First week of #Unlocked16: Short-term holding centres and prisons

What an exciting first week of Unlocking Detention 2016!
This first week was partly an introduction to this virtual tour of the UK’s immigration detention estate, but also focused on two of the most hidden sites of detention: short-term holding centres; and detention under immigration powers in prisons.

A changing landscape

This is the third year of Unlocking Detention, and there’s been considerable changes to the detention landscape since the last virtual tour.

Dover detention centre closed during Unlocking Detention 2015 (and Haslar detention centre also closed in 2015).

On 21 July this year, the government announced that Cedars – the ‘pre-departure accommodation’ centre near Gatwick, where families with children are held for up to one week – will close. A new unit for families with children will open in Tinsley House detention centre. You can read the Detention Forum’s statement on the announcement here.

On 8 September, the government announced that Dungavel detention centre in Scotland will close. A new “short term holding facility” will open near Glasgow airport.  You can read Scottish Detainee Visitors statement on the closure, and proposed new facility, here.
Brook House and Tinsley House (also known as “Gatwick detention centres”)  are being expanded by a reported 100 bed spaces.

Shining a light

https://twitter.com/Gala_dr/status/786498662989824000
What hasn’t changed is the need to shine a light on this still hidden injustice.  Unlocking Detention is a way of doing this, of starting a conversation, of advocating for change.

We’ve been delighted with the huge amount of positive engagement with the tour so far – please do spread the word far and wide!

As well as our regular blogs, articles published elsewhere, and Twitter this year we’re also on Facebook and Instagram!

Blog posts and articles

In just this first week of #Unlocked16:

  • We started the tour with a powerful blog post from Abdal, detained under immigration powers in prison: The Death Warrant
  • Eiri Ohtani, coordinator of the Detention Forum, wrote for the pan-European PICUM blog on why Unlocking Detention is needed.
  • Jerome Phelps of Detention Action wrote for Open Democracy 50:50 on the need to develop alternatives to detention with civil society to arrest the slide into the abyss of mass detention of migrants in Europe.
  • Kasonga from the Freed Voices group continued this theme with his piece on the need to “build trust, not walls“.

Short-term holding centres

In this first week of #Unlocked16, one of the hidden sites of detention we explored was short-term holding centres.  There are two types of short-term centres.

The first type is residential short-term detention centres where adults can be held for up to one week. There are residential short-term facilities including units at two long-term detention centres, and two stand-alone facilities called Pennine House (Manchester) and Larne House (Northern Ireland), pictured below.

You can read a great piece on Larne House from last year’s Unlocking Detention here. This was written by someone who is both part of the Larne House visitor group and is also at risk of detention themselves.

There are also over 30 other “short term holding facilities” which are generally, small complexes of cells, either at ports or at reporting centres (where asylum seekers and other migrants have to “sign on” at regular intervals).   People usually held at these for less than 24 hours; however, large numbers have been kept for several days in the busy holding centres at Dover and Folkestone ports.  There are even three (under UK Home Office control) in France, at Calais port, Coquelles (by the Eurotunnel), and Dunkerque.

Detention in prisons

The UK is alone in Europe for its routine detention of migrants in prisons under immigration powers.

There is no automatic access to on-site immigration legal advice like that provided in detention centres – many people held in prison under immigration powers don’t have (don’t even know they have the right to) a solicitor.

There is no access to mobile phones or internet, therefore communication with legal, emotional, community support is heavily restricted.

Some of the longest cases of detention involve foreign nationals held post sentence.

The exact numbers of people held in prisons under immigration powers each month are not published, but it is usually around 600 people.

To find out what it’s like, read this incredible live interview with Abdi who is currently detained in a prison.

This interview was very difficult to make happen.  Initially, Ben from Detention Action was due to speak to Ali but they lost contact – a common problem given the communication barriers in prison.  Then, when Ben spoke to Abdi, he could only do so for ten minutes at a time, because this is the maximum length of time a phonecall can take in the ward.

