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.

On International Migrants Day – reasserting the humanity and dignity of people in immigration detention

Image by@Carcazan

After weeks of our virtual ‘tour’ of detention centres which began in October, Unlocking Detention ends today, on International Migrants Day. People who are in immigration detention generally do not feature on International Migrants Day – the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ policy of locking people up is a powerful tool for erasure. And that is precisely the reason why we insist on ending our ‘tour’ on this particular day, in order to reassert their presence, humanity, rights and dignity in the world.   

While 2018 was characterized by the news of breathtakingly cruel damage to human lives caused by the ‘Hostile Environment’ and the scandal of gross mistreatment of the Windrush generation caught by it, when we look at the Unlocking Detention timeline, we see that 2018 is also crowded with small yet critical gains in our collective fight against immigration detention.

This year, The Detention Forum published a briefing paper on why we need a 28 day time limit. Another paper we released dealt with frequently asked questions on alternatives to detention, a theme that is gathering an unprecedented level of attention globally. These briefing papers should be useful resources not just for our colleagues but also for the Home Secretary, who, in July 2018, announced a series of ‘innovative reforms’ to the detention system in response to the second Shaw Review. The reform programme includes a community-based alternatives to detention pilot and an internal review of time limits: their exact details are still unknown, but we hope they will result in positive impact for people affected by immigration detention and lead to a fair and humane system for all.

At the same time, the ongoing inquiries into immigration detention by the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights intensify public scrutiny over the Home Office’s detention policy and practice. At the latter’s evidence session recently, the Immigration Minister was pressed, once again, to seriously consider introducing a time limit. This was prompted by the Ten Minute Rule Bill led by Tulip Siddiq MP calling for a 28 day time limit on detention, which had astonishingly strong and wide cross-party support. It is a sign that local mobilization against immigration detention, led by campaigns such as These Walls Must Fall, Refugee Tales and many others, have opened many politicians’ eyes to the realities of immigration detention. Experts-by-experience, such as Freed Voices, of course, continue to play the most important, central role in this area, leading the way for the rest of us. We were honoured that they made a huge contribution to this year’s Unlocking Detention yet again in so many blogs. Many of their messages reiterated the urgency for change, their determination to continue speaking out and their growing hope that change will come. 

If there is going to be an Unlocking Detention tour next year, happily, there will be one less centre to visit. We welcomed the news that Campsfield detention centre will be closed by May 2019 – many of us still have a vivid memory of galvanizing our efforts opposing its expansion plan a few years ago. Other happy moments came from the celebration of Detention Forum Champions. Paul Blomfield MP, Stuart McDonald MP, Dame Caroline Spelman MP and Baroness Hamwee received the awards, which recognize their tireless work, stretching over years, standing up for the rights and dignity of people in immigration detention.

But the harsh reality is that the brutal regime of mass, routine and indefinite immigration detention continues and whatever the change process we may be witnessing, its pace is far too slow. A 51-year old Algerian man tragically lost his life in Harmondsworth detention centre on 2 December. And thousands of people spend International Migrants Day today locked up in immigration detention, not knowing when they will be released. Worldwide, there are thousands and thousands more who are also behind barbed wires, separated from their loved ones, experiencing immense stress, anxiety and harm – because they do not have the right passport. So our work continues.

Unlocking Detention is always a collective endeavour. We would like to thank everyone who contributed their blogs, people in detention who agreed to take part in our live Q&A sessions and all of you who followed this year’s ‘tour’, and shared and retweeted #Unlocked18 material. The ‘tour’ was only possible because of a team of very dedicated Detention Forum volunteers, who tweeted, who created gifs, who made visual material, who did illustrations for blogs, who wrote weekly summaries and who promoted Unlocking Detention in all sorts of ways. 

One of the volunteers this year was Carcazan. She sent us this to share:

Illustrating the many blogs, articles and aspects of #Unlocked18 has been a soul-searching and beautiful experience – initially one wonders how much difference can a drawing make, and then one sees the artwork of those who have been detained, or people formerly detained who want images to illustrate their stories, and it’s very humbling. It has been a rare privilege to work with such a dedicated, talented team, and to contribute in any way to this vivid campaign, both with the exciting team of volunteers and in terms of my own creative development. Like any rainbow, we each have a different colour which comprises the whole; I’m really excited to already see an ask of Detention Forum #TIme4aTimeLimit actually being proposed as a 10 Minute Bill to end indefinite detention. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing to support Detention Forum!

