Week 8: #Unlocked17 visits Morton Hall

This is Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire, the focus of the eighth week of the Unlocking Detention tour. Up to 392 people – all men – may be detained here at any one time. It was turned from a prison to an immigration removal centre in 2011, though, like most other centres, it still feels like a prison.
It is one of two centres still run by the Prison Service – though it will soon be the only one (the other is the Verne, set to close soon).


The latest report of HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), published this year, said that at least three children had been detained at Morton Hall in the previous year; and that some of these detentions “were prolonged as a result of wrangling between different local authorities over responsibility for assessing age”. One child was held for 151 days.
The report said that too many people in general were being detained in Morton Hall for prolonged periods: the average length of detention was over three months. 31 people had been held for over a year, including three who had been detained for over two years. Two men had been detained on separate occasions totalling more than three years.
The report also identified a threefold increase in self-harm since the previous inspection. In the year preceding the inspection, four people had narrowly escaped fatal or serious injuries as a result of self-harm. The report stated that “The causes of self-harm had not been sufficiently analysed and there was no strategy to reduce it.”
Since that report was published, four people have died at Morton Hall. There have been ten deaths in detention centres across the UK in the last twelve months. In a recent interview, Mishka from Freed Voices said indefinite detention must end: “we cannot wait one, two, three, four years. We need it now. People are dying.” At a parliamentary meeting last month, Kasonga, another member of Freed Voices, highlighted the recent deaths in detention and said, “Detention reform cannot wait. It has become an emergency situation.”

Experts-by-Experience

The first blog of the week explored the psycho-geography of detention centres, based on a mapping exercise conducted by Freed Voices. One of these maps was drawn by Michael, who has been based in the UK since he was 12, and who was detained in Morton Hall for two and a half years.


Also this week, we published a conversation between Detention Action and John*(not his real name), who was recently released after ten months detained in Morton Hall. John de-bunks some of the Home Office’s stock phrases about detention.
For example, the Home Office say, “We do not have indefinite detention in this country.” To this, John says,

“Altogether, I have been detained 16 months, three different times. This response from the Immigration Minister just shows you how in denial they are. They are desperately trying to justify a lie. They are literally dancing around the word. It’s actually pretty embarrassing, really. I think they are maybe also just ashamed of what they are doing in detention and that is why they can’t face up to the truth of the situation.”

Of the deaths in Morton Hall this year, John said,

“I experienced two deaths in the ten months I was in Morton Hall. When the Polish guy died, all they did was put up a tiny notice. When my friend Spencer died, they tried to cover the whole thing up as quickly as possible. It was incredibly traumatic. Especially for those close to him. There were no follow-up questions, no support for the depression we all felt. It was very, very difficult – harder than the sixteen months, to be honest.”

Also this week, Umar* shared his story in order to raise awareness about the plight of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees.
Umar first came out in a detention centre, to an immigration officer. “He wore a suit and had a badge. I didn’t like that I had to speak to him about my sexuality. I felt scared because I didn’t know if what I said would be kept a secret. But I had no choice, I had to tell him. I was very nervous as this was the first time I had told anyone that I was gay.”
Umar is now free from detention, but feels compelled to fight the injustice he suffered for the benefit of others. Umar says,

“I do not want any refugee, especially a LGBTI refugee, to go through this. Being in detention I was always scared, it was a prison also for my brain and my heart.”

You can read the full piece here.

Also on the blog this week:

On Tuesday, we heard from Rachel Robinson, Advocacy Manager for Liberty, who argued why now is the time to end the practice of indefinite detention, once and for all. It’s a clear and powerfully-argued piece: read it here.


In Wednesday’s blog, Bill MacKeith, joint organiser of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, reported on the recent 24th anniversary demonstration at Campsfield House, attended by Oxford’s two MPs. You can also catch up on the #Unlocked17 visit to Campsfield House here.


Next week is the final stop on the #Unlocked17 tour. We’ll be virtually visiting Dungavel, in Scotland.

