If only everyone could be welcomed as warmly as Paddington…

Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe are activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now, a democratic movement in the UK which campaigns in solidarity with people in the global South. They write for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.  
As part of Global Justice Now, we campaign on issues of global poverty and inequality – trying to change the policies and actions of the UK government and UK based corporations that perpetuate injustice. Around migration, these problems come to the fore when we start to investigate the reasons why people migrate or seek asylum the role of the UK in fostering those conditions. There is no migrant crisis – there’s a crisis caused by war, poverty and inequality.
In recent years we’ve campaigned on a number of issues that drive people to risk their lives in moving around the world, including climate change, food sovereignty and trade. Right now, in the wake of Brexit, trade deals skewed towards profiting multinational corporations to the detriment of developing nations such as TISA will inform future patterns of migration to and from the UK and around the world.
We’re now campaigning directly on migration, joining up with all the incredible organisations who already work on issues around migration, detention and freedom of movement. Throughout 2017 we’ve also been joined by our migrant friend from darkest Peru, helping us to highlight the injustices of UK migration policy – he even joined us on a solidarity visit to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre.
The connections between the UK’s wider policies on issues such as trade and policies on immigration are undeniable. There have been seven immigration acts passed by the UK parliament in the last eight years, all of them intended to make life harder for undocumented migrants. Finance and goods are granted freedom of movement, whilst people face increasing barriers at the border.
And if people do manage to get into the UK ‘illegally’, they are at risk of being detained without trial or time limit. In Scotland, the recent death of a Chinese man at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre has brought the detention centre into the spotlight once again. A detainee’s email to Home Secretary Amber Rudd in response to this death perfectly highlights the cry of those whose liberty is wrenched from them just as they reach out for refuge and sanctuary.
Browsing the web page for Dungavel on the GEO group’s website, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a luxurious estate fit for a weekend jaunt to the country. This, of course, only serves to hide the darker realities of life inside its walls which are better symbolised by the high metal fences and barbed wires that surrounds it. While the private operators of what is called ‘Scotland’s Shame’ profit handsomely from detention, its detainees continue to suffer.
GEO group donated heavily to Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States and continues to lobby for private prison contracts. Trump’s subsequent crackdown on immigration across the board has been a great boon to the corporation which has seen rising profits and stock prices as a result. The group runs around 104 detention centres worldwide, including on Guantanamo Bay.
The adverse effects on mental health alone should justify government action for the implementation of alternative solutions. A parliamentary enquiry into the same details this, in particular, with regards to the lack of any time limit on detention – a situation in Europe which is unique to the UK.
The aforementioned enquiry outlines the lack of adequate healthcare in immigration removal centres, the detention of victims of trafficking and torture (rather than referral), women feeling intimidated by male staff, the ‘prison-like’ conditions and restrictions on internet access vital for detainee’s connection to the outside world.

Take action and contact your MP to ask for an end to indefinite detention.

The litany of cases of needless suffering caused by detention would require an anthology of its own to detail properly. Whether it’s denying people proper support and formal education, holding someone for two and a half years (11 months of which were in Dungavel) or the high numbers of suicide attempts, the evidence against such excessive use of detention is overwhelming.
In the spotlight is where this detention centre needs to be; away from the shadows, the darkness where the voices of its detainees are not heard and their stories not told. Even when driven to hunger strikes, the coverage of their plight is pitifully under reported throughout the British media.
This ties into the British media’s portrayal of immigrants as a whole. It becomes particularly cruel during times of crisis, such as we see in the Mediterranean. When support is most badly needed to enable refugees to seek protection and establish themselves in a new country, the media is focused on linking asylum seekers to crime and fraud rather than presenting a truthful and balanced view of their situation; a view which might give insight into the underlying problems and allow us to talk about long term solutions rather than vilifying those in the most dire and precarious of situations.
To this end, Global Justice Now is currently campaigning for an inquiry into racism in the Press as well as targeting the Daily Mail specifically, directly and through its advertisers, for its toxic and hateful portrayal of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. One example is that of Marks & Spencers, a company that prides itself on its ethical standards and yet continues to fund hate through its advertising in the Daily Mail. It’s ironic that M&S are using Paddington Bear for their Christmas advertising this year when Paddington himself was an immigrant from deepest, darkest Peru. Under current policy, he would have been considered an undocumented immigrant and may well have ended up in a detention centre!

Take action on these issues through Global Justice Now’s website.