This year’s Unlocking Detention was coordinated by my colleague, Susannah Willcox, who had this to say:

After working with people held in immigration detention centres and prisons across the UK for years, I thought I was beyond shock. However, coordinating Unlocking Detention this year has opened my eyes – even further – to just how hard it is for the voices of people in detention to reach beyond those bricks and barbed wire. Their physical marginalisation is compounded by all the other ways in which detention stifles people’s agency and voice – lack of phone signal or credit (and, in prisons, lack of mobile phones altogether); lack of interpreters; lack of dedicated and appropriate mental health support; lack of psychological space to see beyond the next decision letter or bail hearing; lack of trust; lack of ears to listen. While Unlocking Detention can’t directly make up for many of these failings, at least it offers us the chance to stop, listen, reflect – and act.

And A. Panquang, one of Freed Voices members with direct experience of immigration detention, told us:

We don’t want what we went through to be a story to tell friends, family and community just for the sake of telling a story. We want our experiences to help people make changes, to better the immigration process and system for people who are experiencing it now and in the future.

If Unlocking Detention has inspired you to act to challenge this system, that will be a fitting end to this ‘tour’ and a beginning of new chapter in our collective fight against immigration detention. 

Eiri Ohtani @EiriOhtani

Project Director, The Detention Forum

Life after closure: The experiences of the Verne Visitors Group

This blog comes from Ruth Jacobson, a committee member of the Verne Visitors Group (VVG). VVG was established in 2014 to support people detained in The Verne immigration removal centre (IRC) until its closure in December 2017. Here, Ruth is writing in a personal capacity.

At the time of Unlocking Detention 2017 (#Unlocked17), our group was confronting the implications of the closure of the Verne IRC. 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? As our banner in our ‘selfie’ affirmed, we were all too aware that unjust detention would be continuing all over the UK.

We were fortunate in that the our principal sources of funding – Lush Charity Pot and the Esme Fairbairn Foundation Small Grants programme – were prepared to continue support for the campaigning aspect of our work and we would like to formally record our appreciation of this here.

After consultations with our membership, the priorities for 2018 were, first, to establish the feasibility of maintaining one to one support remotely and secondly, to continue our programme of spreading public awareness of the realities of immigration detention across Dorset. The first object has raised significant technical as well as ethical issues, and is currently still under review. The second has been more straightforward. Despite the apparently conservative nature of Dorset, we consistently find that once they learn more about detention – and particularly about the lack of a time limit – people are both astonished and outraged.

We have also been fortunate in that one of the few ‘bright spots’ in the experiences of the men detained in the Verne was their chance to take part in producing art work. We have had these converted into colourful leaflets, which help affirm the humanity of those living ‘behind the walls’. These have been distributed at events at the historic Shire Hall in Dorchester, where the sentences of deportation were handed out to the Tolpuddle Martyrs; and at the Tolpuddle Festival, where they attracted the attention of Maxine Peake.

It was noticeable that at that event, many people attending were not aware of the lack of a time limit on detention. As ever, their response was ‘Surely, that cannot be right – what can I do?’ Now we have a response – we can provide them with a pre-paid postcard to their local MPs.

Looking back on the year since closure, we are cautiously optimistic for the future. At the broader level, it does seem that attention is finally being paid to the injustices of the current system. Within our local area of operation, we know that the experiences of visiting will stay with our members for far longer than the lifetime of the Verne IRC and will help them to take on the challenges we all encounter from biased and/or misinformed conversations in our local communities.

Finally, in case you were wondering – we have avoided making any change in our name, as we feel it has resonance for us in terms of our visiting experiences, as well as for all those people who have visited the beautiful site.

The VVG asks that its materials are not reproduced in print by anyone else but will be happy to post a FREE bundle of postcards and leaflets to any organisation involved with Unlocking Detention. Contact Caz Dennet at de-net[at]

You can also find VVG on facebook.

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

Luke Butterly works for Right to Remain, a UK-based human rights organisation challenging injustice in our asylum and immigration systems. This blog has been reposted with kind permission from Red Pepper.

In communities across the UK, around 80,000 people with pending asylum and immigration claims have to ‘report’ with the Home Office. This happens at regular intervals – weekly, fortnightly, monthly – and can often be logistically complicated, expensive, and disruptive.

Earlier this month it was revealed that the Home Office is forcing hundreds of people in Stoke-on-Trent to make a weekly five-hour journey to reporting sessions.

This change from reporting in the local community happened without consultation or even pre-warning to the people and support organisations there. Reports came through of the toll this was having on people, especially those with physical or mental health issues, or childcare responsibilities. Missing a reporting date has serious consequences. People can lose their financial support, and it goes on their record when they are making further applications to the Home Office.


Reporting is often stressful, even without the additional difficulties faced by people in Stoke.

Mishka from Freed Voices explains that you don’t know what to expect each time you report. He says that people can travel for hours to a reporting centre just to have “a two minutes ‘show your face and go home’ appointment”. But other times, it can be more serious.

