Your guide to #Unlocked18

#Unlocked18 marked the 5th year of Unlocking Detention, our virtual ‘tour’ of the UK’s immigration detention estate. Whether you followed the tour from the beginning or you’re just joining us now, we hope you find something to whet your appetite for learning more about detention and how to challenge it. Here’s a guide to the contributions featured in #Unlocked18, with highlights selected by our team of Detention Forum volunteers and images by @Carcazan.

Week 1: Welcome to Unlocking Detention 2018

22 October: Welcome to #Unlocked18!

Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani welcomes you to the 5th year of Unlocking Detention.

22 October: Unlocking Detention timeline

To mark the 5th year of Unlocking Detention, this timeline tells the story of immigration detention reform from 2014-2018. We released one year at a time as #Unlocked18 progressed and the whole timeline is now available.

22 October: Immigration detention: The glossary

To help navigate the world of immigration detention, we created a visual glossary with key terms and acronyms used during Unlocking Detention. The images from this glossary are available to download and share

23 October: ‘When I become untamed’: Reflections on life in detention

A powerful, evocative poem written and recorded by Red (not his real name), while he was detained in Colnbrook detention centre. Red is a member of the Freed Voices, a group of experts-by-experience, people with lived experience of immigration detention who are committed to speaking out about the realities of immigration detention in the UK. 

25 October: Depicting wisdom: Drawings from detention

Mishka (not his real name) talks about five drawings he created based on his time in immigration detention. Like Red, Mishka is a member of the Freed Voices. Mishka writes, “when I drew these drawings, the pain and trauma blended into these drawings had already healed and turned into wisdom.”

29 October: Week 1: Launching #Unlocked18

Our first weekly roundup for #Unlocked18. Each week of the tour, we published a roundup of everything shared the previous week to make it easier to look back to find your favourite content or see what you’ve missed.

Week 2: Brook House and Tinsley House

29 October: We can make this world like heaven, or we can make it like hell

A blog from Rafiq (not his real name) who was detained in Brook House detention centre. Rafiq says, “I want to speak out about what I experienced there, and I want to talk about how we can fight for justice”.

30 October: #28for28: Working for ‘the better imagined

Anna Pincus at the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group writes about her work with Refugee Tales’ ‘28 tales for 28 days’. This campaign began on 11 September and featured the release of 28 videos of tales over 28 days, to highlight the need for a 28 day time limit for immigration detention. 

31 October: How to help end indefinite detention

Zehrah Hasan, Policy and Campaigns Assistant at human rights campaigning group Liberty, writes about Liberty’s campaign to ‘End Indefinite Detention’.

1 November: Live Q&A with Marino in Brook House

The Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group put us in touch with Marino (not his real name), who joined us on the phone from Brook House for our first live Twitter Q&A for #Unlocked18.

The live Q&A’s were definitely the highlight of #Unlocked18 for me. It was such a privilege to speak with DAK, Seed, Siarhei and Marino, who were generous in sharing their time, expertise and insight. The behind-the-scenes hiccups (illness, language barriers, phone numbers changing at the last minute, losing phone reception) made it more interesting but also brought home – once again – the difficulty of being heard from inside detention.

Susannah, Detention Forum Coordinator

2 November: ‘I leave you to judge’: Reflections from a visitor

Richard (not his real name), a volunteer with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, has been visiting people detained in Brook House and Tinsley House detention centres for 13 years. He asks, “Do these stories suggest an inadequacy in the detention system of effective legal representation and of support for emotional suffering?”

5 November: Week 2: #Unlocked18 visits Brook House and Tinsley House

Week 3: Prisons and short term holding facilities

5 November: No one left behind: Including people detained in prisons in immigration detention reform

Benny Hunter, from AVID (the Association for Visitors to Immigration Detainees), reminds us that people detained under immigration powers in in prison are often left forgotten in demands for reform. 

5 November: ‘Your voice can make a difference’: Expert-by-Experience interviews a former minister about the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention

In 2014, Sarah Teather MP, who was then the Chair of the APPG on Refugees started the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention, together with APPG on Migration. In this blog, K.A., a member of Freed Voices who was recently detained and released, interviews Sarah about her experience of running the inquiry, and Sarah asked K.A. about his experience of immigration detention. 

6 November: Welcome and hospitality as a force of resistance and change: Sanctuary in Parliament 2018

Sanctuary in Parliament is an annual event which brings local City of Sanctuary groups from around the country to Parliament to meet their MPs to demand change. In 2018, one of its focus issues was a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani explained how to amplify this demand.

6 November: Immigration detention centres have no place in Manchester or the UK

Lauren Cape-Davenhill, Organiser with These Walls Must Fall, writes about the reopening of a residential short term holding facility near Manchester airport amidst local resistance to immigration detention.

7 November: Immigration detention: Mental torture

A. Panquang, a Detention Forum volunteer and member of the Freed Voices, explores the lasting impact of indefinite immigration detention.

The lack of time limit, the lack of knowledge about who can or might be detained, the lack of control over people’s own immigration process, lack of communication with friends, family and community, the lack of legal advice, access to legal evidence, lack of proper healthcare and the lack of basic humane treatment are instruments used by the Home Office to maximize the mental torture of people in detention.

A. Panquang, Freed Voices

8 November: Detention happens closer than you might think

Katherine Maxwell-Rose, Digital Communications Manager at IMiX, highlights the uncomfortable fact that inhumane detention practices do not just happen elsewhere but also right here in the UK.

9 November: “Immigrants emigrate, hopeful anticipate

Ralph, detained for a total of 14 months in two prisons and a detention centre, wrote these lyrics reflecting on the impact of the UK’s immigration system on his life and family.

13 November: Week 3: #Unlocked18 visits short term holding facilities and prisons

Week 4: Yarl’s Wood

12 November: Theresa: letter from a hunger striker

This letter was sent to the Duncan Lewis Public Law team by Theresa (not her real name), a young mother, from Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Theresa was one of the leaders of the high-profile hunger-strikes in 2018. She wrote this letter the same evening that she had been refused bail. 

13 November: Resisting state violence: The Yarl’s Wood hunger strike

Fidelis Chebe, Project Director at Migrant Action, writes about the 2018 hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood and other forms of resistance to the use of detention as an instrument of state and corporate violence.

14 November: “For me, Yarl’s Wood was another torture

A blog from Gabby (not her real name), an activist campaigning against immigration detention in the UK who was detained in Yarl’s Wood twice in 2017. She is now an active member of Women for Refugee Women’s network, regularly performing her own poetry and speaking out to call for change.

15 November: Snow: Visiting in Yarl’s Wood

Ali Brumfitt, volunteer coordinator with Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, writes about her experience as a volunteer befriender. She explains, “The journey does not end after detention. Detention changes people. It adds more trauma onto any trauma a person is already carrying.”