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.
INDEFINITE DEFINITION
The UK is the only country in Europe that practices indefinite detention: from the moment someone enters detention they have no idea how long they will be there for. Immigration statistics released only last week showed one person had been detained 5 years…and counting. These figures came only a few days after the Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis, had responded to calls for an end to indefinite detention in Parliament with some very (very) familiar lines:
“We do not have indefinite detention in this country. Our policy is that there is always a presumption of liberty. Individuals are detained for no longer than is necessary.”
John P.
“For me, the definition of ‘indefinite’ is simple: something with no end. It is infinite. It is the opposite of finite. It is not rocket science. No-one told me how long I’d be there for when I was detained because they couldn’t. They just shrugged: ‘we don’t know.’ Altogether, I have been detained 16 months, three different times. This response from the Immigration Minister just shows you how in denial they are. They are desperately trying to justify a lie. They are literally dancing around the word. It’s actually pretty embarrassing, really. I think they are maybe also just ashamed of what they are doing in detention and that is why they can’t face up to the truth of the situation.”
————————————————————————————————-
VULNERABILITY IN DETENTION
In January 2016, the Shaw Review found ‘incontrovertibly that detention in and of itself undermines welfare and contributes to vulnerability’. In response, the Government promised to implement a new reform programme (the Adults at Risk procedure) that would ‘safeguard the most vulnerable’. Over the last month, reports from Women for Refugee Women, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Detention Action and the British Medical Association have all outlined how and why the Adults at Risk policy is failing, identifying large numbers of vulnerable people still in detention. In response to each report the Home Office had the same stock response:
“We operate on a presumption against detention, and our adults at risk policy aims to improve our approach to identifying individuals who may be particularly vulnerable to harm in detention. When people are detained this is for the minimum time possible, and the dignity and welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance.”
John P.
“Everyone knows this is a complete lie…There is no effective screening before or during detention. I suffer from severe depression, for example. The Home Office were well aware of this. Did it factor into their decision to detain me? Not for a second. Their interest in removing you will always outweigh your vulnerability, there is no contest there. I saw loads of vulnerable people inside Morton Hall. Lots of psychotic episodes, people self-harming because they were so depressed. I saw someone cut their throat in front of me. I met a Vietnamese boy in there who had been trafficked to the UK to make cannabis. He never should have been there. I saw physical scars on people’s bodies. You’d walk around and think ‘wow, I can’t believe he’s in here…wow, I can’t believe he’s in here…wow, I can’t believe he’s in here.’ But really, everyone is vulnerable in detention. From the moment you walk in, you’re changing. You’d see someone come in one week and they would have deteriorated into a different person by the next week.”
——————————————————————————————————–
DEATHS IN DETENTION
The potentially lethal impact of indefinite detention is well-documented: there have been thirty-three deaths across the detention estate; ten deaths in the last calendar year; four in Morton Hall alone. In response to each (and every) one, the Home Office has had the same stock response:
“As is the case with any death in detention, the police have been informed and a full independent investigation will be conducted by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. We will make no further comment while this is being investigated. The dignity and welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance.”
John P.
“That’s absolutely pathetic. It’s insulting, really. I experienced two deaths in the ten months I was in Morton Hall. When the Polish guy died, all they did was put up a tiny notice. When my friend Spencer died, they tried to cover the whole thing up as quickly as possible. It was incredibly traumatic. Especially for those close to him. There were no follow-up questions, no support for the depression we all felt. It was very, very difficult – harder than the sixteen months, to be honest. It was genuinely terrifying to be somewhere where four people had died in the last year. You think that doesn’t affect the people inside? You start thinking when it will be your turn, when am I gonna go? If I have a stroke, can I trust that these guys are really gonna call an ambulance? Or are they just gonna leave me on the floor? It’s terrifying…very, very scary. You start to look at these guards as guys with blood on their hands.”
———————————————————————————————————
ABUSE IN DETENTION
In September this year, the BBC Panorama documentary on Brook House highlighted the culture of psychological and physical abuse that has become normalised across the detention estate as a whole. In response to this programme, and other allegations of abuse, the Home Office has provided the same stock response:
“We are clear that all detainees should be treated with dignity and respect and we expect the highest standards from detainee custody officers. We take all allegations of misconduct or mistreatment of detainees seriously.”
John P.
“People’s dignity was breached on a daily basis in detention. And the staff there know it. Two guards resigned from Morton Hall in the time I was there. I asked one of them why and he said he couldn’t do it anymore. He said he could not physically bring himself to lock me up at night for nothing. He had some integrity, to be honest, he could see what they doing was wrong. As for taking allegations seriously, you are also strongly discouraged from making any allegations in the first place. They always try and put pressure on you, they tell you your claims are ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘this will affect your case’. Intimidation tactics are common. I’m not fresh off the boat, so I would tell them to go do one, but many people are too scared to speak out. And I understand why. Can you imagine what would happen to a migrant if they committed the same kind of offences that we experienced every day in detention? There would immediately be criminal prosecutions. Immediately, no doubt. But in detention? People have died in detention and not one person has gone to jail, not even suspended! That tells you everything you need to know about how serious they are following up on ‘mistreatment’.”
——————————————————————————————————-
REMOVALS
The classic catch-all response to charges laid at the Home Office detention policy is that – despite the deaths, the crisis of harm, the culture of abuse and the failed measures to protect the vulnerable – detention is necessary, whether we like it or not…
“Detention is an important part of our immigration system, helping to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK are returned to their home country if they will not leave voluntarily.”
John P.
“What?! I’m here aren’t I, talking to you now. Last year, I gave them my passport and told them to put me on a plane. We even discussed extra luggages and flights. But it became clear there was a problem with my country and so instead, they brought me to detention…even though it was clear my removal was not going to happen. Sometimes I think it is just a business, and we are just the stock being moved around. Over half of everyone in detention gets released, not removed. So why is it even called an Immigration Removal Centre? They need to change that name. It’s false advertising. They should change the names to British Guantanamo Bay I, British Guantanamo Bay II, British Guantanamo Bay III…but not IRC.”
 
