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.

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!

Immigration detention centres have no place in Manchester or the UK

This blog comes from Lauren Cape-Davenhill, Organiser with These Walls Must FallAn earlier version of this piece was published in The Meteor.

As an organiser in the northwest of England with These Walls Must Fall, a grassroots campaign to challenge immigration detention, I was glad to see local media coverage of the re-opening of a facility by Manchester Airport called the Manchester Residential Short Term Holding Facility (formerly Pennine House) in June this year.  The facility is operated by troubled outsourcing company Mitie, under a £25 million, ten year contract. It is important that the local community knows that people are being held under immigration powers within our city.

I recently visited the newly re-opened Manchester ‘short term holding facility’ to see someone who had been detained there after reporting with the Home Office. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Manchester Airport train station, full of holiday makers excited about their upcoming trips, you go out past car parks and small airport roads until you’re in the airport freight terminal. This part of the airport is quiet – there are no people or houses around, just low buildings full of cargo. And yet tucked away amongst the freight – discrete and difficult to find – is a building where people are held against their will for immigration purposes. The person I visited, an asylum seeker, was frightened, isolated, and had no idea what was going to happen next. We spoke for around 20 minutes, and then they returned to their wing with an officer – doors locked behind them. I signed out, and was free to leave. Going back through the airport, the contrast between the comings-and-going of people heading off on holiday and the site of administrative incarceration just down the road could not have been more stark.

In the publicity around the holding facility near Manchester Airport those detained under immigration powers at the centre have been described as “failed asylum seekers, visa over-stayers, sham husbands and brides, and people caught clinging to lorries”. But anyone without a British passport, or extensive documentation to prove they are UK citizens, are potentially liable to be detained.

As we have heard so clearly through the Windrush scandal, the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ has led to the detention of many long-term British residents. There has also been a sixfold increase in the detention of European nationals since 2010 when the Conservatives gained power. These are not just ‘foreign offenders’, but many people from the European Economic Area who are targeted and detained for being homeless, a Home Office policy only ruled unlawful by the High Court last year.  Asylum seekers, too, may find themselves detained at any stage of the asylum process – and for those fleeing persecution, being locked up in prison-like facilities often triggers and exacerbates mental health issues such as PTSD. Staff are poorly equipped and under resourced to deal with these health issues, resulting in obscenely high suicide rates amongst detainees.

At Immigration Removal Centres, people can be held without time limit, and this may be for days, weeks, months or even years. A report by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons on Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, near Heathrow Airport, found that from the 552 detained during the time of the report, 23 had been held for more than a year and one man had been held for four years.  The UK is the only country in Europe with no time limit on immigration detention. People are often transferred from short-term holding facilities such as the Manchester Airport centre to long-term centres such as Yarl’s Wood, where they may be held indefinitely.

The government-commissioned Shaw Report, ‘Review into the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons’ was published in 2016, and concluded:

“There is too much detention; detention is not a particularly effective means of ensuring that those with no right to remain do in fact leave the UK; and many practices and processes associated with detention are in urgent need of reform”

The following year, 2017, was the deadliest on record in UK immigration detention, with six deaths in detention including at least three suicides. In 2017 we also saw the Panorama documentary revealing appalling abuse by officers at Brook House detention centre. Welfare provision in detention remains a shambles – and locking people up in prison-like conditions without time limit produces vulnerability. As one female asylum seeking Manchester resident with experience of detention said to me, “Everyone in detention is vulnerable.”

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. Last November, Manchester City Council became the first local authority in the UK to pass a These Walls Must Fall motion condemning indefinite detention – and has swiftly been followed by Liverpool, Cambridge and Brighton and Hove councils.

Local groups coordinated protests and rallies in solidarity with the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers in March. Earlier this month, students and academics at the University of Manchester organised an event attended by over 200 people to kickstart action to challenge detention both on and off university campuses. Politicians including Afzal Khan MP and Julie Ward MEP have stood up and said that indefinite detention must end. Whether it’s short term holding facilities or immigration removal centres, they have no place in our city or our country.