The location of Dungavel certainly doesn’t help the situation. You’ll find this to be the case for other detention centres around the UK. They’re situated in remote locations that are invariably difficult to get to which makes it harder for visitors, family, friends or activists to meet the detainees themselves. This isolation, of course, compounds the harmful effects on the mental health of the detainees.
Despite this, the laudable efforts of volunteers from organisations such as Scottish Detainee Visitors means that the stories of the detainees are reported, the conditions in which they are forced to live are monitored and they are quite often the only familiar faces the detainees see outside of the immigration service.
International Migrant’s Day (18th December) is fast approaching – an ideal opportunity to celebrate ‘a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life’. Global Justice Glasgow will be around the city centre with our friend Paddington Bear to raise awareness of these issues and encourage people to take action.
The core problem with Immigration Removal Centres is simple. You shouldn’t lock people up for indefinite periods of time without a trial or a time limit. It is detrimental to their well-being in ways we still don’t fully understand. We need to look at the root causes of what drives people to a level of such abject desperation that they’re willing to risk life and limb to get to the UK rather than locking them up in far flung corners of the country, in the shadows where they can’t be seen or heard. It’s time for this cruel and unjust practice to end where more humane, community-based alternatives can be arranged and each person regardless of origin or circumstance is treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

Visiting Dungavel for another year…

Images courtesy of Scottish Detainee Visitors

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

To learn more about Dungavel, follow SDV on Twitter (@SDVisitors). SDV often tweet extracts from their visitors reports, providing a much-needed insight into the daily struggles of life in detention. 

For Unlocking Detention last year, I wrote a blog about the future of detention in Scotland. The situation was very uncertain. The UK Government had announced that it would close Dungavel, but its plans to build a short term holding facility (STHF) at Glasgow Airport were in disarray following Renfrewshire Council’s refusal of planning permission. The Government had a right to appeal the decision in Renfrewshire and for a time it looked like other sites were under consideration for a STHF. As an organisation, SDV were considering how we might adapt to provide a service to people in a new facility.

As things turned out, in February this year, the Government quietly announced that Dungavel would stay open.

So to our surprise, given where we were this time last year, we can look back on another year of our visitors travelling to Dungavel every week to visit, support and offer solidarity to the people detained there. This blog is about that work.

Every detention centre is different and as a result every organisation supporting people in detention works in a different way. Dungavel’s location, 45 minutes south of Glasgow, along a country road, on no public transport routes means that the only practical way for our visitors to go to Dungavel is by car, so they drive to Dungavel two evenings a week in groups of up to five.

Each visit starts with a meet-up in central Glasgow (or sometimes Edinburgh) and a drive out of the city and along the country roads that lead to Strathaven, the nearest town to Dungavel. We then travel six miles further along the road, through open country and farmland.


Finally, Dungavel comes into view, but it would be really easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. It’s set back from the road, hidden behind trees. Its history as a hunting lodge for the Dukes of Hamilton explains this and also its unusual appearance compared to many centres in the detention estate. It looks like a rather down at heel country estate – a large white building with turrets set in what would once have been attractive grounds.


Once they have parked, visitors ring a bell outside a cage-like structure built into the high perimeter fence, topped with barbed wire. The door to the cage creaks open and they all go inside, the door clanks closed behind them and they wait inside the cage at an inner gate until a member of Dungavel staff comes to check their ID and let them inside the perimeter fence. The wait can be quite long. Sometimes 15 minutes or more. In the winter it can be very cold, and in the summer they can be prey to the infamous Scottish midge!

Finally, an officer takes them through to reception and books them in, a process that can also take some time. Each visit has an organiser who gives the officer the names of the people they want to visit so they can be called to the visit room. Everyone is searched and ushered through to the visits room, where they wait until people come down to meet them.
After every visit, our visitors prepare a report of the visit and this allows us to monitor what we do and who we see in Dungavel. At the end of every quarter, I sit down and go through all the reports and record the information they contain. It’s a task I really like doing, because I like spreadsheets and numbers and it allows me to collate really useful information for our funders and means we can track trends.

From the reports we know that in the first three quarters of 2017, our visitors made 76 visits to Dungavel and saw 155 people, 28 women and 127 men. We try and strike a balance between visiting people who have been newly detained and people who have been in detention for weeks, months and sometimes years. We also try to prioritise women. There are only 14 places for women at Dungavel, compared to 235 for men, so women can feel particularly isolated and stressed while they are detained there. We see an average of seven people per visit, but each visit is different and our visitors have to be prepared for seeing anything between two and fifteen people.

We saw people from 36 different countries in the first three quarters of this year and a quarter of them were from the EU. In fact, Romanians formed the biggest single nationality among the people we visited until the end of September. The most recent detention statistics from the Home Office show that this is a trend across the detention estate – twenty per cent of people entering detention in the first three quarters of 2017 were EU citizens, but for people entering detention in Dungavel, the figure was higher at 35%. People from China, India, Vietnam and Sudan were also seen in large numbers. Perhaps surprisingly, we also saw people from the USA, Brazil and Bolivia.

But the reports also tell us more. Visitors use them to let other visitors know about problems the people we see are facing, or to share their concerns about them. And it’s this information that tells us most about the harmful impact of detention.

A common theme is our visitors’ concern about people’s health in detention:

“A is not sleeping. He forgets things. He’s been prescribed sleeping pills but is getting no mental health support”
“T still seemed really depressed and angry”
“B is not well. He’s looking worse each visit”
“D can’t sleep at night and seems to be having some mental health problems. His relationship has broken down since he’s been in detention”
“T is a priority for visit. He’s lost a lot of weight, isn’t eating well and seems very stressed”.