Abdi spoke of how he didn’t know that he would continue to be detained in a prison till the day of his release – expecting to be free, he was then told there was an “immigration issue”.  He remains in the same cell, surrounded by the same people, with other prisoners who feel sorry for him still being stuck there despite having completed his criminal sentence.  Abdi has now been detained for five months.  His criminal sentence was around this length as well, so Abdi has very literally served a double sentence.

Thank you to everyone who sent us questions to ask Abdi, and of course to Abdi for sharing his experience and his views.
Read the interview with Abdi here.

Live Q and A with Abdi, detained in prison

This afternoon, Ben from Detention Action conducted a live Q and A with ‘Abdi’ who is currently detained, under immigration powers, in a prison.
Ben asked Abdi questions that you, the public, had sent us via Twitter and Facebook and at the various Unlocking Detention events Right to Remain and Detention Action have held recently.  Thank you to everyone who sent us a question!

Ben could only speak to Abdi for ten minutes at a time – the maximum length of time those detained in prison can use the phone for. 


https://twitter.com/CricklewoodMum/status/786525992059805696

A question from AVID, the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees:

Next question is from someone who came to Right to Remain’s annual gathering in September: do you know how long you will be in here? How long you could be in here?

Some questions from Scottish Detainee Visitors: Are you in a separate part of the prison now that you are in immigration detention?  Are you able to leave your cell more?




Next up: The Home Office say they only detain people in prison in exceptional circumstances.  Are there others there in prison with you, detained under immigration powers?

Another question from Scottish Detainee Visitors: When were you told you wouldn’t be released at the end of your sentence? How did that make you feel?

Another question from the Right to Remain gathering: Have you got any legal assistance?


A question from Kalina Shah @KalinaShah: how many hours are you made to stay in your cell, and are you given any free time?


How often can you see your friends and family?  Can you receive regular visits?

A question via the Unlocking Detention Facebook page:


And another question via the Facebook page, thanks to Eleri of Swansea City of Sanctuary:



The Death Warrant

Image courtesy of Justine Roland-Cal and Freed Voices

In this first week of Unlocking Detention 2016 (which runs until 18 December), we are shining a spotlight on perhaps the most hidden sites of detention: short-term holding centres, and immigration detention in prisons.

This first blog post of the Unlocking Detention tour is by Abdal, a member of the Freed Voices group.

Content warning: self-harm, suicide

I think being detained in prison is the most terrible thing any migrant can experience in the UK.

I will never forget when I got my ‘Death Warrant’. This is what we call the IS91 form which authorises your detention. Just when you’ve got your hopes up you’d be released from prison to see your friends and family…just when you thought you were going move on with your life….WHAM! You get the ‘Death Warrant’. This piece of paper means you are going to be detained by the Secretary of State. You are not going to be released. The ‘Death Warrant’ is usually given to you by a prison officer, who doesn’t really know what the paper is or what it means for you. It is very unlikely you’ll get any kind of explanation from an immigration officer. As a foreign national, if you are lucky, there’ll be an interpreter around to explain what’s happening. But this is rare. The only thing you understand is the ‘Death Warrant’ means you are not getting out on the day you were supposed to.

Instead, they are going to try and deport you.

On top of this great emotional shock, you have to quickly readjust (and comply) with the strict prison system you thought you were escaping. You have done absolutely nothing wrong, you have served your sentence, but you are a prisoner again. You are locked up – sometimes for 24 hours, only out for food and shower. Some days you are only allowed out for an hour a day. It doesn’t matter whether you are there under a conviction or not. Everyone complies. The prison system says that people held there under immigration powers have the rights and privileges of a ‘remand prisoner’. For me, this came with no benefits at all. Being held under immigration powers in prison means you can have visits without a visiting order, but my friends and family were so far away this had no impact. Even worse, my ‘change in status’ meant that all of the training I had previously had access to as a prisoner was now cut. This was a big deal for me. I realised very early on that education, and pen and paper, were powerful weapons. Just before getting my ‘Death Warrant’ I had signed up to do higher education courses. I had even gone to the first session. When I came to the second class they would not let me in. I was devastated.