Looming over each visit is the possibility of being detained indefinitely. This is particularly the case if someone’s application has been refused, which they may not know until they go and report. Mishka says that,

“The fear of detention is one of the biggest fears that always lingers in your mind. The Home Office is unpredictable and you never know whether you would come home or they would just lock you up again indefinitely for any irrational reason”.

Immigration detention is very harmful to people’s physical and mental health, it cuts people off from their families, friends, neighbours and support networks, and makes it very difficult to pursue a legal case and access justice. While people are detained from every community in the UK, there are only detention centres in a few places. Therefore, detention can often mean being moved away from your community, lawyers, and support.

There are times when you are at greater risk of detention, such as when you first enter the UK; when you claim asylum;  or if you do not have any immigration status or applications pending and you are picked up by an immigration enforcement team. Yet if you do not have the right to remain in the UK, you are liable to be detained at any time.

People are picked up from their homes (sometimes in dawn raids), during immigration raids on businesses, and stop-and-searches at train and bus stations.

But it is common for someone to be detained when they go for their regular reporting event at the Home Office, and that’s why it’s so important to be prepared.

Solidarity and support

At Right to Remain, as part of our Toolkit and other resources, we produce materials and trainings to help people prepare in case of detention. One of the most important aspects of this is having a system in place so that if you are detained, people know straight away and start taking action for you.

Some people phone a friend when they are entering the reporting centre, with instructions for what to do and who to contact if they are detained. If the friend does not get a call within an hour or two to say they are safe, the friend can call their lawyer or support group if they have one.

Across the UK local support groups have set up systems to provide practical ‘signing support’. The person going to report will check-in with the group first, who keep a record of everyone’s contact details and emergency instructions of what to do if they do not come out.

The Unity Centre in Glasgow gives practical support and solidarity to all asylum seekers and other migrants in Scotland. They have a little office near the Home Office, and say that: “Anyone who is required to sign at the Home Office reporting centre on Brand Street can stop by our office on their way to sign into our signing book. This means we can act quickly if anyone gets detained by the Home Office.” Other groups, for example Leeds No Borders, have set up an informal telephone check-in system.

In Belfast, Ryan from Homeplus, a drop-in centre for migrants, says they and the local community operate a version of signing support to combat the uncertainty that comes with reporting: “People will ring me before signing on, saying ‘if I don’t come back before a certain time, contact the solicitor’. People also have this relationship with each other – and that seems to work pretty well.”

The Bristol Signing Support Group says that as well as providing some practical help and assistance, they also provide emotional support. “A lot of people go there very traumatised, very nervous, very fearful of what might happen. Signing is part of a very humiliating…deliberately humiliating system. And, although what we can do is tiny, it’s something against that [system].”

Setting up a signing support system

If you are involved in a community project supporting asylum seekers or other migrants, you can set up a scheme to help people to prepare for, avoid, or better deal with detention and the threat of detention.

A signing support system also means that the person going to sign knows people are looking out for them, and that there is a plan in place if things go wrong and they are detained. This can reduce the psychological burden of reporting at the Home Office.

A system like this can save valuable time: friends and supporters can start finding out exactly where the person is, what has happened, and what can be done to help straight away.

Ultimately, none of us are free until we get rid of this unjust and inhumane policy altogether. Standing with those at risk of detention can play a real role in both supporting people today, and building the kind of society we want for tomorrow.

“There was a chance justice would be done”

Image by @Carcazan

In this #Unlocked18 blog, 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.


XX December 2018,

Hello Tamsin,

I am Mishka from the expert by experience group, Freed Voices. This is my second Q&A blog for Unlocking Detention. This time, I thought of asking you a few questions about the Detained Fast Track (DFT) litigation instigated by Detention Action. This is something I consider as a vital legal challenge which goes hand in hand with immigration detention and the asylum system as well. I am aware that you were one of the key persons behind this litigation by Detention Action. I think it is important to highlight that I am someone who has gone through this DFT process.

Best wishes, Mishka.


XX December, London

Hello Mishka,

Thank you for your questions. These questions made me think!

1) Instigating litigation to challenge the DFT must have been a big decision. What was the motivation behind that decision? 

Instigating the litigation to challenge the DFT was a massive decision. We were a tiny organisation, and the DFT had the full weight of the government behind it and years of seeming to be untouchable. But hearing the fear, despair and desperation our clients voiced to us every day, we felt we had to take action. We were already campaigning against the colossal injustice of indefinite detention and the extreme periods of detention other people in detention experienced, and the DFT seemed to be at the other end of the spectrum of egregious human rights abuses in detention in the UK. Vulnerable asylum-seekers incarcerated and pushed through a system at breakneck speed, a system that seemed designed to fail them and where justice was nigh on impossible. There are many tools you can use in campaigning for social change, but our analysis showed us that litigation was the only effective option in this particular case.

2) What was the most difficult thing you all found during that 7 steps (please correct me if I am wrong) legal challenge?