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

“N has been detained for months. He’s frustrated with not hearing from the Home Office and is talking about refusing to eat”
“We’d not seen M for a while. His mental health has deteriorated a lot. He’s been in Dungavel for more than six months now.”

Frustration and distress about indefinite detention can be linked to confusion about the complex immigration processes people are caught up in. While detained at Dungavel, people have better access to legal support than in other centres, but still people find it hard to get legal advice and to understand what is happening to them.

“H has had a letter from the Home Office that he doesn’t understand. He’s not been able to get in touch with his lawyer to discuss it. Asked us to call his lawyer for him”
“T was very upset. He’s been threatened with removal and he’s not heard from his lawyer, despite trying to contact him”

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

“D was very distressed. His wife has been in hospital and is still very unwell. He’s really afraid of deportation”
“C was pinning his hopes on his bail hearing next week. He’s worried about his pregnant wife”
“T was very distressed and emotionally volatile. He’s understandably very worried about his wife and children at home”

I’m really proud of the work our visitors do supporting people in detention. But every time I analyse their reports I’m angry that they have to do it. All of the sadness revealed is a direct result of UK Government policy. And we know it doesn’t have to be like this.

 

Week 9: #Unlocked16 visits Dungavel

This was the final week that Unlocking Detention 2016 visited a specific detention centre, ahead of the round-up final week next week.  And the final visit went to Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre, and the subject of lots of news and campaign activity recently.

https://twitter.com/EiriOhtani/status/806825844660465666
As part of #Unlocked16’s virtual visit, the fabulous Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV), who visit and support people held in Dungavel, and also after release, tweeted extracts from their visitor reports:

The first blog post of the week was also from the volunteer visitors of SDV and was one of my (Lisa from Right to Remain) favourite pieces as it managed to be moving, enlightening and heartfelt as well as laugh out loud funny at times.  Visitors were asked to complete the sentence “I’ll never forget”:

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a young Afghani man. He was telling me that he had gone to school one day and when he came home his house and all his family had been destroyed by a bomb. Then he told me that being in Dungavel made him feel worse than anything he had felt before.
I’ll never forget the horror I felt 25 minutes into my first car journey to Dungavel when I realised I’d forgotten my photographic ID. I’ll also never forget the look on the guard’s face when I presented my Partick Thistle season ticket to him as “ID”. Suffice to say, it didn’t work, and a wait of an hour and a half in the car park followed.
I’ll never forget all the people who have thanked me for my visits and for my motherly care (I am somewhat older than the young people we usually see). Some people do eventually get out of detention. I love the way we can keep in touch these days. I now have new friends in London, Glasgow, Inverness and Pakistan and sometimes get phone calls from various African countries It’s such a pleasure to be able to visit those people who live near by and to see photos of other friends’ growing families on Facebook.

Read I’ll never forget here

Kate Alexander, the director of SDV, authored our second Unlocked blog post this week, tackling the vital subject of the future of detention in Scotland, since the announcement of the closure of Dungavel but subsequent rejection of planning permission for a new short-term holding centre at Glasgow airport, billed as its replacement.  

It’s been a funny few months. Just a month before the beginning of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour of detention in the UK, the Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill, announced that Dungavel, the only detention centre in Scotland would close ‘towards the end of 2017’. You might think that this would be a cause of unalloyed celebration but from the announcement it was clear that there was no intention to end the detention of people in Scotland (or anywhere else in the UK). At the same time, the minister announced the intention to build a new short term holding facility at Glasgow airport. And of course, there would still be eight other detention centres in England where people living in communities in Scotland could be taken to be detained.
And then the message changed a little. In October, the Minister said that the closure of Dungavel was dependent on planning permission for the new centre being granted. Maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t know because a week after he said that, in a surprise decision, Renfrewshire Council rejected the planning application for the new centre.
The Government has a right to appeal that decision and immediately after it was made they said they were considering their position. And then there was silence. But on 24 November, in response to parliamentary questions from Gavin Newlands (the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North), Robert Goodwill repeated that the government were considering their position about an appeal but also that ‘the intended closure of Dungavel immigration removal centre is dependent upon a successful planning application for a new short term holding facility.’ So it sounds like they will consider somewhere else if they can’t build the centre they planned at Glasgow airport.
A short term holding facility, wherever it is located, would bring with it the prospect of people being routinely moved to England after being detained for a few days in Scotland. Clearly that will mean that people’s legal representation will be disrupted. This is of particular concern because of the different legal systems in Scotland and England. It will also mean disruption to people’s family, social and community support – all vital lifelines to people in detention.

Read Unlocking the future of detention in Scotland

Next up on the blog was a piece by campaigner and expert-by-experience, Pinar Aksu, on the need to keep on fighting to end detention in Scotland:

I’m experiencing mixed feelings. As much as I am very happy that it’s been announced that the only detention centre in Scotland will be shut, I also have worries about what it would be replaced with and what it will mean for refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.
When my family was detained in 2007, twice in Dungavel for 4 days and once in Yarl’s Wood for 2 months, I never knew what detention was.  As I got older, it was then when I noticed the injustice my family and many others went through. Locking people in prison-like detention centres while seeking asylum for safety and future is horrible. Knowing that Dungavel will be gone will erase the memories of my and many families who were detained there.