In an immigration detention centre, you have possession of a mobile phone, access to documentation, libraries, lawyers, fax machines, photocopiers. A lot of the time there are big problems with these things, but in prison you have none of these opportunities to further yourself or your case. Even if you request them, the odds are against you. Firstly, the prison staff do not have any training in immigration matters. If you want to apply for bail, for example, and you ask an officer on your wing, most will not really understand what it is. If you are lucky, they will call the Foreign National Liaison Officer (who will probably be on holiday). The Foreign National Liaison Officer then calls the library. The library find an application and puts it in the internal post. It reaches the Foreign National Liaison Officer two days later. They put it in the internal post and send it back to the wing officer. He then brings it to the detainee.
Now, if that person does not understand English, they haven’t got a chance. If you can’t read or write, you are done for. To get someone to help you will take forever. It is best to forget it. It breaks my heart to say this, but it is the truth. And it is not a question of laziness – it is a question of hopelessness, exhaustion and the shame of having to always ask for help. (Asking for help also means the detainee might have to explain confidential information to prison officers and I knew lots of people who had serious problems with this.) Even if the form is filled out, you have to go through the same procedure again to get the document to court. The stress during this period is unbearable. Then if you actually get a hearing, you have to go through whole other psychological and logistical marathon, and this will almost certainly end in you being refused bail.

This whole process is just one part of a much wider system designed to break you mentally and physically.

The terrible thing is that it often works.

At the end of it all, you are left with a feeling of helplessness and a sense of anger – at yourself, with the prison officers, with the people around you. You feel trapped in an endless cycle of punishment. It is very tiring. It is very frustrating. It can be very difficult to find the strength to continue fighting for your rights. Many people do not even know they have rights as a detainee when they are being held in prison. They have no idea they should have access to a fair trial or legal assistance, or that these rights are abused. There is nothing else to do but to give up. I saw many people self-harm in there. I saw people hang themselves. I tried to commit suicide a number of times.

Even now, I feel great sadness for people suffering in this situation. All I can say is, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Anyone who finds themselves in this place, still alive, still going, they should be extremely proud of themselves. It takes great courage to get out of that kind of hell. But it is possible. Just look at me. I’ve been there. I’ve gone through it. I won’t forget the injustice done against me.

I will use that anger to fight for a change.

This article was originally published in Detention Action’s ‘State of Detention’ report.

Prison under immigration powers: A plane crash

These piece was written anonymously for #Unlocked15 by a member of the Freed Voices group – a group of experts-by-experience who are dedicated to speaking out about the realities of detention in the UK and campaigning for detention reform.

I am originally from a country in West Africa. I was trafficked as a young boy and taken to Eastern Europe. My captors locked me in a basement, fed me like a dog, and beat me.

I escaped my traffickers with the help of a man who knew them well. He took the passport my traffickers had made illegally so that I could work for them, and gave it to me. I didn’t know anything about borders. I didn’t know anything about asylum. I didn’t know anything about passports! I had never held one before in my life.

When I got to Heathrow airport, border control just let me pass through. That just reconfirmed what I already thought – that my identification was genuine.

A few years later I left the UK to visit the man who had helped me escape my traffickers. I went to Europe to meet him but when I came back into the country, and went through passport control again, they stopped me. They told me my passport was fake and they arrested me. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t understand what was happening. Looking back now it’s almost funny because I argued, I really thought my passport was real. I didn’t even know it had been obtained illegally.

I was charged with possession of false documents and held in prison on remand for five months. It was very, very difficult for me. It was hell. I was very scared. I tried to commit suicide several times.