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific moment that was the most difficult during a lengthy legal process that dominated our working lives for so long. It was a rollercoaster of ups and downs and a fair amount of frustrating and lengthy waiting too, particularly given the urgency of the issue. Perhaps the most difficult thing was simply to keep going. We were committed to seeing it through, but it was slow and painstaking work, and at times the end goal felt out of reach. What made a huge difference was the tremendous stamina and determination of our legal team and the growing sense that many others were joining in our fight. So many of our own volunteers, other NGOs, lawyers and supporters contributed huge amounts of energy, time and expertise. And the more we won at each stage and chipped away at the edifice of the DFT, the more we all sensed that we could really do this. We could really bring the whole thing tumbling down.

The reaction from people in detention was humbling and inspiring. As they followed the slow progress of the case, many knew that it was unlikely to bring any immediate benefit to them personally despite their own desperate situations. And yet we were struck again and again by their shared sense that the fight was worth having, the sheer fact we were standing up against this injustice was somehow a sustaining force. It gave people in detention courage, and they gave us courage. There was a chance justice would be done. If not for them, then for others in the future who would not face the same injustice.

3) Do you think the government will reintroduce something similar to the unfair DFT system?

Since the DFT was stopped in 2015, the government has repeatedly taken steps to explore if and how they could bring it back in one form or another. The most recent development has been a consultation from the Tribunal Procedure Committee on accelerated procedures for all immigration appeals in detention. At each point, Detention Action and others have responded vigorously with strong arguments that a re-worked DFT cannot overcome the fundamental unfairness of a fast track process in detention. Three years later, there is still no DFT. Someone once referred to the collective effort of the Detention Action litigation as it “taking a village” to achieve what we did. I agree. There is now a body of caselaw and a strength of conviction that I am confident the government would face a monumental battle were they to try to reintroduce the DFT. We are now in a very different landscape from where we were when our tiny organisation first took the government to court five years ago.

4) The DFT system had been running for years until the courts laid it to rest in 2015. What would have been the reason(s) the courts took such a long time to comprehend that this system is ultra vires and unlawful? 

There are many reasons why it took such a long time for the courts to finally reach this conclusion, although there were also many moments of insight along the way. I would probably highlight two reasons. Firstly, the DFT was an incredibly entrenched and political issue. It was not easy for the courts to put a stop to a system that the government had relied on so heavily and so extensively for many years. We focused on depoliticising the issue as much as possible, and I think that helped. Secondly, to fully understand the problem of the DFT, you have to grasp the cumulative nature of its unfairness. At each stage, it felt as if we would win one argument but the government would try to tweak something in the system to satisfy the courts. We (Detention Action, our lawyers and all the others who contributed so much) had to pull together vast amounts of evidence about what was really happening on the ground as the case progressed, to demonstrate that systemic unfairness continued. We had to show again and again that the system was fundamentally flawed throughout and the only option was to end it.


XX November 2018, Stoke.

Hello Tamsin,

Thank you for your insightful answers and for your questions as well. My answers are as below.

1) How has your experience of the DFT shaped your determination to campaign for detention reform?

Going through DFT felt like my natural justice was breached. My liberty was taken away and I did not have proper access to quality legal advice until the very last moment; my access to justice was severely undermined. This system denied the right to a fair consideration of my claim, and I felt like it was a battle against time and I lost that battle. I was surprised that even independent Immigration Tribunals and Judges were a part of this system. The environment in detention centres do not in any way give you an opportunity to lodge a proper claim. You are cut off from the external world and you cannot gather necessary evidence you need. You cannot even obtain an expert report to make your claim stronger. This experience of DFT therefore certainly shaped up my determination to campaign for detention reform.

However, in the meantime, whilst going through DFT, I comprehended that it is not only the asylum claimants facing unfairness while in immigration detention. The same set of difficulties I had to face under DFT, others also were facing. There were people with many other types of immigration situations, such as Article 8 cases, students and people fighting deportation decisions. They all were facing a similar unfairness like I was facing even though their circumstances were different to mine. This is one of the reasons why it is important for me to focus on everyone in detention during my campaign and advocacy work and I would say my experience of DFT had an impact on my determination and decision to become Mishka from Freed Voices.

2) What would you say to a government that tries to reintroduce the DFT?

Firstly, I would like to remind them the sort of damage the DFT has already caused to thousands of people who needed international protection for various reasons. I would try my best to explain that it is easy for the decision makers, relevant ministers, Immigration Judges and Home Office caseworkers to act and comment like superheroes and undermine the risks that asylum claimants could face as long as it is not happening to them. I will remind them about the human impact first. For example, some judges, Home Office caseworkers and their legal representatives often claim that people can maintain family ties via Skype and social media – but I don’t think they will see it that way if they were in the claimants’ position themselves.