16 November: “Every day, they used to walk in and pick somebody”: Living with the uncertainty of detention and removal

Bristol Free Voice, a citizen journalism project, contributed this audio recording of a woman previously detained in Yarl’s Wood reflecting on her experience of detention.

17 November: Eight times in detention: Why?

This blog features words and images produced at one of the weekly ‘drop in’ sessions held by Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, a space where women detained at Yarl’s Wood can come and have a conversation, share a hot drink or play a boardgame. 

22 November: Week 4: #Unlocked18 visits Yarl’s Wood

Week 5: Campsfield House

19 November: Campsfield closing: How did we get here, and what next?

In the first of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at its history and tries to make sense of the government’s recent announcement that Campsfield is to close in 2019.

20 November: Looking back at #Unlocked15: “The involvement of experts-by-experience has always been one of the most meaningful parts of the project

Mishka and Red from Freed Voices (@FreedVoices) interview Lisa Matthews, Coordinator at Right to Remain, about her experience of co-running Unlocking Detention in 2015, and the collective effort involved in bringing it all together.

21 November: Campsfield closing: A history of resistance

In this second part of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at the local history of resistance during the 25 years that Campsfield House detention centre was in operation.

22 November: Q&A with Siarhei in Campsfield House IRC

With assistance from Duncan Lewis solicitors, we spoke to Siarhei, currently detained in Campsfield House. Via interpreter, Siarhei told us about being detained in Campsfield and under immigration powers in prison.

23 November: The voiceless place

Maddy Crowther, Co-Executive Director of Waging Peace and Article 1, co-wrote this blog with Mohammed (not his real name), who has been detained on several occasions. Mohammed talks about the contrast between his treatment in detention and on a recent visit to Parliament.

It’s a big difference to stand in front of huge beautiful doors in Parliament, rather than lay down behind awful steel doors in detention, isn’t it?


27 November: Week 5: #Unlocked18 visits Campsfield House

Week 6: Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

26 November: “We both hoped there wouldn’t be a next visit”: The paradox of visiting detention

In the first of a two-part series from Detention Action, volunteer Anthony talks about his time visiting people detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres.

26 November: “I regularly speak to people who are in absolute despair

In a second blog from Detention Action, volunteer Mary-Ann talks about the eye-opening experience of providing casework support to people detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook.

27 November: Three years after Moroccan Jew’s death in detention, why no inquest?

Hannah Swirsky, Campaigns Officer at René Cassin, writes about the hidden cruelty of immigration detention as news comes that the inquest into the death of Amir Siman-Tov, a Moroccan Jew who died in Colnbrook immigration detention centre in 2016, has been postponed for a third time.

28 November: “Allowing people to see what might be possible”: Volunteering in detention

Two volunteers with JRS UK reflect on what it’s like to support someone in immigration detention. 

I can’t have any certainty that I will see the same person the following week, either because they are not able for different reasons to come and see me or they have been moved to another centre, released or returned to their home country.

Cashel Riordan, JRS UK volunteer

29 November: “I cannot do anything from here”: LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in detention

Gabriella Bettiga, Legal Officer at UKLGIG (UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group), looks at the particular challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ asylum seekers in immigration detention.

It’s hard to choose, much of the content was so affecting, but this was one of two blogs that really brought home the indignity of detention for me (the other was Luke Butterly’s piece on reporting, below). It highlights how immigration detention strips people of their dignity, where LGBTQI+ people who may have left a country where they will have had to conceal their identity for fear of persecution are expected to come out to a Home Office official on arrival or fall foul of the rules and risk deportation.

Catherine, Detention Forum volunteer

29 November: Double-header Q&A: DAK and Seed answer your questions from Harmondsworth IRC

DAK and Seed (not their real names), both detained in Harmondsworth detention centre, spent two hours answering questions sent in from across the UK. DAK had been detained in Harmondsworth for over a year; Seed for a few weeks – and yet both told us about the uncertainty, oppression and wastefulness of indefinite immigration detention.

30 November: “We are not outsiders, we are one of your own”: Hearing Voices peer support groups in detention

Mishka and Red (Freed Voices) and Akiko Hart (Hearing Voices Project Manager at Mind in Camden) discuss the role of peer-facilitated support groups for people who hear voices in immigration detention.

6 December: Week 6: #Unlocked18 visits Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

Week 7: Morton Hall

3 December: “I have seen that the detention system in the UK is broken

Rhiannon Prideaux, a visitor with the Morton Hall Detainee Visitors Group, tells us about the experience of visiting people in detention for over three years. She concludes, “I still think of the people that are detained there every day with no idea what will happen to them and hope that some time in the near future we will see some drastic changes to how the detention system is run in the UK.”

4 December: “There was a chance justice would be done

Mishka at Freed Voices (@FreedVoices) interviews Tamsin Alger, Deputy Director at Detention Action about her experience of the Detained Fast Track (DFT) strategic litigation and campaign. The DFT litigation was one of the key highlights of the 2015 Unlocking Detention timeline.

6 December: Immigration detention is mental torture

Souleymane, a member of Freed Voices, was detained for three and a half years. He writes, “Detention is worse than prison, because in prison you count your days down and in detention you count your days up… and up… and up…”

6 December: “Once a criminal always a criminal”, especially if you don’t have a British passport

Celia Clarke and Rudy Schulkind at BID (Bail for Immigration Detainees) write about the ‘hidden scandal’ of people detained in prisons.

This blog by BID describing the specific and additional disadvantages faced by people detained under immigration powers in prison stood out for me. It also lays out how detention relates to, and is a consequence of, other features of the hostile environment. 

Charlotte, Detention Forum volunteer

7 December: Your pocket Home Office phrasebook: A dialect of dehumanisation

Patrick Page, senior caseworker at Duncan Lewis Solicitors (@DLPublicLaw) and founder and editor of No Walls, contributed this widely-read blog on the insidious language used to dehumanise people in detention.

8 December: “The stain of detention will haunt us for the rest of our lives, but I don’t want it to define us”: Experts-by-experience give evidence to the JCHR inquiry

A. Panquang, a member of Freed Voices and Detention Forum volunteer, talks about giving evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into immigration detentionalongside Michael, another member of Freed Voices.

13 December: Week 7: #Unlocked18 visits Morton Hall

Week 8: Dungavel

10 December: For many autumns to come

Mishka (Freed Voices) shares a letter written from detention to someone dear to his heart on the eve of his intended removal from the UK. He writes, “Detention is in some ways a graveyard of dreams and hopes and the ghosts of dead dreams and hopes can linger within those walls for months and years.”