 

Mapping detention

At Unlocking Detention, we occasionally receive emails from people, including those who say they are journalists, asking us to let them join the “tour”. These requests stem from misunderstanding: some assume we are organizing physical, guided tours of the inside of these immigration detention centres, while we are actually running a “virtual” tour unearthing facts and voices from these centres.
While their interest is welcome, it also makes us feel uneasy – what legitimizes our gaze inside these centres, when it is not for an official purpose of monitoring or supporting people inside the centres? Should these centres be open for casual inspection by anyone who happens to be curious, knowing that people who are detained there are having a truly devastating time of their lives? When does this gaze transgress into the sphere of voyeurism? What makes us think that we can fully understand immigration detention through seeing its infrastructure?
In this piece, Freed Voices members are our guides to the psycho-geography of detention centres, including Morton Hall which Unlocking Detention is visiting this week. The piece was originally published on Detention Action’s webpage here in 2016, in response to Unlocking Detention. Please do visit the original webpage which contains a full piece with more visual material. *The names of some Freed Voices members in this piece have been changed.

A few weeks ago, during the fallow days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the Freed Voices group met to reflect on a busy twelve months of campaigning and to mark the conclusion of ‘Unlocking Detention’ – Detention Forum’s annual, virtual tour of the UK’s detention estate.
In homage to the latter – (which digitally ‘visited’ those sites of indefinite incarceration up and down the country that the Government would otherwise have you believe are ‘out of sight, out of mind’) – the group conducted their own exercise in ‘mapping detention’.
To begin with, they plotted the general outline of a detention-centre (most Freed Voices members have experienced several different IRCs so chose the detention centre which resonated most). Then they filled in ‘key landmarks’, such as their rooms, healthcare, the canteen, visiting rooms, legal services, the shop, the yard, welfare and/or induction areas.

Morton Hall IRC by Michael

Next, Freed Voices members detailed the different demographics that might make up any given detention centre – where were the detention centre staff based? Where did new arrivals come in? Where were their friends in relation to their own rooms? Did different national or religious groups congregate in different spaces? Who dominated the yard? What was their typical movement through the detention centre on any given day?
Lastly, they designed a post-it key, with different colours to represent different emotional states. The group then pin-dropped these across their maps in different loci they associated most with that particular feeling.