Read Pinar’s blog post here
The final Unlocking Detention live Q and A with someone currently in detention was with Gil, detained in Dungavel for nearly a year, and it was a heart-breaking one.  Thank you so much to Gil for speaking to us and sharing his views and experiences, and to Ben du Preez of Detention Action, for conducting the interview from the public’s questions, supporting Gil to do the interview AND live tweeting as well – not at all an easy task.  And thanks to SDV too, for putting us in touch with Gil. 
Experience the Q and A here

Live Q&A with Gil, detained in Dungavel

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

 
 

The closure of Dungavel? The fight must continue

By Pinar Aksu.  Pinar works with Migrant Voice as a Community Development worker in Glasgow and with Active Inquiry using Theatre of the Oppressed methods and is also a member of Right to Remain’s management committee.  She has been involved with asylum and refugee rights since a young age.

I’m experiencing mixed feelings. As much as I am very happy that it’s been announced that the only detention centre in Scotland will be shut, I also have worries about what it would be replaced with and what it will mean for refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.

When my family was detained in 2007, twice in Dungavel for 4 days and once in Yarl’s Wood for 2 months, I never knew what detention was.  As I got older, it was then when I noticed the injustice my family and many others went through. Locking people in prison-like detention centres while seeking asylum for safety and future is horrible. Knowing that Dungavel will be gone will erase the memories of my and many families who were detained there.

When I first read the news headline, ‘Dungavel immigration detention centre to close’, I was extremely happy. I knew that finally, after years of campaigning for the rights and freedom of detainees, we have finally achieved a major victory. I knew that this terrible place where innocent people have been being detained will be gone. Even though this will never bring back the time lost when  people were being detained, for days, weeks, months and years, it would bring an end to the pain in the future. People will be free!

However, as I continued reading the article, I found that not everything is as positive as it sounds at first. The government had plans for a ‘short-term facility’ near Glasgow Airport.   UK Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill says, ‘The new short-term holding facility would provide easy access to London airports, from where most removals take place, meaning those with no right to be in the UK can be removed with less delay’.

People could be removed quicker with the new short-term facility; either to detention centres in England or back to their country of origin. By making this move, the Home Office thinks they can stop us, in Scotland, from campaigning. Wrong! We will campaign more than ever before because we cannot watch money being spent on building walls in Calais or watch the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016 and the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. Now more than ever, we will not and we cannot stop campaigning. We will stand together, organise apply pressure until every detention centre is closed.

No human is illegal. End detention now.

Unlocking the future of detention in Scotland

Image courtesy of Scottish Detainee Visitors

By Kate Alexander, director of Scottish Detainee Visitors.

It’s been a funny few months. Just a month before the beginning of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour of detention in the UK, the Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill, announced that Dungavel, the only detention centre in Scotland would close ‘towards the end of 2017’. You might think that this would be a cause of unalloyed celebration but from the announcement it was clear that there was no intention to end the detention of people in Scotland (or anywhere else in the UK). At the same time, the minister announced the intention to build a new short term holding facility at Glasgow airport. And of course, there would still be eight other detention centres in England where people living in communities in Scotland could be taken to be detained.

And then the message changed a little. In October, the Minister said that the closure of Dungavel was dependent on planning permission for the new centre being granted. Maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t know because a week after he said that, in a surprise decision, Renfrewshire Council rejected the planning application for the new centre.

The Government has a right to appeal that decision and immediately after it was made they said they were considering their position. And then there was silence. But on 24 November, in response to parliamentary questions from Gavin Newlands (the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North), Robert Goodwill repeated that the government were considering their position about an appeal but also that ‘the intended closure of Dungavel immigration removal centre is dependent upon a successful planning application for a new short term holding facility.’ So it sounds like they will consider somewhere else if they can’t build the centre they planned at Glasgow airport.

A short term holding facility, wherever it is located, would bring with it the prospect of people being routinely moved to England after being detained for a few days in Scotland. Clearly that will mean that people’s legal representation will be disrupted. This is of particular concern because of the different legal systems in Scotland and England. It will also mean disruption to people’s family, social and community support – all vital lifelines to people in detention.

In addition, there are concerns about protections for people detained in Short Term Holding Facilities. The Detention Centre Rules (2001) do not apply to Short Term Holding Facilities and the Government has never published an equivalent set of rules for them. The Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID) has called this ‘a huge protection gap that leaves many at risk’

Dungavel remaining open, in the short, medium or long term brings with it a continuation of the concerns about detention that many other organisations and individuals in Scotland have long campaigned to raise awareness about and challenge

So here we are, in a state of uncertainty about the shape of detention in Scotland, but with the UK Government clinging on to its policy of holding the threat of indefinite detention over people living in our communities.

Anyone who has been in detention, known anyone who has been detained or read any of the excellent and revealing blogs that have formed part of Unlocking Detention this year knows about the harm that indefinite immigration detention causes. Detention damages people’s physical and mental health, destroys family relationships and leaves communities scarred and weakened.