This piece moved me on several levels. It’s beautiful, lyrical, intensely human, shattering, selfless and ultimately positive and very uplifting. Despite the anticipated outcome for him, Mishka renews the reader’s faith in the human spirit.

Gareth, Detention Forum volunteer

11 December: Separation and abandonment as a result of detention

A. Panquang, a member of Freed Voices and Detention Forum volunteer, examines the lasting impact of the separation of families when a parent is detained.  

11 December: Because of detention | In spite of detention

Members of the Life After Detention group (LAD) based in Glasgow reflect on the ongoing devastation caused by indefinite detention, as well as the more positive aspects of building a life after detention. 

12 December: When a ‘good’ inspection report is bad news

Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, dissects the latest HMIP report on Dungavel detention centre.

13 December: Hidden in plain sight: Working with trafficked people in detention

Beatrice Grasso, Detention Outreach Manager with JRS UK, writes about their report on the indefinite detention of trafficking survivors. She explains, “Despite showing clear indicators of abuse and vulnerability, they remain hidden in plain sight of those authorities who should protect them.”

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

Luke Butterly from Right to Remain talks about ways of showing practical solidarity for people at risk of being detained, including setting up a local signing group.

This is the second blog that really brought home for me the indignity of detention (alongside Gabriella Bettiga’s piece on LGBTQI+ people in detention). Reporting seems to be an exquisite bit of nastiness in this cruel system. As well as showing us the indignity imposed on vulnerable individuals, both of these pieces describe how immigration detention and the hostile environment affect us all. How can a good society allow such indignities to be carried out in our name?  

Catherine, Detention Forum volunteer

14 December: Rebuilding a life after detention

Indre Lechtimiakyte, who coordinates the Ex-Detainee Project for Samphire, tells us about the hopes, fears and challenges faced by people released from detention across the UK. 

14 December: Life after closure: The experiences of the Verne Visitors Group

Ruth Jacobson writes to us from the Verne Visitors Group, established in 2014 to support people detained in The Verne detention centre until its closure in December 2017. “What should be we doing now we were no longer going to be taking the coast road up to the Verne citadel with its deliberately forbidding entrance tunnel and massive walls?”

18 February (better late than never!): Week 8: #Unlocked18 visits Dungavel IRC

Week 9: International Migrants Day

17 December: “It is only an accident of fate that I was born in the UK.” Interview with Baroness Hamwee about her detention reform work

K.A., an expert-by-experience and member of Freed Voices, interviewed Baroness Sally Hamwee, a long-term advocate for detention reform in the House of Lords. She was recently named a Detention Forum Champion in reocognition of her tireless work in challenging immigration detention.

18 December: On International Migrants Day – reasserting humanity and dignity of people in immigration detention

Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani concludes #Unlocked18 with a rousing piece calling on us to continue to assert the presence, humanity, rights and dignity of everyone affected by detention.

“Once a criminal always a criminal”, especially if you don’t have a British passport

Content warning: suicide, torture. Image by @Carcazan

This blog comes from Celia Clarke and Rudy Schulkind at BID (Bail for Immigration Detainees). BID tweets at @BIDdetention

“I couldn’t go swimming, or even sit on the bus in case my trousers rode up, ‘cos I was so ashamed of the tag.  But it was still way better than being locked up.”

Stephen is quietly-spoken with a strong London accent.  He has recently been released from prison following several years being held in immigration detention, following a prison sentence.  He was convicted under “joint enterprise” where you can be convicted of a crime if you were part of a group acting together. Stephen does not fit the Home Office’s stock characterisation of “Foreign national offenders” as people “who come here and abuse our hospitality by committing crimes, and who must be dealt with with the full force of the law” – a law (UK Borders Act 2007) that provides for the automatic deportation of any “foreign national” convicted of a crime carrying a 12-month sentence or longer.  Stephen came to the UK as a very young child from a dangerous, conflict-ridden country.  He was initially looked after by his older siblings, but such was his distress as a result of his early experiences that his siblings were no longer able to provide for his needs.  He was sadly taken into care.  He should have been entitled to register as British but often local authorities do not take the necessary steps to ensure that children’s immigration status is regularised.  All Stephen’s family members are British citizens.  Unsurprisingly, Stephen made no enquiries about his own immigration status – why would he?  As far as he knew (and he has never left the UK), he was British, having grown up here. Imagine his shock when, at the end of his custodial sentence, having determined to turn his life around, he was handed a notice informing him the Home Office intended to deport him.  He was given 14 days to write and tell them all the reasons why he shouldn’t be.  From a prison. With no legal representation and no phone, and not properly understanding what this all meant.  He was also handed a piece of paper telling him he was now being detained under immigration powers, so not being released at all.

While Stephen’s story is shocking, it is sadly not unusual.  BID is in contact with many people who are facing deportation from the UK having lived here since childhood and it is heartbreaking to witness their journey into what can only be described as exile. Our prisons’ project represents them in applications for bail and then some of them can be taken on by our deportation project for representation in their deportation appeals.  The stakes are incredibly high, as are the thresholds to meet now to have any hope of success: “compelling circumstances” deportation would be “unduly harsh” – mere “harshness” or “cruelty” as it is defined in policy is not sufficient and does not meet the test.

Punishment multiplied

According to the latest figures, 378 people are held in prisons under immigration powers upon the completion of a custodial sentence. Many of them had indefinite leave to remain or even refugee status; many grew up in the UK and considered themselves British. Having served time and approaching their release date, individuals are shocked to find out (often on the day before their sentence expiry date) that they are going to be punished again: through revocation of their status; through deportation proceedings; through continued unlimited detention.

Invidious as it may be to draw comparisons between prisons and immigration removal centres (IRCs), detainees held in the more restrictive environment of a prison face specific disadvantages.

Invisibility and isolation

There is a cloak of invisibility over immigration detainees in prisons which is just beginning to be lifted.  For some journalists and politicians, the fact of their criminality makes it an unappealing topic to champion. But for us it is yet another hidden scandal.

Detainees in prisons have no access to computers or fax machines, and no mobile phones. Their sole means of communicating with the outside world is by post, and this can be subject to significant delays. Detainees in prisons have little communication with Home Office officials, compounding their isolation and lack of access to justice. Often the form notifying the detainee of the decision to detain arrives late, and the Home Office neglects to provide legally required monthly reviews of detention. Immigration officials are scarce in prisons, and caseworkers are often unresponsive. In the words of one person interviewed by former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Stephen Shaw in 2016, “I would like to know the caseworker really exists and I am not talking to a brick wall”.

Access to justice

Unlike detention centres, prisons were not designed to detain people under immigration powers.  In his most recent report, Stephen Shaw once again found it to be “unsatisfactory that the rights and regime of time-served foreign national offenders are so different to those held in IRCs (Immigration Removal Centres)”.