Feeding back to each other, and reflecting on their respective maps, several outstanding themes emerged.
Firstly, the group acknowledged how they had (at least initially) all interpreted the exercise’s leading direction – ‘to draw the outline of the detention centre’ – very differently. Some members experienced greater freedom of movement throughout their incarceration and could detail the wider physical perimeters of the detention centre in great detail.
Others (despite, in some cases, spending longer periods of time in detention) did not map out anything beyond their wing. As John* explained, “this is really where day-to-day detention happens – everything you need to know about detention is on your wing.”
All agreed, however, that this was equally applicable to their rooms – that the essence of detention boiled down to four brick walls, complete with one or two bunks, maybe a toilet, and more often than not a hermetically sealed window (occasionally with a birds-eye view of a nearby airport).
Boone, who was detained for 7 months in Colnbrook, adjacent to Heathrow, said that ‘every minute and a half a plane flew past the window. Each one reminded me I was going to be deported back to my country. My room was my hell.” Omid said ‘my room was hopeless(ness)…I thought I never ever go out and that’s why in my nightmares I can see this room.” Shariff described his room as ‘My Coffin’.
Second was the extent to which members described how their identities had been unmade, made and remade again whilst they had been detained. Almost all noted how their primary physical/emotional interaction with detention had been under the cloak of darkness, arriving in a blacked-out van, usually at around two or three in the morning, handcuffed, and marched through high-security gates like a criminal.

Joe, a survivor of torture from East Africa, spoke about how, when he arrived at Dover detention centre (where he spent the next two years) he had to pass through its three enormous gates. At the first one, they registered his name and country of origin. At the second, they frisked him. At the third, they gave him a ‘Prison Number’ and waved him through. “I had never committed a crime in my life, I received no trial, and yet I was given a life-sentence?”
John, who was predominately detained in Colnbrook, spoke about being stripped of the most important aspect of his identity: his humanity. He recounted how he had been spoken to like an animal, caged like an animal, and barked at by immigration officers like an animal – and not in a figurative sense, but with an actual guttural canine-growl.
Thiru, a survivor of torture from Sri Lanka, highlighted his time in segregation – or the ‘Isolated Rooms’, as he called them – as the darkest part of his detention experience (a sentiment concurred by several other members). Thiru described how here, in solitary confinement, his past and present traumas had merged into one. He said he felt; “Tortured again. Only this time I wasn’t sure why. Back home, I knew it was because of who I was. But here, it was because of who I wasn’t. It was confusing.”

Brook House IRC by Thiru

Freed Voices members largely agreed that the inevitable result of these kinds of experiences – the violence of segregation, the dehumanisation encouraged by staff, the deteriorating sense of self – was an intense distrust in everything around them. On one hand, this was directed at the individuals and systems that compounded their detention: Home Office-picked solicitors, the complaints system, welfare, healthcare staff.
But it also occasionally, tragically, resulted in a self-imposed isolation, either from those going through similar experiences and/or from those with shared national, ethic or cultural backgrounds. Both Omid and Thiru marked out on their maps where people from their home country of origin, Iran and Sri Lanka respectively, tended to congregate in detention. But they also noted how, over time, they had both drifted away from these groups, and in turn, the social links/bonds to their ‘pre-detention identities’. Omid said; “I must be alone in Harmondsworth. After time, everyone the same to me. I see just faces, all the same.”
This dissolving of national identities was not the case for Michael, who has been based in the UK since he was 12, and who spent his two and a half years of detention exclusively in Morton Hall.
His English fluency, English upbringing, and English partner were all a cause of social stigma within detention, where he wasn’t enough of an Other. At the same time, his proposed deportation promised to wipe clean these cultural indicators, erasing any sense of self in one fell swoop: “I grew up in the East End on pie and mash. I supported Chelsea. I went to British school. And now I’m an illegal immigrant about to be deported? I had no idea whether to hold on to who I was in detention, or let it go.”
Michael did note however, that some sense of self was salvaged whenever his partner – someone from outside Morton Hall’s walls – came to visit. Only then was he reminded who he was and what was normal.