Then I will also try my best to remind them and also enlighten them about a number of legal challenges that had already been brought against the DFT and as a result, now it has been concluded that DFT was an inherently unfair system and also ultra vires. There are still people who faced the DFT pursing their claims in the form of fresh asylum claims and some are pursuing judicial reviews. Claimants would not be satisfied with the outcome of their claim, if their claims were not concluded or determined properly and fairly. They would keep on pursuing their claims via other legal routes – they could win but they would do their utmost to pursue their claims as if they would never win, because they felt it was not fair and they were not taken seriously.

Peoples’ lives being stuck in limbo for years trying to get a fair hearing and the government wasting massive amounts of taxpayers’ money defending their broken argument and trying to bring back DFT – there will be no real winner here.

Best wishes, Mishka.

“I regularly speak to people who are in absolute despair”

Content warning: torture, trafficking. Image by @Carcazan

In the second of a two-part series from Detention Action, volunteer Mary-Ann talks about what she’s learnt from supporting people detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs).

 Volunteering for Detention Action has very much opened my eyes to the UK’s hostile immigration environment and its immigration detention centres. I came to Detention Action with some knowledge of international refugee policy and support, having previously worked with UN member states and humanitarian agencies such as UNHCR.  At the time, I was conscious of the UK lobbying other member states to honour their refugee and human rights commitments, and to increase their refugee intake with increasing global irregular migration due to natural disasters, conflict and failing states. Ironically however, the UK’s own intake of refugees is very low by comparison: in 2017 the UK was hosting just 122,000 of the world’s 25.4 million refugeeswhile Turkey, for example, was home to nearly 3.5 million

My time at Detention Action has given me an insight into the harsh reality for people seeking asylum in this country, and in particular those who find themselves in immigration detention.  I discovered that, at great cost to tax payers, the UK’s detention estate is one of the largest in Europe. There has been between 2,500 to 3,500 migrants in detention at any given time over the past decade.

In order to provide practical and emotional support to people in detention, I spend my time developing an understanding of people’s personal stories and immigration history by talking to them by phone, and reviewing any Home Office, legal and health records that they wish to share. I am struck again and again by the often incredibly difficult circumstances that people have endured, and survived, only to find themselves locked up in prison-like conditions indefinitely. Indefinite detention is a psychological torture for any human being. Even people in the criminal justice system know the length of their sentence. I regularly speak to people who are in absolute despair, as many of them fall between the cracks of a very complex, inefficient and harsh immigration system.

I have got to know people in detention who have been tortured and are suffering from PTSD, have chronic insomnia due to anxiety over being detained, and a range of physical and mental health issues which are poorly addressed by the detention centre and the Home Office.  While these people are understandably feeling utterly miserable, I’ve been close to tears when they’ve asked me how I’m going and ask if I’m okay.

I have been supporting a Vietnamese man who is detained in Colnbrook IRC whom I’ll refer to as Tran. Tran is a victim of trafficking. He was taken from his country and forced into slave labour in various countries, badly beaten, and when brought to the UK made to work on a cannabis farm. He ended up with a criminal conviction following a police raid, despite obvious indicators that he is a victim of trafficking. After serving a prison sentence, Tran was taken directly to Colnbrook detention centre. Tran does not speak English which makes him particularly vulnerable. At one point, Tran was able to access legal aid to support a trafficking claim. However, out of genuine fear that his traffickers would kill him and or his family in Vietnam, like many victims of trafficking, Tran kept his story somewhat vague, which resulted in his claim being rejected. Having been imprisoned and then detained, Tran in absolute despair told me, via a volunteer interpreter, that he had built-up the courage to speak in more detail about his traffickers. We are now trying to see if legal aid is possible to appeal Tran’s negative trafficking decision, although we have been told by immigration lawyers that he is likely to be unsuccessful ‘because he has changed his story’. I feel very sad for Tran as he is an extremely polite young man who, despite his difficult situation, doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone. Detention Action continues to try and fight his corner as they do for many other vulnerable people like Tran.

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

Image by @Carcazan

In the first of a two-part series from Detention Action, volunteer Anthony talks about his time visiting people detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), near Heathrow airport.

 I remember feeling particularly nervous about making my first call. I had no idea what to expect from the person on the other end of the line. I was very keen to make a good first impression and was worried that if I said the wrong thing he would be left anxious and apprehensive about our visits. All my fear was forgotten as soon as he picked up the phone, it was as if we had spoken many times before and we both shared excitement on arranging our first meeting. His positivity made it easy to forget he was being detained.

For the first visit I tried to prepare by coming up with answers to hypothetical questions. I compiled a list of topics we could discuss and tried to memorise it, knowing that I wouldn’t be allowed a notepad in the visitor’s area. When I arrived at Harmondsworth the first thing I noticed was the huge fences, topped with huge rolls of barbed wire that surrounded bleak, windowless walls.