It also doesn’t do what the Government says it does. More than half the people leaving detention in the UK are released back into the community, not removed. In Dungavel it’s 75%. And it costs £35,000 per year to hold someone in detention. In the words of 2015’s parliamentary inquiry into detention it is “expensive, ineffective and unjust”.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is increasing evidence that working with people subject to immigration control within the community using a case management approach, based on early intervention and tailored to the specific needs of different populations is more humane, cheaper and more effective. The Detention Inquiry report highlighted a number of examples of community based alternatives to detention from Europe and the United States, and argued that a shift to such alternatives would encourage better decision making and move the UK away from its focus on end-stage enforcement. More recently, research from Detention Action has also shown that community based alternatives can be successful even with ex-offenders, reducing re- offending and delivering very low rates of absconding.

That has to go alongside better decision making in immigration cases. We know now that the vast majority of people leaving detention from Dungavel come back into the community. In the third quarter of 2016, 199 people were released from Dungavel into the community. Just 88 were removed. So why were they detained? Better decision making would stop this waste of money and the damage it does to the people and communities concerned.

Better post-sentence planning for foreign national ex-offenders is another piece in this jigsaw. Around 40% of people in detention are there because the Government wants to deport them after they have served a criminal sentence. Their detention is often prolonged because there are significant barriers to removal. This could all be sorted out before their sentence ends. Where there are barriers to removal, or voluntary return, people could be released and any risks managed in the community, as they would be for UK nationals.

For certain categories of people (families with children since 2010, and pregnant women since 2016) there is strict time limit of 72 hours on detention (or a week with ministerial approval). With all of the above elements in place, there is no reason why this strict limit couldn’t be extended to other people, meaning that we might truly see detention used as a last resort and very infrequently.

Surely now, with its plans to build a new centre in disarray, rather than floundering around ‘considering its position’ it’s time for the UK Government to take a positive decision to commit to this approach.

Scotland, with its Scottish Government committed to progressive migration policies, its separate legal system, and its wide range of civil society groups and individuals working with migrants, is the ideal place to start.

I’ll never forget . . .

Scottish Detainee Visitors asked their volunteer visitors to write a few sentences about a memorable experience they had while volunteering with them – visiting people detained in Dungavel detention centre. 
They asked them to start with the phrase ‘I’ll never forget….’
Here’s what they said.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a young Afghani man. He was telling me that he had gone to school one day and when he came home his house and all his family had been destroyed by a bomb. Then he told me that being in Dungavel made him feel worse than anything he had felt before.
 
I’ll never forget the horror I felt 25 minutes into my first car journey to Dungavel when I realised I’d forgotten my photographic ID. I’ll also never forget the look on the guard’s face when I presented my Partick Thistle season ticket to him as “ID”. Suffice to say, it didn’t work, and a wait of an hour and a half in the car park followed.
 
I’ll never forget all the people who have thanked me for my visits and for my motherly care (I am somewhat older than the young people we usually see). Some people do eventually get out of detention. I love the way we can keep in touch these days. I now have new friends in London, Glasgow, Inverness and Pakistan and sometimes get phone calls from various African countries It’s such a pleasure to be able to visit those people who live near by and to see photos of other friends’ growing families on Facebook.
 
I’ll never forget my first journey down to Dungavel, feeling very nervous about what I could say or do for those detained there, but it turned out to be far less intimidating than I’d imagined, and I began to realise that, as well as practical advice, the folk there also wanted lighthearted conversations about us and our worlds. On one visit, I even ended up dancing with an African guy, (he didn’t think I could shake my booty!). It made all the others laugh, and one person came up to me afterwards saying thank you, – that was the first time he’d laughed since he arrived. So I still try and get someone to dance with me if they will!
 
I’ll never forget when a shy skinny Syrian refugee (via translation from another person we were visiting) told me before he fled Syria he was constantly being asked to fight for various different groups. “I am an ordinary man. I am not a political man,” he told me. “I don’t care who is in power as long as I can live in peace. How can I fight for a group when I don’t even know what it is I am fighting for?” I always think of this man when I see comments online from British people suggesting the Syrians should have stayed and fought for their country. I wonder if these people would be quite so confident and brave if they were being used in a tug of war between different militant groups.
 
I’ll never forget my first visit to Dungavel, and not just because it was only a month ago. I was a little anxious in the car journey, but my fellow visitor put me at ease. When we arrived, I was pretty overwhelmed at the scale of the razor-wire fence surrounding the giant old house. Once fingerprinted and through security, I spent most of my time talking to a young Iraqi-Kurdish man who had been in detention for just a few weeks and was clearly still extremely bewildered at the whole system of detention. I soon realised that I couldn’t offer him any quick fixes, just a sounding board and some empathy. The Sorani-Kurdish phrases I was able to sprinkle into our conversation went a long way to letting the young man know that I was visiting him as a support, rather than being part of the bureaucratic machinery he was fast becoming used to. As it happens, he was released on bail just a few days ago, and I’m going to meet him for lunch today. Having to try and find his feet in a new, freezing cold city must be pretty intimidating for him, but I’m keen to offer him any support I can.
 