This was echoed by other members, who also relied on some kind of external ‘force’ (real or imagined) to help puncture the mind/identity-bending bubble of detention. Boone took great solace in the Colnbrook’s chapel, which he said brought him closer to his family, ‘even though they were thousands of miles away’. Joe’s room at Dover IRC looked out over the sea and he spoke about how, on a clear day, he could see France and that this vague outline of land became a source of calm: “It helped me focus. I remember why I came to the UK in the first place.”
Others reiterated the vitality of visitor-groups, like the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group, Detention Action or the Verne Visitors Group, who provided practical advice and support but also treated them ‘as individuals’. “We weren’t just numbers to them,” reflected Michael.
Lastly (although perhaps unsurprisingly), was the omnipresent black cloud of indefinite detention. Fogging every other aspect of life in detention, the psychological impact of not-knowing when they would be released was the singular, outstanding theme Freed Voices members kept coming back to. ‘Torture’ was repeatedly used to express the horror of endless incarceration.
Freed Voices members were quick to point out that it was almost impossible to delineate and dissect other aspects of life in detention – whether it be the activities available to them or conditions more generally – in separation from indefinite detention. Timelessness infected everything. At one point in the exercise, Thiru covered almost his whole map in post-it notes in an attempt to explain the geographical translation of this pervasive emotional violence. Shariff said that indefinite detention meant that ‘even the smallest details in detention make you lose hope’. Joe spoke about the mental and physical fatigue that comes with bearing this psychological weight everyday: “I felt every second of my detention. I was there more than two years. It was exhausting.”
 
 
 
 

Week 4 of #Unlocked16: Morton Hall

This week, Unlocking Detention visited Morton Hall in Lincolnshire.   Morton Hall opened as an “immigration removal centre” in 2011, having previously been other kinds of prison for men, women and youth since 1958.
There are 392 bed spaces at Morton Hall, all for men.


We had a really interesting range of blog posts and articles published this week. 
Melanie Griffiths, an ESRC Future Leaders Fellow at the University of Bristol, wrote on Open Democracy about the impact that detention has on families, relationships and parents. 


We also shared an amazing audio piece in which Kasonga interviews his old friend, Harsha, about the impact Kasonga’s detention had on him – a must listen!


We also published a fascinating piece by Amanda Schmid-Scott, PhD Researcher at the University of Exeter, on the every day violence and bureacratisation of life in immigration detention: what might a re-imagining of violence reveal about the lived experience of immigration detention?


On Friday, we had our weekly live interview with someone detained in the centre we’re ‘visiting’ for the week.  This week we heard from Dave, who is currently detained in Morton Hall.   A great range of questions (from Detention Forum members and from members of Manchester Migrant Solidarity particularly), and compelling answers.  Take a look …
http://unlocked.org.uk/blog/live-q-and-a-with-dave-detained-in-morton-hall/

Unlocking Detention: Morton Hall week

This week it was the turn of Morton Hall to be visited by the virtual Unlocking Detention tour.


Morton Hall was built as an RAF base, then served a low security prison.  It was re-opened, with more security, as a detention centre.


People are locked in their cells from 8pm and 8am, and at further times throughout the day.


Detention centres are often remote and hard to visit – Unlocking Detention seeks to bring the realities of detention a little closer to home.


Isolation was a theme of this week’s innovative Q and A, in which Michael (detained in Morton Hall for TWO YEARS) and his partner Holly came up with questions for each other about the experience of detention, and recorded the results.


Listen to this fascinating Q and A, in which Michael describes how important Holly was to him, ‘a rock’ and Holly speaks of the shock of Michael being kept in detention, something they didn’t think could happen to them.

This week also heard about vulnerability in the immigration detention context, and looking behind the labels, in this fantastic article by Ali McGinley of AVID, published by Justice Gap.  The article draws on the Detention Forum’s recent research report, Rethinking ‘Vulnerability’ in Detention: a Crisis of Harm.