Once through the 3 security checks, we met SL and the conversation was immediately free flowing. I felt like I completely forgot everything I had memorised, but it didn’t really matter. It was much more of a casual conversation than I had anticipated, he didn’t really ask us for anything and seemed happy just to be able to talk to someone about his situation, even if he didn’t understand it fully himself. He spoke very passionately about how badly he had been treated by the Home Office and by the staff at Harmondsworth. It was hard to believe we had met that day. After the visit it was tough for me not to feel angry about the situation people in detention find themselves in. The isolation and loneliness is almost palpable within the centre and as I left through the car park I couldn’t help but feel a sense of guilt.

 All the people I have met have had vastly different stories and diverse paths which led them to detention. Despite their different personalities, they all shared the same feelings of fear and isolation. Visits allow people to speak freely about any topic they feel like, and provide them a brief escape from their depressive realism. Most importantly visits provide some of the most vulnerable people with a chance to be heard. So often people in detention feel they are misunderstood, or simply ignored, by solicitors, judges, case workers and society in general. Knowing that a visitor will be there to listen and be emotionally supportive on a regular basis can be unbelievably reassuring.

While it is difficult visiting people in extremely distressing circumstances, I feel very privileged to have spoken with some of the most optimistic and determined individuals I have ever met. The fact that a person can remain strong and positive whilst in horrendous surroundings is truly inspiring and although not every visit I made was full of hope, the opportunity to witness some incredible mental strength has changed my perspective for the better.

One person really stands out. From the first visit, SA and I instantly connected and developed a friendship over the 3 months we met. When we first met he had just began his 7 month in detention which followed 2 years in prison. Having moved from Pakistan with his entire family as a child, SA considered himself more British than he did Pakistani, and with his distinctive British accent it would be hard to assume otherwise. He served 2 years of a 3 year sentence and was now serving his probation in detention, with the Home Office looking to deport him based on his criminal conviction. There were some very real concerns SA had about going to Pakistan. Yes, he could speak the language, but he didn’t know anyone there. How would he support himself? Where would he live? Was it safe? What would his family do? He and his solicitor were arguing these points to the Home Office.

SA would often say how he preferred being in prison to Harmondsworth. From the food, the attitude of the guards, the recourses available, the condition of the building, everything was worse in Harmondsworth. The hardest thing, he said, about being in detention was the fact that you don’t know when or if you will be let out. He said this point effects every single person in detention and undoubtedly has an effect on people’s mental and physical states.

When I met SA he was starting to apply for bail, so that he could fight his immigration case alongside his family. Although we enjoyed each other’s company we both really hoped that there wouldn’t be a next visit and that when I next phoned him he would be back at home. Finally, after 11 long months in detention and 3 weeks before his 25thbirthday, SA got the bail he was hoping for and was able to be with his family and friends again. Although the story is far from over for SA, at least now he can fight his case whilst surrounded by the people that matter most to him.

Campsfield closing: A history of resistance

Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre opened 25 years ago this month. In this second part of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at the local history of resistance.

On 25 November 1993, the first people were brought from Harmondsworth (near Heathrow airport) to Camspfield detention centre. Twelve demonstrators met the two minibuses at Campsfield main gates and demanded their freedom.

Almost at once there were individual and collective protests by those held inside Campsfield, including signed statements to the authorities, and mass hunger strikes, and these have continued for 25 years.

Outside, there have been around 300 monthly demonstrations (last Saturday of the month at noon) and monthly public meetings in Oxford’s Town Hall (first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm). Protests by those inside are supported on the first day of the month at 6pm by a vigil at the centre.

The Campaign to Close Campsfield’s chronology of resistance details many hunger strikes and protests directed at the authorities in the detention centre and in government. The campaign website includes the words of people in detention, and also the collections Voices From Detention (2002) and Voices II (2006)

The strategy of the supporting Campaign has been to create awareness and publicity, locally and nationally, and to raise support for the demand to end immigration detention, in the local community and nationally.

Local activities have included:

  • Stalls in the city centre and at local events
  • Monthly demonstrations, public meetings, publicity events and leafleting on specific issues.
  • Providing speakers for interested organisations, 6th forms etc.
  • Supporting university student anti-detention activities.
  • Funding expenses for people with experience of detention to be active in campaigning
  • Speaking up in the media – local radio, TV and press.
  • Annual publication of the Campsfield Monitor newsletter.
  • Working with local Asylum Welcome and Bail for Immigration Detainees staff and volunteers.
  • Working to raise the issue of detention via City and University Amnesty International groups
  • Helping to set up Bicester Refugee Support and Campaign Against Bullingdon Immigration Removal Centre.