There is no co-ordinated provision of immigration legal advice in prisons, and our research has revealed that only 6% of detainees who had been in prison prior to being moved to a detention centre had received advice from an immigration solicitor.

The vast majority of those fighting deportation orders have to represent themselves following the removal of deportation and human rights cases from the scope of legal aid in 2013. This is a formidable task for anybody, let alone immigration detainees held in prisons whose means of communication are heavily restricted.

Fighting an immigration case means keeping to strict deadlines. For instance, an individual has 14 days to appeal against a decision to deport. This is difficult enough to do from outside detention and even more so from within a detention centre, but for those detained in prison such deadlines seriously undermine the principle of access to justice.

Even those who want to leave the UK often cannot do so, because restrictions on channels of communication – particularly internet access – obstruct cooperation with the travel documentation process, as many will need to be re-documented by their country of birth since they have lived in the UK for so long.

Vulnerable adults

The Home Office accepts that vulnerable adults should not be detained. Detention centres have procedures to ensure that where there are concerns about someone’s health, suicidal intentions, or that they may be a torture survivor, this is flagged to the Home Office and the appropriateness of their detention is promptly reviewed. This process does not apply in prisons. Many people held in prisons have vulnerabilities so severe that it is more likely these would be identified and result in release if held in a detention centre. In prison, this vulnerability is not even recognised.

What do we think should happen?

  • There needs to be an immediate end to the use of prisons for immigration detention;
  • There needs to be a restoration of legal aid for family and private life (Article 8) matters;
  • The automatic deportation provisions in the UK Borders Act should be repealed.

Week 3: Short-term holding facilities and prisons

Most weeks, Unlocking Detention visits a specific detention centre. Last week was a little different. From the 4th-11th November, Unlocking Detention focused on the hundreds of people held under immigration powers in short-term holding facilities and prisons across the UK. Those detained in prisons are even less visible than those held elsewhere in the UK’s detention estate, and face additional challenges.

Here’s a summary of the week.

Immigration detention in prisons

At the end of June 2018, 321 people were being detained in prisons, representing 14.4% of the total population detained under immigration powers. This interactive map, created by AVID and FWDS London, shows how many people are detained indefinitely under immigration powers in prisons and where.

We’ve been tweeting about immigration detention in prisons all week, and also featured this blog from Benny Hunter at AVID on why the hundreds of people detained in prisons must not be forgotten when we talk about detention reform.

Short-term holding facilities

This week we also focused on the UK’s 40 short-term holding facilities. Here, people can be detained for up to 24 hours or seven days, as explained in the graphic below.

These Walls Must Fall organiser Lauren Cape-Davenhill wrote about the re-opening of the Manchester Residential Short Term Holding Facility and the local opposition to immigration detention. In her words:

The Manchester Airport detention facility that opened this June comes at a time when many people in Manchester and the North West are saying, loudly and clearly, that we’ve had enough of people being taken from our communities and locked up in prison-like conditions, just because of their immigration status. Councillors, union activists, refugee and migrant groups and community organisations have been uniting to say ‘no’ to detention.

She also highlighted the actions you can take to challenge detention. Read Lauren’s blog here.

K.A. interviews Sarah Teather

We had a new feature this week: an interview with former MP Sarah Teather, conducted by expert-by-experience K.A. K.A. interviewed Sarah over email about her experience of running the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention.

At the end of the interview, K.A. said:

What I would say to people out there reading this is never give up. You only lose when you give up. More importantly, tell your story. These little voices coming together that will send out the greater voice to make a difference. Your voice can make a difference.

You can read the whole interview here.

Immigration detention: mental torture

Also this week, we heard from A. Panquang, a Detention Forum volunteer and member of Freed Voices who was detained for 9 months. A. said:

It doesn’t matter how you jeopardised your immigration status, if and when you are detained, you will be detained indefinitely. It will affect you and your family mentally, it will drain funds and resources, you will lose control and sight of your own immigration process, you’ll have no idea when your fate will be decided, even if you have the desire and power to legitimise your stay in the UK. All control will be taken away from you, you have limited legal resources at your disposal. It is the Home Office’s way of exerting mental control over you.

A.’s blog is a must-read. Find it here.

Detention happens closer than you might think

The next blog of the week came from Katherine Maxwell-Rose of IMiX.

Katherine reflects on listening to the ‘horrifying details’ of detention in China’s Xinjiang region – and then realising that the UK ‘has dark secrets of its own – and many people know little or nothing about them’. As she writes,

  • Each year in the UK thousands of people subject to immigration control are detained indefinitely with no trial or time limit given.
  • Last year over 27,000 people were held in detention, many of who were ‘adults at risk’
  • According to a recent survey, 30 per cent of those in detention have child dependents living in the UK.

Read her blog here.

“Immigrants emigrate, hopeful anticipate”

The final piece of the week came from Ralph, who was detained for a total of 14 months in two prisons and a detention centre. After this experience, Ralph writes,

Considering the level of suffering and my thirst for freedom, I opted to leave in January of 2015 voluntarily and I’ve been trying to get back to my four children ever since. It’s been nearly three years without my kids. Bear in mind I lived in the UK well over 12 years before all of this.

Read Ralph’s powerful contribution here.

Actions to end detention

As always, a huge, huge thank you to everyone who has taken part in the tour this week and who takes action to end detention, year-round. Here are just a few of the ways people are challenging detention that we saw on Twitter this week:

Take action

There’s no shortage of ways for you to take action to challenge immigration detention. Some of these were featured in Lauren’s blog, and in the tweets below. Also this week, we featured a blog about the Sanctuary in Parliament event. Although the event has now taken place, the blog still contains lots of helpful info about engaging with your MP.

Finally, we love your selfies. Please keep them coming!

“Immigrants emigrate, hopeful anticipate”

Write | Detention Forum

Image by @Carcazan

This contribution to #Unlocked18 comes from Ralph, who got in touch via Twitter. Ralph was detained for a total of 14 months in two prisons and a detention centre. Ralph tweets as @RO2tm

I was detained on two separate occasions. First was after serving a 10 month custodial sentence. The home office detained me for another 8 months. This was between 2012- 2013, then I was released in December of 2013 and detained again in August of 2014. I was first detained in HMP Hewell, then HMP Wormwood Scrubs, then Harmondsworth IRC.

Considering the level of suffering and my thirst for freedom, I opted to leave in January of 2015 voluntarily and I’ve been trying to get back to my four children ever since. It’s been nearly three years without my kids. Bear in mind I lived in the UK well over 12 years before all of this.

Commercial and social shackles are generally unjust, oppressive, and impolitic. As an immigrant, I chose to live in the UK because it is one of the free and most vibrant nations in the world. And as an immigrant, I feel an obligation to speak up for immigration policies that will keep the UK the most economically robust, creative and freedom-loving nation in the world. Immigration is a necessary component of economic growth.