Finally, I went to court. I was sentenced for 18 months but because I had already done five and you usually only do half a sentence, I had four months still to do. It was around the same time that Prince William married Kate. I remember, everyone was so happy.

When I still think of it today, I still can’t believe I survived prison. I had never even stolen a sweet before. And yet, I found myself in a Category A prison, alongside murderers and hardcore drug-dealers, people with firearms convictions.

I spent my whole time inside counting down the days until my release. I saw people lots of people freed when their sentences were finished. I had no reason to think it would be any different for me. I was always looking forward, always thinking what I would do the moment I came out: I’d go back to school, continue my studies, start to integrate again, get in contact with my old girlfriend…I had plans.

Finally, the day came. I was excited, wondering whether I was going to leave early in the morning, or in the afternoon in front of everyone. I packed all my stuff up. I sat, imagining how I would walk out the gates.
It went past three, four o’clock and I was still sitting in my room so I asked a guard what was going on. He went away for a bit to find out then came back and told me I wasn’t going anywhere. I was being detained in prison under immigration powers, and I would be given a deportation order to remove me from the UK.

It was like a plane crash.

They didn’t tell me how long I would have to remain in prison for, or what was next. There was no legal advice. There was nobody to tell you your rights. I don’t think the prison guards even knew what it meant for me to be ‘detained’.

I started to think I would be there for ever. It felt like there was no way out. I started to doubt myself. ‘Maybe I did do something wrong? Maybe I am guilty.’ Nothing made sense. I saw people who had serious, serious crimes get shorter sentences then me and leave when those sentences finished. Why was the balance of justice so heavily weighed against me? Why was I being punished again? Because I was black? Because I was foreign?

I began to ask around and met other guys who were being kept in prison after their sentence had finished. Some had been there for one, two years.

I felt there were similarities with my treatment by my traffickers back in Eastern Europe. I was still being locked up like an animal. I was still being treated without respect, without dignity. Again, I had no control.
All of my traumas came back. All of those suicidal thoughts, night-terrors, flashbacks, they all flooded back. After two weeks or so, the prison guards had to call immigration because they said they couldn’t deal with me anymore.

Usually when people finish their time in prison they are released back into the community and given a probation officer. When I was released from prison, I was transferred to detention – she was my probation officer. First, they moved me to Colnbrook IRC and kept me there for over a year. Then they moved me to Harmondsworth for more than a year Then Haslar for three weeks. Then back to Colnbrook for another year or so. I was altogether 37 months in detention.

Still, those few weeks in prison under immigration powers after my sentence finished stand out. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to get out of prison, how high my expectations were at that point. And how low they fell after being told I wasn’t going anywhere. I felt my life shatter in front of me.

In that moment, my faith in British justice vanished. Even now, when I read newspaper headlines about how ‘this person is guilty’ or ‘this person has been sentenced to X years in prison’ I always doubt it. Did they really commit a crime? Did they really do anything wrong? What’s the full story here?

The latest immigration statistics show 373 people were held in prison this year under immigration powers. Many of them have done something wrong, all of them have paid for it with a loss of liberty. But being foreign isn’t a crime. You can’t continue to punish someone just because they don’t have the right colour passport.

This figure sends out another message: we, the British government, will always side with a British criminal, however serious their crime, over a migrant, however light their crime. This is a question of politics. Migrants who have a criminal record are hot property. They are political commodities. The government just wants to say we deported ‘X’ number of foreign criminals the year. Nobody explores the human stories behind those figures. No-one is interested in finding out about what those those crimes were or why they were committed.

New BID report on the hidden use of prisons for immigration detention

This week, Bail Immigration for Detainees (BID) published a new report ‘Denial of Justice: the hidden use of UK prisons for immigration detention‘.

As of 31 December 2013, 2,796 people were held in immigration detention in immigration removal centres, in short-term holding facilities, and in pre-departure accommodation, but a further 1214 people were being held as immigration detainees in the prison estate.