Individual and collective actions have included people climbing in to Campsfield and squatting on the roof, lying down to block vehicles, establishing Human Rights Camps outside the gates, and a well-publicised attempt to dig an escape tunnel from the outside.

Rooftop protest, March 1994. Photo: Bill MacKeith

National-level activities have included:

  • Setting up the Network Against Detention (1994) and Barbed Wire Britain network (2001), and helping to set up the Detention Forum.
  • Marching to London to deliver petition for closure (1994).
  • Raising issue in trade unions locally and nationally, securing support of 6 national unions for end to detention.
  • Lobbying meetings with MPs at the House of Commons.
  • Helping to set up Yarl’s Wood 13 and Harmondsworth 4 defence campaigns.
  • Setting up the Bail Observation Project, which has published reports including Immigration Bail Hearings: A Travesty of Justice? (2011) and Still a Travesty (2013).
  • Helping to establish local anti-detention campaigns at other detention centres.

International activities:                                                                     

  • Sending representatives to conferences such as the European Social Forum, and actions such as No Borders camps.
  • Helping to initiate international days of action for migrants’ rights.
  • Working with the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) to raise the issue of immigration detention.
  • Establishing links with campaigns in other countries and with MEPs.
  • Organising a conference on immigration detention in Europe (2000).
  • Submitting evidence to national and international parliamentary and human rights bodies.

Events to mark 25 years of Campsfield

At 7pm Thursday 22 November at Oxford Town Hall, we shall celebrate 25 years of resistance. People who have been detained and campaigners will speak about their experiences over 25 years of struggle. There will be exhibitions and stalls addressing memory, hope and action. We have already received messages from a variety of campaigners over the years.

Then at 12 noon on Saturday 24 November at Campsfield, we shall demonstrate determination to continue the struggle against immigration detention. Speakers will include people who have been detained, and local MPs Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) and Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East). You can find more information on our flyer.

The same day, from 2.30-5pm, there will be an anti-detention Barbed Wire Britain gathering at Exeter Hall Kidlington OX5 1AB with refreshments.

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

Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre opened 25 years ago this month. In this first part 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 announcement that Campsfield is to close.

On Friday 9 November, the government announced that Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre is to close in May 2019. The Home Office statement bears quoting in full (emphasis added).

Today, the Home Office has announced that Campsfield House immigration removal centre will close by May 2019, when the current management contract with Mitie Care and Custody ends.

The closure of the 282 bed centre is part of Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s commitment to cut the number of people detained at any given timeand improve the welfare of detainees. These reforms were announced in response to Stephen Shaw’s review into welfare of vulnerable people in detention.

By next summer, the Home Office will aim to reduce the immigration detention estate by almost 40% since 2015.

Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes said:

I am grateful to all the staff who’ve worked at Campsfield over the years for their commitment and professionalism.

Now is the right time to modernise and rationalise the detention estate.We are committed to ensuring we have a fair and humane immigration system that provides control, and detention must only be used when we are confident no other approaches will work.

In response to Stephen Shaw’s second review of the government’s approach to vulnerable people in immigration detention, the Home Office committed to working with charities, faith groups, communities and other stakeholders to develop alternatives to detention, strengthening support for vulnerable detainees and increasing transparency.

In addition, reforms have already led to a reduction in the number of occupants per room, and will improve facilities in immigration removal centres, including piloting the use of Skype and reviewing the training and support for staff in immigration removal centres.

In 2015, Centres in Dover and Haslar closed and the Verne Immigration Removal Centre in Dorset closed in January 2018. There are no current plans for further immigration removal centre closures. However, as the Home Office progresses with reforms outlined in the response to Stephen Shaw’s second review, the use of immigration detention and the implications for the detention estate as a whole, will be kept under review.

The Campaign to Close Campsfield and End All Immigration Detention responded:

The announcement that Campsfield is to close is long overdue.

We think soberly of all the harm done, the lives damaged or destroyed, and those lost  – 18-year-old Kurd Ramazan Kamluca in June 2005 and Moldovan Ianos Dragotan in August 2011 – at Campsfield over the past twenty-five years.

The name of our campaign is Campaign to Close Campsfield and End All Immigration Detention.

With Campsfield next May, four detention centres will have closed in four years. The number of people in detention is currently down some 20 per cent from the peak in 2015.

But the misery and injustice of immigration detention continues at Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, Brook and Tinsley, Morton Hall, and Dungavel. These too have to go. We shall work for that.

It would be simplistic to see this as a ‘victory’ for the Campaign to Close Campsfield. Three other detention centres have recently closed without the benefit of a long-sustained and high-profile closure campaign.

But I think there is no doubt that the closure announcement comes as a result of a steadily built up national movement against immigration detention in which the resistance inside Campsfield detention centre and outside it locally has played a significant part. This many-faceted movement within and outside parliament movement is what resulted in a government announcement in 2016 that it would seek to detain fewer people for shorter periods and would pursue alternatives to detention.