We’re encouraging people to take local action wherever they live in the UK to challenge detention. Because when local communities, trade unions, faith groups, activists and local councils stand together to say ‘no’ to detention, that adds up to some serious people power – and the politicians will have to listen. You know best what action might work in your community – but some ideas from the North West include:

– Ask your local council to pass a motion pledging to challenge immigration detention

 Contact your MP

– Get a motion passed in your trade union branch

– Organise a presentation to raise awareness of detention in your student society or faith group

– Coordinate solidarity and support for people going to report in your local area

If you want some ideas for local action, see:

Together, we can challenge the injustice and inhumanity of immigration detention. These Walls Must Fall!

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.”

The Seamed Zones

Photo taken at the launch of ‘The Seamed Zones’ on 12 October 2017. 

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

Last week, I delivered a speech alongside Michael from the Freed Voices group at the launch of Rob Stothard’s new photo exhibition on detention, entitled ‘The Seamed Zones’.

In perfect dovetail with Unlocking Detention, it is an exhibition which addresses one of the main paradoxes of immigration detention in this country: that despite being one of the most flagrant abuses of civil liberties and human rights in the UK today, the physical sites of this extreme form of physical and psychological violence still remain hidden in plain sight for many members of the public.

Yarl’s Wood IRC, Twinwoods Business Park, Thurleigh Road, Milton Ernest, Bedforshire, MK44 1FD

One of the first photos in the exhibition that catches my eye is of the sign for Twinwoods Business Park near Milton Ernest, a small village about 60 miles north of London. It is a sign that leads drivers into a cul-de-sac where one can find, among other things, Bedford Pets Crematorium, an office of Bedford Borough Council and the headquarters of a company that offers indoor skydiving. The buildings are all unremarkable in their appearance and give few clues as to the practices unfolding inside. There is seemingly nothing to challenge in this banal, Grey nothingness. Everything about it suggests it is one of those common spaces that most people in UK move freely in and out of every day without so much as a second thought. In the corner, however, there is a small concrete pocket holding four hundred people, who cannot leave, or lock eyes with the rest of us, or explain who they are. They have no idea when they will be freed and have extremely limited resources to help them get out. They are trapped in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, perhaps the most infamous of all detention centres in the UK, and the focus of #Unlocked17 tour between 23 and 29 October 2017.

Yarl’s Wood is in no way unique in this respect. Stothard documents every site of immigration detention across the UK – from the short-term holding facilities up in Larne House, Northern Ireland, down to the Verne detention centre on the Isle of Portland – and shows how each of them are reached from everyday roads on the fringes of rural lanes, within the perimeter of airports, or along the exterior walls of former prisons. All of them sit on the ‘seamed zone’ between free and restricted movement. All of them are representations of the way the industrial-immigration-complex has created new physical landscapes, or at the very least re-articulated existing ones into something else. As the exhibition curator, Nicole Sansone, notes, “in an era in which private interests and discriminatory legislation that articulates the infrastructure of segregation and surveillance has become commonplace, IRCs can appear to represent a smooth line of continuity with the fields, fences, homes, businesses and transport hubs in their midst.” This ‘smoothness’ does two things. Firstly, it allows detention centres to go un-seen. Members of the public can almost unconsciously navigate them in the same way pedestrians might  move past/through some one begging for money on the street: they can ignore that which they think does not directly impact their familiar lives. Secondly, it obliterates the question of access: notions of belonging and exclusion have been so normalised, so smoother over, that some seem to have forgotten to even dispute the very idea of detention in of itself.

Larne House, 2 Hope Street, Larne, Antrim, BT40 1UR

The reality is that the ‘invisibility’ surrounding detention centres does not start with the buildings themselves. It starts with the casting and portrayal of those warehoused inside. Career politicians and the gutter press have long cast migrants as monstrous, Others, unchecked, bogus, illegal, temporary. As Freed Voices noted in their recent submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee; “The Government and the press talk about us like we aren’t even human beings. So in detention we are seen as less than animals. We’re just commodities.” This process of dehumanisation, active long before the decision to detain, justifies and enables detention to continue unchecked. On a collective level, it translates into around 30,000 people detained each year. On a personal level, it means individuals are locked away for weeks, months, and sometimes years.