Believe me, I understand the majority’s anguish about immigration, but what I can’t and will not understand is the racism. I will support concrete and progressive immigration reform based on three primary criteria: family reunification, economic contributions, and humanitarian concerns.

Immigrants emigrate

Hopeful anticipate

Teachers educate

I am what I am without

A shadow of doubt one of a kind

Walk through tryna find my place

Tryna escape all the hardships

I’m confronted with

Revolving around me was a law that facilitates hate premeditated

Judgement never got a fair

Judgement spent a lot of time down in the seg

Thankfully I had my pen’s intervention

Don’t seek revenge

But I seek redemption for the separation

I’ve got see my kids got to show them love got to give them kisses

No one left behind: Including people detained in prisons in immigration detention reform

This blog post comes from Benny Hunter at Association for Visitors to Immigration Detainees. AVID is a small, national charity that supports volunteer visitors to people in immigration detention, wherever they are held. AVID has 16 member groups that visit in every detention centre in the UK, and some prisons, and works to raise awareness of immigration detention and advocate for positive change in the detention system.

An earlier version of this blog was published by Right to Remain.

A number of MPs have come forward in support of a time limit on detention and the end to the detention of vulnerable people in IRCs, including Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and a number of Conservative MPs. It is now party policy for the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the SNP. While it’s excellent to see these issues receive cross-party support, those detained in prison are often left forgotten in demands for reform.

In his recent testimony in front of the Home Affairs Committee, Stephen Shaw, author of a recent independent report into the detention of vulnerable people, made an unlikely intervention. He called for an end to the routine deportation of ‘Time-Served Foreign National Offenders’ and described it as “often monstrously disproportionate to the offence”. He said, “I question whether it’s fair for the sixth richest country on earth to expel people who were ‘made’ in this country, who commit crimes here, to third world countries.”

The process of deportation of non-citizens who commit crimes in the UK can be a lengthy one, delayed by complex international bureaucracy and legal appeals – during which time the Home Office often will keep people detained indefinitely in prison. At any one time there are usually upwards of 400 people detained in prisons across the UK under the administrative procedures of the Immigration Acts, having already served their sentence and now awaiting deportation.

Being detained in prison has additional challenges compared with being detained in an immigration removal centre (IRC). There is far less information and external support available and no access to the internet or a mobile phone to research your case or phone a solicitor. In fact, research by Bail for Immigration Detainees last year showed that only 1 in 10 of those held in prison on immigration grounds had access to a legal representative.

There are also no protections for vulnerable people detained in prison, such as survivors of torture or sexual violence. There is no Rule 35 safeguard for people detained in prisons, which under normal circumstances in IRCs allows for medical professionals to call for a review of a person’s suitability for detention on the basis of specific vulnerabilities.

People with deportation orders (including those detained in prisons) are not eligible for the automatic bail hearings introduced earlier this year. Less able to access legal representation and less likely to be released on bail, those detained in prison are at risk of being detained for far longer than those held in IRCs. Quite often the length of time a person spends in detention is totally disproportionate to the prison sentence served.

Last year, one person was detained in the UK for 5 years, 2 weeks and 6 days. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to wait that long, not knowing when you will be deported or released.

Those with refugee status or leave to remain may have their status revoked by a Home Office review, for any criminal offence. Non-UK citizens serving custodial sentences are automatically considered for deportation if their sentence exceeds 12 months but can also be deported after much lighter sentences.

Detention, and the refusal of bail, is often justified on the basis that those who are held “pose a risk to society”. Yet very often such custodial sentences are due to petty crime, related to living in poverty or having no recourse to public funds, or due to immigration crimes such as using false documents.

One of many such examples was reported on by journalist Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, of a teenage boy incarcerated for using false documents, who was held in prison for 16 months after his initial 2-month sentence.

Often those who end up detained in prison grew up in the UK, have their family here and are not aware of their lack of immigration status until they commit a crime and are considered for deportation.

‘Racial bias’ within the England and Wales criminal justice system also weighs against non-UK citizens who commit crimes. In 2016, the David Lammy Review highlighted how ethnic minorities are more likely to receive custodial sentences for some crimes.

No one, regardless of their immigration status or their criminal history, should be deprived of their right to liberty for the convenience of the Home Office and then left in limbo indefinitely.

As we seek out detention reform, we must make sure that we leave no one behind. We must make sure that reform is not only for those seeking asylum but also for undocumented migrants and for those detained in prisons.

While people detained in prison are often a hidden population, a number of volunteer groups provide a vital lifeline of support by visiting. For more information on visiting people detained in prison, contact AVID through our website or see BEST SupportSOAS Detainee SupportDetention ActionMIDST and Liverpool Prisons Visiting Group.

Wondering where people are being detained? AVID and FWDS London have created an interactive map of people detained under immigration powers in prisons across the UK.

The guide to #Unlocked17 blogs is here!

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

16 October: Welcome to #Unlocked17

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

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

17 October: #Unlocked17 – a beginners’ level quiz

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

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

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

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

Week 2: Yarl’s Wood 

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

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

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

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

Week 2 summary blog: #Unlocked17 visits Yarls Wood

Week 3: Brook House and Tinsley House

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

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

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

Week 4: Prisons and Short Term Holding Facilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 5: The Verne

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 November: #Unlocked17 Parliamentary Meeting on Immigration Detention

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

Week 6: Campsfield House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 7: Harmondsworth and Colnbrook                                       

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 8: Morton Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 9: Dungavel

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

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

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

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

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

Week 9 Summary: #Unlocked visits Dungavel

Week 4: Prisons and Short Term Holding Facilities

We’re almost halfway through #Unlocked17. From all over the UK, you’ve been tweeting, writing and sharing your selfies to tell us how you feel about detention, and to help spread the word about Unlocking Detention. Thank you!

Prisons and short-term holding facilities

From 6-12 November, #Unlocked17 focused on the hundreds of people who are detained in prisons and short-term holding facilities across the UK.
Writing on the #Unlocked17 blog this week, Ali McGinley of AVID said this represents “one of the most hidden corners of the detention system“. Those held in prisons under immigration powers represent around 15-20% of the detained population in the UK, and yet – because they are excluded from official statistics – we know little about them: where they are, how long they are held, what happens to them after they leave.
Drawing on extracts of letters sent to AVID by those detained in prisons, the blog illuminates their isolation, and the particular challenges they face in accessing justice and support and making their voices heard. In the words of one person, held in prison: “I was not imprisoned by courts of law…..I have been detained for five months and no one has even thought of me or visited me.”