Being detained and losing one’s liberty is bad enough when a person is held in an immigration removal centre, but immigration detention in a prison is unfair and unjust from the start.  Detainees held in the prison estate suffer from multiple, systemic, and compounding barriers to accessing justice, with an often devastating effect on their ability to progress their immigration case, seek independent scrutiny of their ongoing detention from the courts and tribunals, and seek release from detention, as well as on their physical and mental wellbeing.

This report lays out evidence for these practical barriers, which include but are not limited to:

  • no automatic access to on-site immigration legal advice like that provided for detainees in IRCs;
  • the existence of financial disincentives to legal aid providers who wish to work with detainees in prisons under current Legal Aid Agency contracts; immigration detainees routinely held under serving prisoner regimes;
  • prison regimes and restrictions that preclude the holding of mobile phones,
  • inadequate access to wing telephones during working hours, and a slow internal postal system in prisons, which delay and frustrate timely communication with legal advisers, the courts, and the Home Office;
  • lack of internet access in prisons which hinders legal research for unrepresented detainees, and makes cooperation with the Home Office redocumentation process very difficult;
  • Home Office escorting failures resulting in failure to produce detainees at bail hearings;
  • time limited videolink connections to prisons for bail hearings; delays in receipt of Home Office bail summaries as a result of slow internal mail in prisons;
  • loss of grants of Home Office Section 4 (1)(c ) bail accommodation as a result of production failures and listing delays, sometimes after several months waiting for a grant of a bail address;
  • Home Office failure to provide travel warrants enabling detainees held in prisons and produced in person at hearing centres to reach their Home Office Section 4(1)(c) bail address if granted bail;
  • failure to fit electronic tags within the prescribed two working days resulting in extended detention in prison.

“This is not what I was expecting. This prison is scary”: HMP The Verne

By Ben du Preez from Detention Action, with testimony from Jamal who was detained in HMP The Verne.  Detention Action is a member of the Detention Forum.

On 24th March 2014, vans carrying migrants began arriving at HM Prison the Verne. Jamal was one of the first 30. He says he will never, ever, forget looking through the van windows up at the looming Napolenoic fortifications which dominate the hill atop of the Isle of Portland.

“It was a four hour drive from London. I didn’t know where we were going. No-one told us. I felt like we were driving to the end of the world. And then we reached the sea. And the van drove up the hill. And then we saw those big gates…’wow’, I said to myself. ‘This is not what I was expecting. This prison is scary.’”

Jamal, and those others with him, had been expecting a detention centre. That is what they had been told: “After being stuck in prison under immigration powers with no rights, I was excited about moving. I know its crazy to say, but I was actually looking forward to a detention centre.” What he got was an enormous fortress of a prison, which had been re-designated as a detention centre (with 580 bed spaces, set to be the third largest detention centre in Europe), only for it to be re-re-designated as a prison for migrants at the last moment. The reason given? To provide flexibility within an overcrowded prison estate. Instead of just feeling as though they are in prison, those held in the Verne actually are in a prison, run to the Prison Rules, without the additional (though limited) rights normally granted to detained migrants.

This means no mobile phones, no incoming telephone calls and no internet. Positioned out in the geographical extremities of the country, this basically assures almost zero contact with the outside world. As Jamal notes; “I was isolated from everyone and everything I knew. With no way of speaking to anyone outside, I really felt forgotten.” That also meant feeling forgotten by the justice system. 59% of the migrants Detention Action have met in our workshops in the Verne have been unrepresented, although the Legal Aid Agency has now belatedly agreed to fund on-site legal advice. Many do not even know what an immigration solicitor is.

Those in prison under immigration powers also miss out on key safeguards which should prevent the detention of people who are psychologically vulnerable. In detention centres, there is an (inadequately implemented) procedure for centre doctors to inform the Home Office about migrants whose health will be damaged by detention. In prisons, there is no such system: vulnerable people may fall apart without any report to the Home Office on their suitability for detention.