Scottish Detainee Visitors highlighted the acute impact that detention has on people by sharing extracts from their visit reports:


And we continued to explore how detention affects us all, all over the UK, even when the nearest detention centre is many miles away.

Morton Hall: Michael and Holly's story

To mark the Unlocking Detention tour’s visit to Morton Hall IRC this week, this Q and A features Michael, a member of the Freed Voices group, and his partner Holly, reflecting on the two years he was detained at Morton Hall in Lincolnshire, and the impact it had on them and their relationship.

Michael and Holly decided what questions they wanted to ask each other, asked them, and recorded the results.  It’s a very human and touching insight into the realities of detention, and how it affects far more people than just those detained.

When an individual is detained everyone is affected

This blog post is written by Gemma Pillay, from Nottingham.  She works for the Nottingham and Notts Refugee Forum

On Sunday 28th June 2015 I received a text from my friend Imran:

Hello gemma its Imran here I went to loughborouh for sign and they detained me can you help me please?

He had been detained the preceding Thursday (25th June) and moved from Morton Hall in Lincolnshire to Harmondsworth in London.

Imran

Imran was waiting for his substantive interview and complying with all reporting restrictions – he was devastated when the guards took him to a side room, placed him in handcuffs and calmly told him that he was now officially detained. He had nothing with him to prepare for this, no change of clothes or toiletries, and neither would he get any for a further week when the bag of clothes we brought for him took four days to cross Harmondsworth and finally reach him.

harmondsworthdemo

Imran had been on the demonstrations outside Harmondsworth detention centre but now found himself on the other side of the walls. No banners, no chanting.  Instead a windowless room and staff who felt it necessary to remind him that he wasn’t in a hotel. But having been at the demonstrations, having been part of the crowds of people demanding an end to immigration detention, Imran knew that he wasn’t entirely alone.

I spoke to Imran on that Sunday morning and something he asked me to do dramatically changed things for him and also for all of us on the outside: He asked me to tell everyone we know what had happened to him. I sent out a message and the support came flooding back. He was contacted every day by people who wanted to help him by sending powerful messages of solidarity and defiance, by praying for him and even making a joke to cheer him up. When four of us went down to London to see him we had dozens of messages of support for him and a strong collective question of “What are we doing about Imran?”

When an individual is detained everyone is affected. I have heard the rumours which circulate and the questionable truths which emerge: “perhaps it was because he asked to report less frequently”, “that’s why you should never report”, “they’re detaining all people from that country now”. In reality there appears to be little in the way of consideration or predictability in the decision to detain someone. It is nothing short of state intimidation and breeds mistrust, shock, and a fear of both compliance and non-compliance with the system.

Why detain?

What could be the objective of detention? To control the movement of asylum seekers who are under the radar? If that were the case why detain people who are reporting, because they are exactly the people who are not making any attempt to avoid their temporary admission requirements. Is it to save money? Hardly. Home Office figures in late 2014 estimated that it cost £97 per day to detain one person. Is it to prevent the likelihood of absconding? The people I have known who have been detained include a young woman who is the full time carer of her mother with a  spotless record of reporting compliance, unlikely to abscond, and a young man with a fresh claim submitted, living in a charity house with no likelihood of eviction, also unlikely to abscond. With such an apparently random approach to detention it is unsurprising that the community of people who are liable to detention see no clear instruction of how to behave in order to avoid it. It serves to maintain a constant threat, fostering the suspicion that you are damned whatever you do.

On Monday 6th July 2015 Imran was released. Having indefinite detention in the UK meant that Imran had no idea that his ordeal would end in 12 days. He spent every day living in a desperate panic that he would be left there for months, maybe more. He was put under pressure to meet with Home Office officials when he didn’t have time to contact his solicitor, much less arrange her attendance. He had no opportunity to have his documents translated. He knew that these would be central to his case and without them his claims would be unsubstantiated. He was locked in his room at night and heard through the door the casual cynicism with which guards dealt with the attempted suicide of another detainee. On Imran’s first reporting event after his release I went with him. He felt physically sick and when he was in the waiting room he was so scared he thought he would have a heart attack.