Short-term holding facilities

We also visited the UK’s two residential short-term holding facilities, where people can be held for up to a week: Pennine House (Manchester) and Larne House (Northern Ireland).

Also this week:

Sam, of #FreedVoices, compared his experience of prison and detention:

I was in prison for three years and nine months.
I was in detention for seven months and they were the hardest months of my whole life. The trauma of detention will stay with me with me forever. It is indefinite.”

Nobody’s story

It is not just “model” asylum seekers who find themselves in detention: people from all sorts of experiences and life trajectories get incarcerated because they do not have a right type of passport or visa. This week, Isabel Lima shared the true story of Nobody, a man with ‘many qualities and faults’ who finds himself in limbo.

“Do you think this is fair?”

In the final blog of the week, Eiri Ohtani, Project Director of the Detention Forum, recounted a recent visit to Yarl’s Wood with Heather Jones, who has been visiting for many years:
“I explained my job to Alice and asked her if there was anything she wanted me to convey to the government, politicians and people who don’t know anything about immigration detention.
Alice thought about this for a while. I saw her push her carefully braided hair back behind her ears. ‘I have one question for them,’ she said. I inched towards her not to miss her words. Alice said quietly: ‘Do you think this is fair?’.”

Thanks to all those individuals and groups who are supporting individuals held in detention, indefinitely, all over the country.

From the end of the final blog:
“Tonight, thousands of people will be spending anxious night in the vast detention estate in this country, hidden from the public view, away from their families and separated from their friends. Alice’s single message to all of us was ‘Do you think this is fair?’.
We are not giving up. Join us.”

An open letter: “My name is Nobody”

For many involved in asylum and migration justice work (not for us!), immigration detention was a taboo subject for a long time and, in some quarters, it still is. One of the reasons for this is the mixed nature of those incarcerated. It is not just “model” asylum seekers who find themselves in detention: people from all sorts of experiences and life trajectories get incarcerated because they do not have a right type of passport or visa. But ‘As a society, how and who do we deem worthy of our empathy?’. Isabel Lima, visual artist and researcher, shares with Unlocking Detention her open letter about Nobody, a man with ‘many qualities and faults’ who finds himself in limbo. This letter is based on a true story and Nobody was anonymised for security reasons. 
I met Nobody in April, 2016 when I was making a film in Middlesbrough with and about asylum seekers and refugees regarding their accommodation and lived experiences in the town. The work was commissioned by Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art for their display, If All Relationships Were To Reach Equilibrium, Then This Building Would Dissolve, a project which explored the tension between free circulation and border control as well as the experience of exile and displacement, focusing on human rights, governmental policies, xenophobia, identity, and trauma, among other themes.
In the wake of allegations made public in The Times by Andrew Norfolk on 20 January 2016, that a Middlesbrough private housing sub-contractor for the Home Office, Jomast, had the properties’ doors painted in red, akin to the Yellow Stars that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, I set off to research what lied behind this story. It was then that I was introduced to Nobody.
I’m using the name Nobody in reference to Homer’s Odyssey. In the advent of the largest surge of migration in Europe since the end of WWII, we are assaulted by a constellation of cause-effect phenomena, which is too overwhelming to discern, apprehend or even process. The Odyssey is a story of survival against all odds and its major themes: the power of cunning over strength; the pitfalls of temptation; the tension between goals and obstacles; the misery of separation; and maturation as a journey, can help us make sense of current political and social landscapes in an intertwined and globalised world.
It also becomes a useful analogy through which to think about Nobody’s story.
Nobody arrived in the country as a 14-year-old, unaccompanied minor. He is originally from Eritrea and he left the country when he was just 12 years old. It took him 2 years to travel between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya until he finally reached Europe. In 1997, he arrived in the UK, where he applied for refugee status. He was put into the care of Social Services, he was welcomed, and everything was looking promising.
Even though at that moment in time everything pointed to a fresh new start, Nobody’s mental health and life started to deteriorate. He was a teenager, who had fled his country, he was alone, with no family or friends, in a different culture, a different country and he remembers not having much support from the social services in the provision of opportunities to integrate within British life.
His behaviour started to become erratic, he started smoking, experimenting with drugs, and in 1998 he was arrested. He was released in 2000, got assigned a probation officer and everything looked like it was on the mend. Now he was going to be back on track, he started working and he kept working until 2009.
In 2009, the Home Office decided to take away his papers and permit to work, and Nobody was left wondering to what had he done in order to elicit such action… He was once again lost and confused, he could simply not understand what had changed. He was working for so many years, he had his refugee status and all of a sudden, he had nothing again. He was then told that his asylum claim had never been accepted, he was never given a work permit, his papers and ID were taken away and he just couldn’t fathom why. Were just the last 9 years a dream?
At that time, Nobody had already established a family with a partner and children, and these news prompted yet again another cycle of misfortune and uncertainty. Consequently, he separated from his partner, found himself homeless, and his circumstances kept deteriorating. By 2012 he got arrested for burglary of an office block and was given a sentence of 12 months.
As with any prison sentence, inmates are aware of their release date, therefore Nobody bid his time knowing that after 1 year he would be free to start again, or so he thought. On his release date, Immigration Officers were waiting for him and took him into custody in a detention centre. To the original 12 months another 18 months were added on top to Nobody’s punishment. Unlike the British prison system, detention in the UK doesn’t have a time limit. As stated by Dr Mary Bosworth, criminologist, the UK didn’t sign the European Returns Directive which means that there isn’t a statutory upper limit for immigration detention.
In theory people in the UK can be held in Immigration detention forever. Imagine, being incarcerated for no reason with no idea if you ever are going to be released, if you are going to be deported, even to which country you are going to be removed to? When finally, Nobody got released from detention, he was still not free, as new demands and impositions by Immigration were made. He was to be sent to Middlesbrough, on bail (which he never applied for or sought), to live in shared accommodation belonging to Jomast.
On top of this, Nobody was put on tag which meant that he was living with an imposed curfew whereby he could not leave the property between 8pm to 7am every day. This was also on an indefinite basis, as the Immigration services gave no timeline as to when the tag would be removed. Nobody was faced again with being alone, away from his children who were living in London, with no opportunity to see them, with no right to work and with an allowance of £35.00 a week…
These are only a few episodes from Nobody’s life but they are sufficient to bring forth the question of Empathy. As a society, how and who do we deem worthy of our empathy? When addressing the plight of asylum seekers and in order to draw empathic responses we are usually confronted with images and examples of law abiding families, composed of father, mother and children, with professional qualifications, that most of us in our privileged comfy seats, can somehow relate to.
I come to ask, what of those who act against our moral reasoning, those who as is the case of Nobody, commit crimes, those who are vilified by being single and male and therefore threatening. The account of Nobody’s story given above is in no way to excuse his choices, as we keep repeating to ourselves in moments of anguish or distress we always have a choice, but somehow is difficult to see it as such when you started the game already losing.
Nobody has many qualities and faults. He is a loyal friend, funny, caring and generous and it is true, I’m writing this story from a biased position, as we became and are friends. I worry about Nobody, he goes through cycles of resistance and trying his best in the navigation of life with no status in this ‘first world civilised country’; and moments of surrender where despair and anguish settle only to be relieved momentarily upon the intake of psychotropic substances. As highlighted by Ailsa Adamson, project manager of the Methodist Asylum Project in Middlesbrough, one of the biggest problems is simply retaining resilience in what it seems to be a completely arbitrary and endless process.
I worry and empathise with Nobody, because I keep asking myself what if I hadn’t been born with a European nationality, what if Nobody was me, wouldn’t have I taken the same choices as he did? If suddenly all my rights had been removed with no previous warning and I was facing myself homeless wouldn’t I succumb to moments of weakness and commit crimes and perhaps relish in escapist behaviour?
Nobody has lived in the UK for 20 years now, he still has no status, permission to stay, permission to live, and there is no foreseen resolution to his asylum claim. The UK government cannot deport people in the same situation as Nobody back to Eritrea, as firstly it is deemed an unsafe country that persistently infringes Human Rights, and secondly because he left the country illegally which is deemed a crime for which he would be persecuted for upon his return. Furthermore, the Home Office refuses to grant him the refugee status because he is deemed a criminal.
What is to become of Nobody in this impasse? Is he to live his life with no rights and consigned to bare existence? Is it ethical, legal, moral to suspend him indefinitely in this limbo? Why shouldn’t he have the right to be able to get up in the morning and go to work; to take a bus and go visit his children; to buy food at a whim; to let the sun soak his skin and feel at peace? As described by Nobody he’s living in perpetual torture. What does that say about our society when instead of protecting the most vulnerable we are the perpetrators of sustained crimes?