This forms part of a wider cloak of statistical invisibility, whereby those detained in prisons like the Verne are excluded from Home Office records. For many migrants in detention, the worst part of being locked up is the open-endedness: immigration detention in the UK is without time limit and where return is impossible, migrants may find themselves locked up for years. Last year, Home Office publications showed that at the end of 2013 seventy-five people had been detained for over a year. But these did not include those detained in prisons, despite those individuals frequently being held for the longest periods. Jamal, for example, had been held in prison under immigration powers for eighteen months following completion of half of a twenty-week sentence. According to ministerial statements, almost a thousand migrants were being held in prisons even before the Verne opened.

Today, the future status of the Verne remains uncertain. The Home Office plans to convert it to a detention centre in September 2014 but given their flip-flop earlier this year, everyone involved is holding their breath. Some things, however, are certain: hundreds of migrants continue to languish in prisons around the country, in a black hole ignored by official detention statistics, often out of the reach of lawyers. Equally indisputable is that these individuals are not prisoners, they are not serving criminal sentences at the order of a court and they have no ‘debt’ to society to pay. The truth is they are there for the administrative convenience of the Home Office.

But of all these truths, perhaps most harrowing of all is the fact that the routine imprisonment of migrants shows no signs of ending.


Foreign national prisoners: The fear of being forgotten

By Francisca Stewart. Francisca works for Article 1, a member organisation of the Detention Forum.

Published at OpenDemocracy, as part of a series of articles on unlocking detention.

Too often for foreign national prisoners in Britain, the completion of a prison sentence is followed by a period of limbo behind a new set of bars while the state works out what to do next. Labelled ‘undeserving’, they are largely invisible.

Many people agree that those who commit serious crimes should be imprisoned. But what if you committed a crime and served your sentence, yet instead of being released you were held indefinitely without any idea when you would be freed? On top of this, imagine you were held in a foreign country, discriminated against because of your ethnicity, and treated like a criminal even after you had completed your prison term? It seems appropriate to ask why this nightmare continues to be a reality for many foreign nationals in the UK.

Mr Mohammed, a young torture survivor who has spent extended periods of time in both Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) and UK prisons, knows such treatment all too well. Although he has finally been released, winning a court case regarding his unlawful detention, the effects of discrimination and isolation from the outside world linger. He speaks candidly of his time behind bars, saying, ‘You feel forgotten and this is scarring for life.’ When interviewed about his experience, he spoke about the violence in prison and how he got used to dealing with bullying on a daily basis, from both other inmates and prison guards: ‘In prison, if you’re a foreigner, you’re automatically subjected to discrimination.’

Limited access to legal aid for the ‘undeserving’

It is especially hard for foreign nationals in UK prisons to access justice. A 2013 survey by BiD (Bail for Immigration Detainees) and ICAR (Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees) across the UK immigration detention system found that just 26% of foreign detainees who had been in prison were provided with any form of independent immigration advice during their time there, including guidance on their possible deportation. BiD also found through its legal casework that foreign prisoners face greater disadvantages than the average prisoner because they are considered of lower priority by the prison authorities. Quite simply, the penal system was not created with them in mind. Article 1, (named after Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights), is a charity working with Sudanese asylum seekers in the UK. It their experience lawyers can be reluctant to take on difficult cases in which defendants do not ‘evoke sympathy’ or are labelled ‘undeserving’.

Yet we know that every individual has the right to have rights.

Legal counsel is especially essential where an individual’s freedom has been deprived due to bureaucratic process. Too often for foreign national prisoners, the completion of their prison sentence is followed by a period of limbo behind a new set of bars while the state works out what to do next. Efficient and active legal representation can save the state money by handling cases more quickly and reducing the amount of time in detention. The end result costs the tax-payers dearly, resulting as it does in lengthy appeals to higher authorities.