Over time then, the naked violence of indefinite incarceration is forgiven, then muted, then forgotten. The outstanding implication of this is that these people in detention are not worthy of the same kind of duty of care and access to rights, liberties and protection afforded British citizens. Speaking at the exhibition launch, Michael reflected on the recent BBC documentary on Brook House IRC which showed, among many other instances of abuse, someone being held in a choke-hold by detention centre staff: “Can you imagine what would happen to a migrant if they committed the same kind of offences that we experienced every day in detention? Can you even imagine?! There have been thirty-two deaths in detention and no-one been even prosecuted. It is a moral disgrace.”

Heathrow IRC, Colnbrook Bypass, Harmondsworth, West Drayton, UB7 0FX

Sansone describes the UK’s detention estate as a ‘geography of fascism’ and too often fascist policies benefit from invisibility, or partial visibility, growing in the shadows, in silence. When Michael stood up at the exhibition opening and spoke-out about his experiences of detention and the changes he wants to see, he took a wrecking ball to the architecture of detention. His words offer a direct block on the co-operation of racism and power, making visible the sites and processes the Home Office would otherwise have hidden away or slip quietly into the landscape around us. Stothard’s photos seek to do a similar job, as does Unlocking Detention. If you’re not already involved in shining a light on these sites of estrangement, it might be worth asking ‘why not’?

Get involved in this year’s Unlocking Detention! More information here

Rob Stothard’s photography exhibition – ‘Seamed Zones: The Everyday Life of Immigration Removal Centres in the United Kingdom’ – runs until the 29th October at Sluice Art Gallery, Arch 11 & 12 Bohemia Place, E8 1JB, London.

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
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.

How detention affects my community: the view from Belfast

This piece was written for Unlocking Detention by the Larne House Visitors Group.  Larne House is a short-term holding facility near Belfast.  People are detained there for short periods of time before being transferred to another detention centre (in England, or Dungavel in Scotland). 

A perspective of a person at risk of detention

Although I’m with the visitors group, I am writing as someone who is at risk of detention. Visiting others who are already in detention has given me a good idea of the situation and conditions. But the fear of ending up there myself is always as fresh as it was 3 years ago when I came to Northern Ireland. It is probably worse for my brother and his family. They always talk of feeling sick with dread and anxiety every time they can’t reach me by phone or if I fail to answer their calls. They get the worst of their fears especially whenever I have to go for my reporting and I take an unusually long time before I communicate with them after. The constant expressed intent by the Home Office to lock me up in detention has relegated my family and most people in my community to the least respected in society.

Detention to me does not create good citizenship; its structure is based on ill advised policies and is not reflective of a rational society. The inaction by the government to revisit its policies on detention especially the unwillingness to introduce a time limit shows no respect for human dignity and freedoms.

A visitor’s perspective

As a visitor to the Larne Detention Centre for over a year now, I have realised that security within the facility has constantly increased. The staff used to have great commendation from the detainees before but recently some of the detainees have been complaining about not getting sufficient medical help and not enough food provisions. Almost all the people that I have gone to visit have shown worrying signs of anxiety, distress and frustration because of a lack of enough information about their length of stay in detention. Some have spoken of harsh threatening language about forced deportation from Home Office officials. The Larne Detention Centre is quite distant from Belfast where most people would have been ordinarily resident before and it has proved quite a huge impediment to most detainees to receive full support from their families and communities. Some people who have been detained but would previously have been resident in England, Wales or Scotland have expressed displeasure due to the lack of enough information of where they will be taken to from temporary holding at Larne to allow their families to visit them on arrival.

The detainees that I have visited have generally expressed shock at the way that seeking refuge is being criminalised by the British government. Some of them have expressed how their time in detention has amounted to secondary victimisation after running away from wars and dangerous repressive environments in their country of origins. Instead of being sensitive about the plight of the people, I feel that the government should start taking as profound the reasons why people are being forced to leave their countries of origins and sometimes embarking on a risky journey to seek refuge here.

Note: The detailed account above is experienced and shared here by the same person: a volunteer within the ‘Larne House Visitors Group’ who runs the risk of detention him/herself. From tentative initial contacts to the group to seek information we gained a very active and valuable member. Being able to provide a first hand experience at events we organise around the wider refugee issue and the detention praxis in particular has resulted many times in attracting new volunteers and to get people involved on many levels. It also helped us often to put experiences and information we came across while visiting into context.