“No one has even thought of me or visited me”: Immigration detention in prisons

When we talk about immigration detention, of course we think of immigration detention centres.  But hundreds of people are also detained as “immigration detainees” in many ordinary prisons.  Ali McGinley of AVID shines light on this forgotten group of people and their daily struggles to be heard.

“I do not have any visitors or friends to support me through visits. I went to court to hear for bail, judge stated that I do not have a surety to overcome immigration concerns.  I am very distraught and upset…….but what can I do?……I wrote to the Independent Monitoring Board, their reply was that immigration no longer transfer people from prisons to Immigration Removal centres. This leaves me very gutted and upset as I was not imprisoned by courts of law…..I have been detained for five months and no one has even thought of me or visited me.”

This is just one extract from the many letters AVID receives from immigration detainees, held beyond the end of their sentence, in mainstream prisons. The themes are common to those we hear from people in immigration detention centres: anxiety, frustration, uncertainty. The feelings of not being listened to.
But unlike their peers in detention centres, those held in prisons face even greater barriers to receiving visitors, to making basic communication with the outside world through email or phone, and to accessing justice. Because they are held in prison where many of the basic amenities afforded detainees are not available. And because – largely ignored by the system, by officials, and by the official statistics – they are even more invisible.
As of June 2017, the government was holding 448 people under immigration powers in prisons in the UK. The figures have hovered around the 450 – 550 mark for the last couple of years[1]. That is the equivalent to another large detention centre, but we know very little about these detainees. They are not included in the official detention statistics, enabling the Government to hugely underestimate the numbers of immigration detainees they are holding every month. Their absence from official statistics means we also don’t know how long they are held, or what happens to them after they leave prison.
For NGOs providing support, it is really difficult to provide services because we don’t even know where they are held. For the last few years, AVID has submitted quarterly FOI requests to try to find out more about where these people are, and these figures tell us that populations are highest in the London prisons.
For example, HMP Wormwood Scrubs had 39 immigration detainees in June this year, HMP Pentonville 38 and HMP Wandsworth 32. These numbers are stark – but consider the position of immigration detainees held further afield, sometimes with less than 5 in each prison. How do these men and women even begin to access the support and advice they need when they are in such a minority? Where would you even begin, if you were the only immigration detainee?

“I came here 14 years ago, they still haven’t finalised my asylum claim, which I have been eagerly awaiting for such a long time. They can neither deport me nor respond to the application, it feels like a death sentence as I have been detained by immigration ……with no decision made. My hands are tied well behind my back. I have been for immigration bail on three occasions, judges were reluctant to release me as they keep stating that I need a surety. What more can I do, if I do not have support on the outside?”

That these letters reach us at all is in itself quite an accomplishment. Perhaps they were lucky enough to have a sympathetic member of staff to investigate options and find us online, or they have heard of us through word of mouth from other detainees. The scattered, fragmented nature of detention in prisons makes it very difficult for those NGOs providing support to even begin to provide the basic information that would help them access services.
The same applies to legal advisors. Unlike in detention centres, where there are mobile phones and access to the internet, to help people communicate with friends, family or legal advisors, people held under immigration powers in prisons are denied even these basic rights. And while the regular advice surgeries offered in detention centres may have their own problems, they do provide detainees with 30 minutes of free legal advice. Sadly, even this provision isn’t available to the 450 detainees in prison.
BID’s legal survey of Spring 2017 showed that of 58 immigration detainees in prison, only 9 had received any form of independent legal advice. BID has also reported that most detainees are given less than two weeks’ notice that they will be held in detention at the end of their sentence, with many told on the day they were due to be released. The result is a sense of huge injustice, of double punishment, and of frustration – all of which can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and make continued detention extremely hard to deal with.
The recent moves towards detention reform have also largely overlooked the detained prison population, who remain excluded from many of the basis protections afforded those in detention centres. The Detention Centre Rules which provide, for example, safeguards about the use of segregation or isolation, or protections for vulnerable people such as the infamous Rule 35, do not apply in prisons. The adults at risk policy, implemented last year as part of a response to the Shaw review into the detention of vulnerable people, does not apply in prison. This is despite the well accepted prevalence of mental health issues within the prison population. It is therefore very likely that vulnerable people detained in prisons are being held without the support that they need.