Invisible behind bars

The population of foreign nationals incarcerated in the UK is largely invisible. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2012 there were 10,861 foreign nationals in UK prisons: 13% of the total prison population. The number of foreign nationals held in prison under immigration powers following the end of their prison sentence is not made public by the Home Office. However, in answer to a freedom of information request, the UK Border Agency confirmed that the number of detainees housed in prisons under Immigration Act powers was between 450 and 600 during 2011 and the first month of 2012. This makes up between 15 and 20% of the total prison population of foreign nationals.

Access to justice for these forgotten individuals remains serendipitous. It was only through the efforts of Article 1 that Mr Mohammed obtained legal representation. This followed two years without legal representation, for which he was in legal limbo. He was allowed out of his cell for an hour a day, and in that time he had to complete everything from showering to waiting in long queues to make phone calls (with little or no money). Consequently getting the legal aid to which he was entitled was a challenge. With Article 1’s help, he subsequently won his case for unlawful detention. Isobel Crowther, Head of Asylum and Research at Article 1, says ‘too many foreign nationals find themselves in this vulnerable position and we worry we are not able to reach all that we need to. It shouldn’t be by chance that they are able to access legal services, but a guaranteed part of the prison system.’

Lack of understanding

The penal system has little understanding of immigration detainees because they are organised to handle citizen criminal offenders. Mr Ibrahim, a young man who fled the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, spent two and a half years in prison after his sentence had finished, before being moved to an immigration detention centre. Before Article 1 saw him he had not had a visitor for four years. During his time in prison he claimed he was constantly subjected to racism and bullying by inmates and officers. He saved his cell mate from hanging himself three times. He had no legal representation for nearly three years. Now, although he has been transferred to an IRC, the pain in his voice is unmistakable. He explains that although he is happy to be out of prison, ‘I came to the United Kingdom only to feel like a slave.’

Immigration is a controversial topic in the United Kingdom, especially in the run up to the general election, and because of this it is often under scrutiny. In such an atmosphere, public sympathy for foreign national prisoners is scarce. In a climate in which hostility is frequently expressed towards law-abiding refugees and asylum seekers – those who are trying to escape from the forms of persecution one might expect to be deplored by traditional British values – foreign national offenders have little chance of securing popular support for their rights.

Yet many of the foreign nationals Article 1 works with are in the UK because of their dissident activity as democracy activists, challenging their own governments to abide by the rights most British people take for granted and of which they are proud. There are many, complex reasons for which they may fall foul of the law, including the challenges posed by the asylum system itself, in while they may find themselves trapped for years on end with no right to work and limited access to state support. These individuals have faced fear and abuse at home, and yet, ironically the very system they admired from afar, the British system, is now marginalising them in their hour of greatest need. Their shabby treatment reveals the ugly side of politics in the UK, where those hungry for votes distort the truth to manipulate an ignorant public.

It is thought the Prime Minister, David Cameron, will use his annual Conservative Party conference speech later this month to distance his government even further from the European institutions (the Bill of Rights and the European Court of Human Rights) that are the last resort for foreign national prisoners.

Making change: ‘You can never, ever forget’

Where there are organisations fighting to make change it is not happening fast enough, especially for those incarcerated beyond their lawful sentences, or for their spouses, children, parents, and friends, waiting on the outside. The Detention Forum and its members have done good work around ending indefinite detention, but there is little activity on the protection of foreign nationals in prisons.

So what conclusion from Mr Mohammed? ‘Detention, perhaps, is mentally harder than the physical torture. Maybe people will disagree with me, but I suffered both and I prefer physical torture than mental torture. With the detention, you don’t know when you’re going to get out, you don’t know anything, and you only receive every now again a paper from the Home Office just telling you that you will be continued to be detained. I think this itself is like torture. I think it’s worse than physical torture because it will mentally scar you for life. You can never, ever forget it.’