Elements in the build-up of pressure on the government have been:

We can also point to local Oxfordshire successes in stopping government plans for an 800-place accommodation centre for asylum seekers (2002) and an 800-place closed detention centre (2007), both at nearby Bicester, and a doubling of the size of Campsfield (2015). These have been seen off by well-organised local opposition with national support. These may be a reason why the government has selected Campsfield for closure.

‘Rationalisation’ may indicate a strategy of fewer (and perhaps bigger) detention centres near the main airports. In this respect, if Heathrow expansion goes ahead, then the two Heathrow detention centres will be demolished and the government will likely seek to rebuild on a new site. The £240 million contract with Mitie to run these centres expires on 31 August 2022.

Caution: The February 2002 announcement that Campsfield was to close was (after the fire at Yarl’s Wood) reversed. It could happen again.

What will happen to the people inside when they are released?

This has been a very common question since the closure announcement. It is not the case that 286 people (Campsfield’s capacity) will be turned out penniless in the dead of night. (Even if it were, I suspect those detained would choose that rather than continued detention.) On the day of the announcement, there were only 119 people detained in Campsfield (a pattern reflected in other centres). So the run-down has begun. The fact that 1,000-2,000 fewer people will be detained each year when Campsfield closes is to be supported.

But it is right to ask what kind of hostile environment is it that people who are not detained have to put up with? The answer is, yes. The fact that a closure announcement provokes the question can be used to good effect. Some possible demands that might be made in this light are:

On 21 November there will be a further blog on a history of resistance and events to mark 25 years of protest against immigration detention in Campsfield House.

Detention happens closer than you might think

Image by @Carcazan

This blog comes from Katherine Maxwell-Rose, Digital Communications Manager at IMiX– a communications and media hub for the refugee and migration sector. She tweets at @KatherineMaxi

The BBC’s recent report into China’s vast detention centres was terrifying. Releasing new evidence into the nature of these centres, the report uncovered that China is locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in the western region of Xinjiang. Named by the Chinese government as ‘vocational schools’ established to combat terrorism and religious extremism, these centres look anything but educational.

Few stories emerge from the centres where security is tight with razor-wire fences, watch towers and guards on the gates but those that do are disturbing. Families separated without any contact for years; children taken away from their parents with no explanation given of their whereabouts and testimonies of bullying and brainwashing. Perhaps worst of all though is that no date is given for their release.

It’s the stuff of an Orwellian nightmare. A covert, underground world hidden from sight.

As I listened to the horrifying details of ‘Xinjiang’s dark secret’, it struck me that the UK has dark secrets of its own – and many people know little or nothing about them. 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’ – meaning people with serious physical and mental health conditions as well as survivors of torture, trafficking and gender-based violence. Children are also held in detention and, according to a recent survey, 30 per cent of those in detention have child dependents living in the UK.

The Guardian ‘snapshot’ investigation drew attention to life inside detention centres, highlighting the psychological impact and repercussions after release. Alieu, a refugee from Gambia who was tortured in his home country says the effects of being held in detention do not go away easily. Seven years on the trauma is still very real:

‘I was locked up in a very small space and was too scared to sleep. I’m still scared of people in uniform. The trauma from being locked up in detention after I’d already experienced torture will stay with me for the rest of my life.’

Savita Vas, who was held in detention in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) after being refused a spousal visa despite living, studying and working in the UK for a decade, described the centre as ‘horrifying’. Romana, a Jamaican woman held for 149 days in Yarl’s Wood IRC while pregnant, still experiences flashbacks.

Despite these stories, why do so many people know and do so little to respond to our own detention scandal?

Much of the UK’s detention estate is hidden away in the leafy countryside, closed off from the rest of the world. Out of sight for many, detention centres are also out of mind. The majority of people living in the UK, unlike the people held inside, do not have to face the reality of them every day. It’s not just a physical but also a metaphorical distance.

To face up to the UK reality is much harder particularly when as a nation we so often pride ourselves on our human rights record, and brings the challenge of a greater responsibility. Yet the proximity to the issue can make it seem overwhelming and unbearable leaving even those of us sympathetic to the issue feeling confused and helpless. Acknowledging the detention system even exists on our own soil may be where some of us need to begin before any action can be taken.

‘Knowledge is power’; the famous line attributed to Francis Bacon is important in this debate which is why #Unlocked18 with its extensive insight and first-hand testimonials, is such a great tool for those of us, like me, still being enlightened on the topic. Edging closer to the issue rather than shying away will actually make us feel more empowered. It falls on us, after all, to speak up, speak out and raise our voices against this injustice and shame on our nation.

Image by @Mishka_anonym