When Imran was in detention he sent me a message in response to all his support from friends, he said “We’re all a family now”.

We all felt very much that one of our people had been taken and were overjoyed when he was released. But what was achieved by his detention? Imran is still suffering with poor sleep and anxiety. Here in Nottingham we breathed a sigh of relief that we got Imran back and the monster had, for now, moved on to some other poor individual. And still, against all intuition and logic, everyone, including Imran, had to continue to go and report.

Constant threat

reportingcentre

I go to Loughborough every four weeks with Ivan, my husband. We live with the constant threat that one day he might go into that building and I will be expected to leave without him. The next time I see him will be in a visitors’ room, and I will have undergone prison security searches before I can see him. We won’t know if or when he will be released. And he, along with every other immigration detainee, has done nothing wrong. Detention affects everyone. Husbands and wives, friends, communities, brothers and sisters, children and parents.

I am certain that one day people will look back at immigration detention and say “Did we really do that to people who were seeking sanctuary?” Fortunately, there are plenty, and a growing number of people who are asking that question now.

Morton Hall week…

Morton Hall week…  19 to 25 Oct Unlocking Detention team looks back on the week they visited Morton Hall detention centre, in deep Lincolnshire.
================================================================================================


Until recently, Morton Hall detention centre was the latest addition to the ever growing immigration detention estate.  Buried deep inside Lincolnshire, we knew that it was pretty isolated.   Looking at the map, however, it still astonished us to see how isolated it was.  It is literally middle of nowhere.


Alongside the Verne, Haslar and Dover centres, Morton Hall is one of the four detention centres run by HM Prison Service.


Morton Hall’s isolation is further worsened by a ridiculously strict visiting hours.  www.gov.uk is the first port of call for looking for the most basic information about the detention estate, and when we saw the information below, we couldn’t quite believe it.
Visiting hours are:

  • 1:45pm to 4:15pm every day except Tuesday and Thursday
  • 1:45pm to 4:15pm and 6pm to 8:15pm on Tuesday
  • 1:45pm to 8:15pm on Thursday

Although of course detention is taking place in all the detention centres, when we saw the Morton Hall situation and then went to ‘visit’ Harmondsworth, this is how we felt about their respective visiting hour schemes.


Like other weeks, we were fortunate to have contribution from Morton Hall Detainee Visitors Group and Leeds No Borders who provided help in getting people’s voices out.  You can read there pieces here and here.


Bad telephone signals, being locked up 12 hours a day and with the guards carrying batons, Morton Hall sounds just like a prison.  These details still shock us.


Just a day before the first Unlocking Detention piece appeared on openDemocracy, we heard the news of the death of Rubel Ahmed, a young Bangladeshi man, in Morton Hall.  As the news spread, the first email that we received in response to his death from our member was from Bridget Walker.  We asked her to turn her email into a blog piece, which then appeared as Reporting Morton Hall – the media “myth”


Indeed, while the incident was covered widely by a number of media outlets, hardly any of them focused on the death of this young man but instead stressed the “riots” and “disturbances”, as if the trigger for these incidents was of no importance.
During the Morton Hall week, we wanted to share this piece which appeared in one of the Bangladeshi papers.


Another member, Rene Cassin, contributed this to the Unlocking Detention series on openDemocracy, demonstrating the strength of universal compassion and our ability to connect.


When differences are highlighted or potentially generated by the complex immigration rules, dividing families and communities, our members are going the opposite direction – finding ways to stay connected or make new connections.  As Rene Cassin says, ‘Empathy may just be a radical tool in the struggle to secure justice for migrants and refugees in Britain.’.
By Unlocking Detention team

Reporting Morton Hall – the media "myth"