Detained at the UK border: Mould, cat calls and barbed wire

Ali McGinley of AVID – a member of the Detention Forum – writes for the #Unlocked series in Open Democracy on detention in short-term holding facilities.

Key statutory instruments governing the use of detention do not apply to holding rooms at ports or short term holding facilities. Some 7,000 vulnerable individuals are held each year for up to 7 days in appalling conditions without proper regulation.

“The customs officers left and I was then patted down and searched by the guard, and then escorted into what appeared to be a converted conference room in a deplorable state of decay. Inmates were milling around, occasionally yelling out at the guard who was positioned in the room, who was himself intently watching the tennis match on television, cheering appropriately when points were made. I was not permitted anything but the clothes on my back, no phone or camera, so no way to document the state of this unsanitary environment.”

Very few people are aware of the experiences of detainees held in what are known as ‘short term holding facilities’ (STHFs) in the UK. In discussion of detention issues, these shorter stay centres are often ignored, in more ways than one. After all, they are short stay centres in which detainees are held for a maximum of seven days.

In the context of the extreme lengths of detention we see in the bigger centres, it is perhaps no surprise that the experiences of those in STHFs are often subsumed by the tidal wave of injustices faced by those detained. Yet STHFs are amongst the worst accommodation in which migrants can be detained in the UK. They are cramped, stuffy, institutional spaces surrounded by barbed wire. Migrants are held there against their will as a result of their immigration status. They tell us they feel confused, angry and frightened.

As the Unlocking Detention series has documented, all of this could equally apply to any of the longer stay detention centres; the one key difference is that there exists a glaring protection gap between STHFs and say, Yarl’s Wood or Morton Hall. Because the STHFs are also ignored by the provisions of the 2001 Detention Centre Rules, the key statutory instrument governing the use of detention. These rules only apply to detention centres and not to holding rooms at ports or airports or to residential STHFs across the UK.

A separate set of Rules governing STHFs has been ‘in development’, according to the Home Office, since 2005. This leaves many very vulnerable individuals at risk in appalling conditions that fall short of those in other detention centres and even mainstream prisons.

Detention at the border

Most of the UK’s STHFs are holding rooms at ports or airports, where detainees are held for up to 24 hours. There are also five ‘residential’ STHFs where migrants can be held for up to seven days. This includes Cedars ‘pre-departure accommodation’ which holds families. The others are Pennine House, a facility in the back of Manchester Airport which holds up to 32 men and women; Larne House which is within a working police station in Northern Ireland and holds 19 men and women; an STHF within Colnbrook and a facility within Yarl’s Wood that detains men who are known as ‘lorry drop’ cases.

For many of the 7,000 people who pass through these residential STHFs every year it will be their first experience of detention. Others will have been refused entry or permission to stay in the UK and be in the last few days or hours before they board a flight. Either of these times – on your way in or out of the country – are extreme stress triggers, and the risk of anxiety, mental distress and self-harm is high.

People held in these places tell us they are often unsure of why they are being held. This isn’t helped by the paucity of information available or the conditions in which they are detained; something highlighted time and again in the reports of statutory monitoring bodies like Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), Independent Monitoring Boards and NGOs.

For example Pennine House, in Manchester Airport, has no ventilation or natural light. It is a bleak facility within the complex of the airport, holding 32 detainees in 8 rooms, all along one long corridor. The ‘socialisation room’ at the end of this corridor consists of rows of plastic chairs, nailed to the floor and facing the TV screen. In order to chat, detainees must therefore stand if they want to face one another. There are two computers with internet access, but no exercise equipment or prayer room. Prayer mats are available and an airport chaplain visits; detainees can also request to use the prayer room in the airport.

There is a dining room of sorts, containing the large fridges which hold the many varieties of frozen ready meals that are served. Most of those held at Pennine House stand around in the corridor, waiting. They can request fresh air or a cigarette break, during which time they are escorted by a Tascor guard to a small ‘pen’ boxed off with steel caging, through which you can only see the sky. It is unsuitable for any form of exercise other than pacing. The facility was described by HMIP as ‘austere’ and unsuitable for stays of longer than a day, although many are held for up to a week.