“I’m in HMP Wormwood Scrubs and is hard, and I suffer. Bad food, and no one to visit me or send some support. It’s really stressful and the tensions are so high around here. I find it difficult to keep going”

There are some prison visiting groups in pockets of the UK, who provide a similar level of support to immigration detainees in prisons to that which is provided by many groups in detention centres. This includes emotional support and practical advice, a listening ear, and often signposting to specialist support. Groups like the Manchester Immigration Detainee Support Team have provided this support for many years, as has Liverpool Prisons Visiting Group. Other groups in London with capacity will also make the trip to visit detainees in prison – such as SOAS Detainee Support or Detention Action. The detainees held in prisons visited by these groups are in a lucky minority.
Prison visiting groups face a greater challenge in visiting as the levels of understanding and therefore acceptance of the visitors’ group role is much less well known in the prison system. It is also more difficult, on a practical level, to arrange prison visits. The number of prison visiting groups has therefore remained far fewer than those in detention centres, where visitors’ groups are a regular feature in the detention system. As a result, our work thus far in supporting those held in prison is a mere drop in the ocean given the numbers detained. And sadly, as a result of prison cuts and a system at breaking point it is becoming more and more difficult to establish new groups in prisons, and even well-established groups can find themselves at the mercy of staff shortages or lack of resources.
Last year, a group that had previously visited in HMP Lewes for over 16 years finally gave up its battle for access, having had that access withdrawn three years earlier because of pressures on staff. While the members of the community in Lewes were keen to continue, and no doubt those held in HMP Lewes would welcome the support, there was just not the capacity inside to facilitate the continuation of the group.
If the trend towards high numbers of detainees being held in prisons continues – and this would be despite the recommendations of HMIP, amongst others – we know that these letters will continue to arrive. Prison is a wholly unsuitable environment for those being held administratively for immigration reasons. The letters give insight into the daily realities for this otherwise largely forgotten group – a daily reality that includes exposure to violence, a culture of drugs, and high levels of self-harm. Add to this language barriers, the pressures of an impending immigration case and the anxiety of indefinite immigration detention and you can begin get a sense of the desperation felt.
An important part of Unlocked 17 is its ability to shine a light on the hidden places of immigration detention. This week, the focus on prisons and short term holding facilities allows this light to reach one of the most hidden corners of the detention system. The voices of detainees in prisons may be harder to hear, but they can’t be ignored, as they comprise around 15-20% of the detained population in the UK. It is time to be realistic about the extent, scale and reach of prison detention in this country, and to include these individuals in the plans for detention reform. Ignoring them is no longer an option if we are serious about leaving no one behind.

[1] Figures provided to AVID by the Ministry of Justice via the Freedom of Information Act.

“There are no real seasons in detention. It’s just a grey blur. White noise”

Immigration detention is sometimes described as ‘administrative detention in prison-like conditions’.  And the Home Office can detain people under immigration powers in prisons. In fact, as at 26 June 2017, there were 360 people held in prison establishments in England and Wales as “immigration detainees”. But what are the differences between being held in prisons and being held in detention centres?  Sam, from Freed Voices, contemplates this question. This piece was originally published in May 2017 by Detention Action.   

There is a well-known quote from Souleymane, one of the older members of the Freed Voices group.  He’s said that ‘the difference between prison and detention is that in prison, you count your days down and in detention you count you count your days up…and up…and up.’
But what does this really mean…?

In prison everyone is always asking each other “what bird are you doing?”, which basically means “how long have you got left?”. If you’re there a long time you say “I’m doing ‘big bird’.”
In detention, everyone is always asking each other how long they’ve been there so they can try and work out how long they might be there for. They told I’d be there for a month, max. Well, that didn’t happen…

Everyone in prison is walking around with an egg-timer hanging over their head.
Everyone in detention is walking around with a stopwatch hanging over their heads – one of those digital ones where the milliseconds buzz like crazy.

In prison, its natural you associate with people doing similar length sentences to you. In that sense (and only that sense!), its kinda like a boarding school, with different year groups.
It can be difficult socially in detention. You check yourself from making relationships with people that might vanish the next morning. You cut yourself off.

You’re in prison to pay your debt to society but at the end of the day you’re still seen as member of that society.
You are invisible in detention.

If someone dies in prison or the prison services break their own protocol, there are investigations and people are held accountable.
Every day there are suicide attempts in detention. Every day the Home Office breaks their own rules. 30 people have died in detention and it barely makes the news.

I’m not saying it always works but there’s a ‘project’ in prison. You’re there as a form of punishment but there’s also an objective: when your sentence is done you are ready to reintegrate.
There are no objectives in detention. Only government targets.

There are incentives and privileges to behave in a particular way in prison. Your behaviour changes when people invest in you.
Every month I was in detention I got the same Monthly Report. And it was exactly the same as everybody else’s. It was a cut and paste job. I could have been anybody.

Some people used calendars or that old markings-on-the-wall thing. I used milestones. I had three birthdays, four Christmases inside. I went in around the time of the first Olympics and I remember saying to myself: ‘ok, you’ll be out for Rio Olympics.”
There’s nothing to hook your experiences on in detention.

There’s a lot of stress in prison but everyday you wake up you know exactly what you are doing until you go to bed in the evening.
Every day in detention is unknown. You turn into a headless chicken. Imagine hundreds of headless chickens all stuck in one cage. They’re all freaking out because they don’t know what’s happening and any moment someone could be grabbed for the chop.

I learnt the calls of different birds in prison so I could tell when the seasons changed.
There are no real seasons in detention. Its just a grey blur. White noise.

There is hope in prison – that you will see your friends and family again; that you will be part of the community again; that you can change.
Hope dies every day in detention.

Routine can be a form of self-preservation. Every morning, I’d get up, shave, brush my teeth…etc.
People’s hygiene goes in detention. It’s part of the deterioration. They’re not removing me, they’re not releasing me, they say I’m someone else. Who am I? Does anyone even care? Why should I bother then? Stop showering. Stop shaving. Why continue?

I went to prison a survivor of genocide with serious PTSD. They had a medical plan mapped out for my sentence. Every two weeks I had counselling. Even when I moved prisons they never missed a session.
Healthcare in detention there don’t do treatment plans because, who knows, you could be gone tomorrow.

Relationships definitely suffer in prison but that the sentence structure can help. People can say ‘when I get out in 3 months, I’m going to buy this ring and marry you’ or ‘when I get out, we’re going to move to Scotland and start a new life’. You can make promises you can keep.
I saw so many relationships break in detention. All the promises you made to your kids, for example – that you are going to be out at a particular time, that you’ll be there for this thing at school – they all get broken. After a while, they don’t trust you any more. Why would they? You can’t fully explain the situation to them because you can’t explain it to yourself. The Home Office can’t even explain it.

The yard-reality of prison hit me early on and I realised, ok, I need to concentrate if I am going to get through this. I have to use the structure they are giving me here to my advantage. I need to focus on my release date.
You can’t concentrate in detention. This cocktail of fear and anxiety and stress…it makes your mind melt.

It doesn’t work for everyone…but prison can make you.
Detention breaks you.

I was in prison for three years and nine months.
I was in detention for seven months and they were the hardest months of my whole life. The trauma of detention will stay with me with me forever. It is indefinite.