I’ll never forget arriving at Dungavel with three other visitors on a cold winter night. We waited outside in the cold for ages before the gate was opened. And then it took a long time to book us in because we had a lot of things to leave for the people we were visiting and the staff had to record everything. As we waited for all this to be done, one of my fellow visitors sat in reception whistling the theme tune to ‘The Great Escape’.
 
I’ll never forget when a woman detained in Dungavel quietly told me she had been trafficked and followed it quickly with a shy smile. Later in the visit she told me it wasn’t too bad in Dungavel and everyone was really nice. I had a stark realisation of where I was in the luck end of the scale in the world, simply because of my circumstances and the country I happened to have been born in.
 
I’ll never forget the first woman I spoke to at length in Dungavel. She had been in the UK for 10 years and was suddenly detained. She was dignified, strong and sad. I realised that while everything we can practically do is important, the best thing we do is listen.
 
I’ll never forget the first meeting we had with someone newly detained.  He sat down grinning, and, with a flourish, pulled a bar of dark chocolate out of his jacket like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat.  We are not allowed to bring food into the visiting room, and this young guy breaking a bar of chocolate to share with the group also broke the ice.
 
I’ll never forget a conversation with three people who used to be detained. They described sitting at home, not allowed to work, watching the people outside busily going about their lives.  They would close the curtains, because it was too painful a reminder that their lives, still, were on hold; still under the control of immigration; still not free. One described it as ‘detention without walls’.
 
I’ll never forget James, who we visited in Dungavel for more than two years. How he managed to stay sane and strong I will never know, but he did. He liked to buy us a drink from the vending machine in the visits room, to try and make the situation feel more like friends meeting in a café or bar. He eventually got out of detention and was able to build a life in Scotland. And a couple of years after that, I danced at his wedding.
 
I’ll never forget the time we hit a pothole on the way to Dungavel and burst two tyres. Four of us sat in the car until 11pm when the AA arrived. It was winter and snowing and we were stuck in in the middle of nowhere. We kept the engine running to keep warm, shared half a flapjack and a handful of dried apricots. And we played ‘I spy’.
 
I’ll never forget Rima, the lovely young woman for whom we bought fashion magazines and Asian cloth so she could make her own clothes. She was in Dungavel a very long time, and was scared of being sent back as her family had vowed to kill her. She was sent back. We’d promised to keep in touch and to check on her. A few of us tried writing to her email address several times, but she never replied. I hope she is fine. I worry she is not.

Unlocking Detention ‘visits’ Dungavel

Last week, Unlocking Detention visited Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre and the final stop of the #Unlocked15 tour.

Also last week, Human Rights Day was held, a stark reminder of the rights being denied to those detained – over 30,000 people every year, deprived of their liberty, indefintely.

Dungavel was an appropriate centre to end our tour on – one of the most distinctive centres, one of the most remote, and one of the most fiercely contested.

https://twitter.com/DetentionForum/status/675265298816045056

Throughout Unlocking Detention, we’ve been asking people what THEY would miss if they were detained, without time-limit.  Here’s one response we had last week:

Bridget Holtom, a volunteer for Scottish Detainee Visitors, wrote a very thought-provoking piece on criminality, detention and migration:

As I reflect on where I would now draw the line on immigration and crime and how the debate has changed over time online, it is evident we still have a long way to go. There is still a tendency to talk about the injustice of detaining people who’ve “committed no crime”. Furthermore there is a tendency to emphasise petty crimes and avoid any mention of more serious ones that people may commit. Therefore, there are bigger, unaddressed questions about criminality and immigration that must be unpicked in order to end immigration detention once and for all.

We heard from Alison, whose foster-daughter was detained in Dungavel in 2008 when she was just 16 years old.

I checked my phone for messages:
Received: 10:46, 08-05-2009. Message from home. click. “She’s in Dungavel. Deportation in a week unless solicitor can stop it.”

All the clichés are true. time and space slow down. There is a sudden shaking in my hands. The sound of colleagues talking about submission rates fades and I feel surround by silence. My fingers are heavy. I can’t get the phone to close. My fingers are shaking. I drop the phone. Pause. Breathe in. Turn to the colleague on my right – a gentle man – and make some stumbling apology about needing the phone home. In my feet, the blood from my face. On the stairs my partner picks up:

“It went about as badly as is possible.”
“I’m coming home.”

Read Alison’s Diary of a Dungavel Detention.

On Friday, we spoke to Matthew who is currently detained in Dungavel.  Matthew’s community is in London, so cannot come and visit him. Thankfully, he is supported by Scottish Detainee Visitors but detention is still a very isolating experience.  Read the interview with Matthew here.

Diary of a Dungavel Detention

This blog post was written for Unlocking Detention by Alison Phipps.  Alison is Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Glasgow, and Convener of Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet).

