey to visit a loved one in detention may take far longer than that. It’s also very hard to reach by public transport.
Tucked away in the woods, in this inaccessible location, up to 235 men and 14 women can be detained at any one time, with no idea when they will be released.

In September, a man detained in Dungavel was found dead. On the same day, another man detained in Dungavel wrote this letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd. He asked, “Rule is same for all. If a person loses his life then what are the rules for? Rules are meant to keep people safe.”

Visiting Dungavel

Volunteers with Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV, @SDVisitors) make the journey to Dungavel by car, two evenings a week. SDV volunteers have been visiting Dungavel for 15 years.
The first blog of the week was written by Kate Alexander, Director of SDV. Kate reflects on another year of visiting Dungavel, and takes us on the journey that visitors make. Visitors also prepare a report after every visit. In her blog, Kate highlights the recurring themes in these reports, such as visitors’ concerns about people’s health in detention:

“D can’t sleep at night and seems to be having some mental health problems. His relationship has broken down since he’s been in detention”
“T is a priority for visit. He’s lost a lot of weight, isn’t eating well and seems very stressed”.

Frequently, this concern is linked to the length people have been detained:

“We’d not seen M for a while. His mental health has deteriorated a lot. He’s been in Dungavel for more than six months now.”

And much of the frustration, distress and anger about their detention, finds expression in people’s worry about their families on the outside:

“D was very distressed. His wife has been in hospital and is still very unwell. He’s really afraid of deportation”
“C was pinning his hopes on his bail hearing next week. He’s worried about his pregnant wife”

SDV regularly tweet extracts of visitors reports from their twitter account. Follow them here.

In this video, produced by Justice and Peace Scotland, participants at a Dungavel solidarity gathering, experts-by-experience, and others, explain why Dungavel is ‘Scotland’s Shame’. One man who had been detained in Dungavel spoke about the impact of visitors from SDV:

The second blog of the week came from Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe, activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now. They wrote for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.

Life After Detention

This week also saw the launch of a new film by the Life After Detention group, from Glasgow. In the film, members of the group describe their experiences post-detention:

“Home Office, they have put fear inside us. It is really difficult to get rid of this fear. Sometimes it appears in dreams at night. Sometimes it comes in a different way during the day.”
“I’m not what I was. Sometimes I think that there is a banner on my face, everyone knows that I have been in detention. It has just changed all my whole personality.”

Oral histories of immigration detention

The University of Glasgow held an event this week on oral histories of immigration detention, as as part of #Unlocked17’s ‘visit’ to Dungavel. You can read a Storify of the event here.

Your selfies

You’ve continued to share your selfies and show your opposition to detention throughout this final visit of #Unlocked17. Here are a few of them…

Life After Detention: A Film

Images courtesy of Scottish Detainee Visitors / Life After Detention

The harm caused by detention does not end once a person is released. For many, the trauma of detention, and the struggles with uncertainty, continue.

This is the subject of ‘Life After Detention’, a new film made in collaboration with the Life After Detention group from Scottish Detainee Visitors. The group filmed aspects of their life in Glasgow on their mobile phones and worked with film-maker and SDV volunteer, Alice Myers, to create the film. It was premiered at an Unlocking Detention event on Tuesday 12 December at the Glad Cafe in Glasgow.

The Life After Detention group are a group of men and women who have been detained. The group provides peer support, casework and a space for creative activity. They have published writing on SDV’s website, and have performed their work at SDV events, including at SDV’s joint meeting at the Scottish Parliament with UNHCR, Detention Action and the Detention Forum. The ten people in the Life After Detention group were detained for four years and eight months in total.

You can watch the film below, and through this link.

In the film, members of the group describe their experiences post-detention:

“Home Office, they have put fear inside us. It is really difficult to get rid of this fear. Sometimes it appears in dreams at night. Sometimes it comes in a different way during the day.”

“I’m not what I was. Sometimes I think that there is a banner on my face, everyone knows that I have been in detention. It has just changed all my whole personality.”

“I’m not who I was three years ago. I felt very strong… now I don’t feel such strength. When you know lots of people around you, you think that they as a human, they have rights. But you don’t have rights as a human. So that is really painful, because then you realise that you are not human.”

The long-lasting effects of indefinite detention are a theme we have heard throughout this year’s Unlocking Detention tour; for example, in Juan’s poem about the planned closure of the Verne, part of which says,

“When you have experienced detention, you walk every day with the experience on your back.
It is a trauma that follows you everywhere.
You are always looking behind you. 
I think a part of me died in detention.
I am different person now.”