Bridget Walker is an active member of the Detention Forum and works with a number of NGOs. She shares her personal reflection on the way the media keeps the myth of “dangerous foreigners” alive.
‘The death was used as an excuse for unrest’  [1]
In September 2014 a man died in Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre.  His name was Rubel Ahmed, he came from Bangladesh and he was 26 years old.
Death at a young age always comes as a shock.  It is a tragedy for family and friends.  When that death occurs in unexplained circumstances in a state institution it should also be a matter of public interest and concern.
Yet this death seemed almost incidental in the media coverage immediately afterwards. A local paper, the Lincolnshire Echo, ran with the headline ‘Twelve hour riot after detainee dies’.  It said a national tactical response unit had been called, and a team sent in armed with batons and shields and accompanied by police dogs.  Similar stories, focusing on the protest, appeared in many of the national dailies.  The focus was on the unrest, not the death, and the overall impression was that the men held in detention were dangerous criminals who had to be contained at all costs.
This is one of the many damaging myths purveyed about men and women held in the asylum and immigration system.   They are presented as violent people to be feared, foreign bodies who must be removed.  These myths take away both their humanity and ours.
How else to explain the way in which the bereaved family heard about the death.  They say the news came from his solicitor who had been informed by a fellow detainee.  There are wildly contradictory accounts of the cause of Rubel Ahmed’s death and his family are asking for an independent inquiry.
This is not the first time that there has been unrest at Morton Hall.  In January 2013 The Guardian reported ‘Illegal Immigrants riot at removal centre’.  The article listed the facilities available – dental and medical services and a ‘well stocked library,  badminton, soft tennis, basketball and volleyball courts.  There was no attempt, in the article, to look in such detail at the reasons for the protest.  Again there were contradictory accounts of what had happened, with inflammatory media headlines about fighting and injuries,  and a comment from the Independent Monitoring Board that the incident had been exaggerated.
The saying that truth is the first casualty of war has a long history going back to classical Greece.   It is time to debunk the myths and stop this implicit media war against vulnerable strangers.
Men and women held in immigration detention live with stress and uncertainty.  They do not know how long they will be held.  They fear being returned to the conditions from which they have fled.  They have little trust in a system where they are stigmatised and their stories disbelieved.
In his farewell speech as outgoing President of the National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards Peter Selby referred to the current immigration policy which ‘has as its necessary implication the detention of people who have not committed any offence, or who have discharged any penalty set for them’.  He suggested that this is a policy with ‘too many unacceptable consequences to be sustainable’.
[1] (comment attributed to a guard at Morton Hall IRC)
 

Voices from Morton Hall

In this blog post, two people currently detained in Morton Hall detention centre tell Leeds No Borders about their experiences.

”From 8pm til 8am we are locked up …

Phone signal is really bad so no one can get in touch. Even outside the signal is poor. If something is wrong in the night, no guards ever answer the bell. You have to apply to contact the Home Office. So even if something is urgent, like a change in your legal case, you don’t get a reply faster than at least a week. If you are facing deportation that slow reply can be a big problem. When the staff try to take me to the airport detention centre, i said ‘whatever you decide, i’m not going away. i am here. i will die here.’ luckily my solicitor put in my legal case fast and i got bail and the flight was cancelled.

Getting your medication is the worst. I have a bad back problem but I had to wait over a week for my medicine. Also Morton Hall is really difficult for people to come and visit as it’s in the middle of no where.

They really use people in detention and pay them just £1 an hour. But you don’t have a choice. You need money for phone credit, cigarettes etc so you need to work but it isn’t right.”

morton hall demo740

“I was assaulted twice by other people detained in Morton Hall. First I tried to break up a fight and was assaulted. I had a nose bleed the next morning but had to wait 2 days before I saw a Doctor. The second time I was assaulted and my jaw was dislocated. I decided to press charges and the manager of Morton Hall said he would contact the Police but he never did.

Phone signal is terrible. Also the fax machines are always broken. We often need to send our legal documents by fax but sometimes all of them are broken! There is one in each wing but all 5 were broken and the only one in the library was only half printing documents.

I have severe depression and need to take regular medication but my medication was taken of me and there was over a 48 hour delay before I was given it. Also the pharmacy is only open for limited times so you can easily miss it or there are queues. The guards ignore you if you request to see a nurse, especially in the night. One night I was in so much pain but no one came. It was only when I was released from detention that I got treatment. Some of the guards are ok but some have lots of prejudice. ”