Larne is similar to Pennine House, although its location inside a working police station makes visiting more difficult. Neither offer access to anything similar to the ‘Detention Duty Advice scheme’, the (albeit minimal) provision of legal aid funded advice which is available in the detention centres.

Those held in Colnbrook STHF fare slightly better. As a result of its location within a larger detention centre detainees do have, in theory, access to legal aid advice, a library, and a gym. That said, Colnbrook STHF was recently described by HMIP as ‘cramped, ventilation was poor, the environment dirty and the regime poor. Detainees were inappropriately locked in their rooms for most of their vulnerable first days in detention and prior to removal’. As a consequence of being held in their rooms for up to 20 hours a day, this access can be described as somewhat limited.

Protecting migrant women

Perhaps most concerning about STHF detention is that unlike most detention centres, unrelated men and women can be held together, which means that if you are a woman unlucky enough to be detained at Larne or Pennine House, or in a holding room, you will very likely be a minority of one or two women along with the majority of men. This is a traumatic experience for any woman, but particularly inappropriate given that a high number of migrant women arriving in the UK have suffered rape, attempted rape or other sexual violence either in their country of origin or during transit.

A woman held in an STHF told us ‘It was a horrible situation to live in a men’s detention centre for a week…there is no separate room for ladies to have their food…there were men everywhere if you stepped out from the ladies bedrooms’. Similarly, a man held in Heathrow holding room described to us his shock that women were also held in such an environment: ‘The whole experience felt like prison. I was a detained inmate with no rights. Some of the other inmates in the room (both men and women) were visibly distressed. One man was sexually harassing a woman, cat calling, grabbing and being generally unruly, and the guards did nothing to stop it. She went to another side of the room to avoid him’.

This absence of protection has been criticised by statutory monitoring bodies time and again who say that ‘little is done to meet the needs of women’. The organisation I work for, AVID, has lobbied on the position of women in STHFs for some years.  In 2010 we asked for Equality Impact assessments to be carried out on all residential STHFs that hold men and women. Despite a commitment by the Home Office to produce these, and a reiteration of that commitment in parliament in 2012 they remain unpublished and very little has changed. Women continue to say they feel vulnerable because they cannot lock their doors at night in STHF detention. How long is it going to take for their safety to be taken seriously?

24 hour holding rooms

In conditions described by the Independent Monitoring Board as ‘degrading’, the holding rooms at Heathrow are not residential. Holding rooms do not have sleeping accommodation; many have only wash basins rather than showers,  and while they can legally only hold someone there for a 24 hour period, the HMIP recently found someone in Stansted airport who had been held for 40 hours. Those detained in holding rooms will rarely make contact with visitors groups or external support organisations. However we know from statutory reports and some testimony that they are unpleasant places.  One man described to us his experience at the Heathrow holding rooms: ‘The ceilings were covered in mould, the walls torn up and covered in graffiti and random posters, and the floor was disgustingly dirty…The whole facility smelt like human waste. I was in a bit of disbelief at the state of this so-called detention facility as it resembled something out of a movie’.

Most concerning is the recent finding by the IMB at Heathrow that children ‘of all ages’ were being held in these facilities, sometimes over night with unrelated adults. This is despite the Government’s claim to have ended the detention of children in the UK. Other concerns raised include detainees being escorted through the airport in handcuffs in full view of the public, an absence of any IMB at some facilities, and detainees not being given the reasons for their detention in writing.

So where is the statutory guidance?

Despite ample evidence testifying to these deplorable conditions, the repeated calls from NGOs to publish statutory guidance applicable to these facilities remain unanswered. Short Term Holding Facility Rules were drafted and consulted upon in 2005 and 2009, yet never finalised. Most recently their absence was raised in Parliament by Lord Avebury during a debate on the Immigration Rules. A commitment was given by the Home Office that they would be published by this year’s parliamentary recess, but it is now September, and they remain elusive. The reluctance to publish the rules can no longer be excused as bureaucratic inertia: some nine years have passed.

The protections afforded detainees by the Detention Centre Rules may seem basic to those of us who work on detention on a daily basis, but they are vital, not least in setting the parameters within which detention can take place, but also in implementing certain human rights obligations. In refusing to publish the same standards for detainees subjected to shorter stays, the Home Office is putting detainees at risk.