Friday May 8th 2009

11am: The colleague opposite me was talking about performance indicators for postgraduate study in the arts and humanities and how we would ensure appropriate audit. Another day in the University of Glasgow and the birth of another form, with another tick box to ensure accountability. I’m a little on edge and distracted. A young girl, staying with us for protection as our foster daughter, has to report to the UK border agency in Brand Street, Govan, for the first time and my partner has gone with her. There is a slight pause at 11 am between items on the agenda for colleagues to refill their coffee. I checked my phone for messages:

Received: 10:46, 08-05-2009. Message from home. click. “She’s in Dungavel. Deportation in a week unless solicitor can stop it.”

All the clichés are true. time and space slow down. There is a sudden shaking in my hands. The sound of colleagues talking about submission rates fades and I feel surround by silence. My fingers are heavy. I can’t get the phone to close. My fingers are shaking. I drop the phone. Pause. Breathe in. Turn to the colleague on my right – a gentle man – and make some stumbling apology about needing the phone home. In my feet, the blood from my face. On the stairs my partner picks up:

“It went about as badly as is possible.”

“I’m coming home.”

At home there are what the press teaches us to call ‘emotional scenes.’ I’m trying to get practical, trying to hear the story, trying to understand, trying to concentrate, moving into rapid action. Moving into tears. “We have to take her things up to Dungavel.” His face is drawn. There is more to come later, more to be told of the questioning at Brand Street. The moment when the key turned in the locked behind her and he felt he’d betrayed her, handed her over to the authorities. The only box on the forms for what we do, as hospitality, it seems, is trafficking.

My partner is in shock at the questions he has been asked and from his experience at the Home Office. I proceed to pack her belongings into her tiny suitcase. She doesn’t have much and quite a bit of what she has she has been given in the last couple of months. Pictures drawn for her by young children at church, Easter eggs and cards. We begin initial phone calls and emails, starting with our own near friends, neighbours, family. I’m shaking as I pack. I’ve visited Dungavel for years as a befriender with Scottish Detainee Visitors and had recently ceased visiting to attend to the hospitality we were offering at home more fully. Dungavel is a prison. It is no place for a 16 year old girl.

We speak to her lawyer. I go back and teach my Friday afternoon classes and by the time I get home she is in Dungavel. We borrow a car and drive the hour south of Glasgow to Dungavel with her belongings. Much of what we have taken up – the Easter Eggs, the nail varnish and hair oil, her belt and scarves, we cannot leave for her. They are bagged up in HM prison bags for us to collect on our way home. At last we are able to enter the visits room and she meets us, sobbing. We all are. Apparently she’d been told in the UK Border Agency cell, in Brand Street, that she didn’t need to worry because ‘Dungavel is like a big cinema.’

Saturday – after a sleepless night – we began to piece together the possibilities of a campaign.

Sunday – a breathing space. A visit again.

We get used to the Dungavel road. As luck would have it I am on annual leave for the week so on Monday morning I begin contacting our MSPs, MP and her solicitor, and all those we know in the asylum campaign networks. Out goes the first request for action and support. The response is incredible. Letters and emails begin to pour in to the politicians, responses come, creative ideas – the resourcefulness of good people is alive and escaping and full of hope. Driving up the Dungavel Road every evening that week I listen again and again to the words of singer songwriter Tim Spark’s album, Nikko Fir, and these words of injunction echoing down the centuries.

Give shelter to the homeless
Feed the hungry
and you shall rise like the dawn.

What does it mean, I wonder, I still wonder, to rise like the dawn? To this day I cannot drive that road without hearing the traces of that times, and his song.

By Thursday we have an application in for a Judicial Review with release. By Friday we have an advocate. In between times we learn via the networks into the home office that she is to be moved on 19th and deported on 21st.

Friday night: Text from her in Dungavel: “22:53. Hi alisn this crazey peple talk to me to get ready on 20 min to move and I refes them. good night love u by.”

And that was the last message we received from her before her sim card was taken too and she no longer had any means of contacting us. Saturday was a crazed day of searching Scotland for a lawyer to prevent the movement south and out of the reach of the Scottish Judicial Review. We were thwarted. On Sunday she was moved to Yarl’s Wood, near Bedford, and then served her removal papers. Now, of course, we would have to pay for a lawyer, as she had moved jurisdictions.

As is typical of these cases she was eventually released, granted refugee status and given a life in the UK.

Another colossal waste of money and energy, another person with no way of trusting bureaucratic processes and officials ever again.

And another ex-detainee who would compare Dungavel to Yarl’s Wood and say in Dungavel there was at least some tiny modicum of respect shown but in Yarl’s Wood “people cry all the time.” 

Where do we draw the line on migration and crime?

Image courtesy of Scottish Detainee Visitors and the Life After Detention group.

This blog was written as a reflection on a collaborative research project recently undertaken by Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV) with people released on bail and temporary admission from immigration detention in Scotland. This blog was written for Unlocking Detention by SDV volunteer and Masters of Research student Bridget Holtom, and the film ‘Detention Without Walls’ was co-produced by the Life After Detention group.

When I first began visiting immigration detention centres 5 years ago, like many others I naïvely thought that most people I would meet would be asylum seekers and refugees. Although the categories are not mutually exclusive, in reality around half of those administratively detained in the immigration detention ‘estate’ have served criminal convictions in prison. Furthermore, with the celebrated success of the suspension of the Detention Fast Track, more and more voices from inside detention are from those who have spent criminal convictions. This year I have read various articles that challenge individuals and organisations to consider the implications of campaigns which emphasise the good, hard-working and contributing migrant in contrast to the dangerous, undeserving detainee. Just last week, Nic Eadie’s blog ‘Almost as British as Me’ told powerful stories about people who have committed petty crimes and are awaiting deportation inside immigration detention. As I reflect on where I would now draw the line on immigration and crime and how the debate has changed over time online, it is evident we still have a long way to go. There is still a tendency to talk about the injustice of detaining people who’ve “committed no crime”. Furthermore there is a tendency to emphasise petty crimes and avoid any mention of more serious ones that people may commit. Therefore, there are bigger, unaddressed questions about criminality and immigration that must be unpicked in order to end immigration detention once and for all.

The deportation of ‘foreign criminals’ was brought to the public’s attention in 2006 when the news broke that over the previous decade 1,023 foreign national ex-offenders had not been considered for deportation. Following the resignation of then Home Secretary, MP Charles Clarke, the 2007 UK Borders Act introduced automatic deportation orders for non-EEA nationals sentenced to 12 months or more in prison or whose sentences over the past 5 years cumulatively add up to more than 12 months. Following that, the UK 2014 Immigration Act added a clause to the British Nationality Act 1981, which permits the Secretary of State “to deprive a person of a citizenship status” if the “deprivation is conducive to the public good” and if the person might be able to “become a national of another country or territory.” This means that even ‘foreign nationals’ ‘with status’ such as Leave to Remain or naturalised citizenship visas, can be stripped of their status.

With each new immigration act, another line is drawn, encircling previous residents and refugees with the right to remain and creating a new category of people, who can for the first time be legally be detained, deported or made destitute. Many of those detained in both prisons and detention face charges relating to their immigration journey itself. Although individual cases are not disclosed in the film ‘Detention Without Walls’, each tells the story of a transformation into illegality. Most people who took part in the film had entered the UK via legal routes but their status had changed over time. Some overstayed temporary visas, some breached their reporting conditions, others came to the end of their asylum appeals process and were found to be working illegally. For example, Ismail, who was recently removed to his country of origin shortly after he spoke out publicly about his case, shows how people’s cases can change over time into criminal cases:

we talk about people’s cases as if they are separate from lives. They [the Home Office] make your case illegal…but the case is your life, it makes or breaks you.

Ismail’s removal is for me an emotional example of the high human cost of a business of detention and deportation that generates profit for private security firms such as G4S, Mitie and GEO. Therefore, it is understandable that detainees and their advocates distance themselves from associations with crime in order to make their case for citizenship and avoid removal. For example, Pablo insisted that “before I came to this country I was a good boy”, shifting the responsibility from himself to the situation his family faced when they migrated to the UK. Similarly, Andy insisted “I’ve not done anything wrong…I’m not a criminal” and Juan put his crime of absconding in opposition to “real crimes…you know, I’ve never sold drugs, I’ve never stolen anybody’s money or anything, my visa expired and thats it”. Whilst these appeals to innocence may help individual cases, the logic of innocence multiplies categories of exclusion rather than removing them. As Melanie Griffith’s blog post last year reminded us, many anti-detention advocacy campaigns continue to focus on ‘vulnerable’ populations in detention. Whilst there are indeed additional safeguarding needs for certain populations, these campaigns contribute to the division between the innocent migrant-as-victim and the dangerous migrant-as-criminal.

The current process of making acts of migration illegal is an abhorrent injustice which should not be ignored. However, not every non-EEA national who has served a sentence for a criminal conviction is detained in immigration detention because an act of migration has been criminalised. There are more serious, unspeakable crimes. Drugs offences. Violent crimes. Domestic and sexual abuse. Murder. These are the crimes that populate the public imagination when people hear the term “foreign criminal” and these are the crimes circulated in the mainstream media. Therefore, it is natural to want to counter these in order to be more representative, but are we being more representative? Ask yourself, where do your own boundaries lie about migration and crime? and to whom would you extend your hospitality when faced with decisions about resources and capacity?

It is time that these difficult questions are pushed to the surface through sensitive and supportive conversations. During my visits to people inside detention, it was through conversations and unexpected friendships that the limits of my own moral boundaries shifted. I have come to believe that detention and deportation is still a double punishment, for any person who is in immigration detention regardless of their crime. Taking into consideration critical concerns about safety, I make a point of not asking people about their criminal history, nor their immigration case. During the question and answer sessions at screenings of Detention Without Walls, the question is often posed “are we preaching to the converted?”. However, everyone draws and redraws their own lines all the time and foreign national ex-offenders have limited numbers of supporters. When Home Secretary Theresa May asked “whose side are you on?” she did so to increase the divisions between the deserving and undeserving, between us and them. Take a stance, and then take action.