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]hotmail.co.uk

You can also find VVG on facebook.

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: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/ethnicity/projects/deportability-and-the-family/

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

“If more people knew what was going on, more would recoil in disgust and demand explanations”

Images courtesy of Lisa Matthews

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. 

Sylvia said:
“Unlocking Detention is important because it aimed at publicising something that is done in your name and paid for by public money. Yet, not much is known about it, except the odd news report here and there when a death occurred in an immigration centre, or when abuse is uncovered. There isn’t much scrutiny or accountability and high regard for due process. If more people knew what was going on, more would recoil in disgust and demand explanations. 

The UK’s immigration detention system is a mess, it is a failing and cruel system that has no place in a functioning democracy. Time after time, reports show that things are done in a way that has no bearing on any logic whatsoever, let alone humanity. Even if you look at it from a strictly cold administrative angle: it is pointless (53% are released into the community) and it is costly (£92m+ per year). 

The blog post that resonated the most with me was Won’t Somebody Please Think of The Children? Detention is destructive, for the individual in detention as well as the wider community. It has deep impacts on the immediate family too which usually takes the brunt of that disruption. One has to ask: How can a government stand there and defend such cruelty?

Long-term effects on separation at an early age are well documented, it is therefore truly disturbing that it is essentially an official policy to enable a system that sees parents and children regularly forced to live miles apart with no time limit.” 

Alice said:
“I’ve chosen Juan’s poem about the closure of the Verne – it has really stuck with me, and I think it captures quite a few of the themes that we have seen throughout Unlocking Detention.

The poem vividly shows the hopelessness and harm caused by indefinite detention – for example, Juan says “The Verne is a cemetery for hope. I don’t see how I would survive a fourth time in detention”. It also shows how being detained impacts people long, long after they are released: he says, “When you have experienced detention, you walk every day with the experience on your back” and “I am different person now.”

The poem demonstrates the need for system-wide reform – not just tweaking the system, or closing one or two centres, but fundamental change to the whole system. Juan says, “I am pleased to hear that the Verne is closing. But for those of us that have already experienced it, it will always be open.” He also highlights how many people have died in detention this year, and says, “just thinking about the Verne makes me think of death”. As Kasonga from Freed Voices said in Parliament in November, “Detention reform cannot wait. It has become an emergency situation.”

Finally, this poem is yet another example of experts-by-experience as the most important, powerful advocates for detention reform. We’ve seen this in the many fantastic blogs by experts-by-experience during #Unlocked17, and at the parliamentary meeting, when Kasonga gave a brilliant speech and members of the audience spoke out about their own experiences – one woman described detention centres as like “filing cabinets for human beings”. MPs were clearly very moved and reiterated their commitment to fight for reform.”

Let us know if there was any blog this year that resonated strongly with you!  We would love to hear from you!

Mapping detention

Images courtesy of Freed Voices

At Unlocking Detention, we occasionally receive emails from people, including those who say they are journalists, asking us to let them join the “tour”. These requests stem from misunderstanding: some assume we are organizing physical, guided tours of the inside of these immigration detention centres, while we are actually running a “virtual” tour unearthing facts and voices from these centres.

While their interest is welcome, it also makes us feel uneasy – what legitimizes our gaze inside these centres, when it is not for an official purpose of monitoring or supporting people inside the centres? Should these centres be open for casual inspection by anyone who happens to be curious, knowing that people who are detained there are having a truly devastating time of their lives? When does this gaze transgress into the sphere of voyeurism? What makes us think that we can fully understand immigration detention through seeing its infrastructure?

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

*The names of some Freed Voices members in this piece have been changed.


A few weeks ago, during the fallow days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the Freed Voices group met to reflect on a busy twelve months of campaigning and to mark the conclusion of ‘Unlocking Detention’ – Detention Forum’s annual, virtual tour of the UK’s detention estate.
In homage to the latter – (which digitally ‘visited’ those sites of indefinite incarceration up and down the country that the Government would otherwise have you believe are ‘out of sight, out of mind’) – the group conducted their own exercise in ‘mapping detention’.

To begin with, they plotted the general outline of a detention-centre (most Freed Voices members have experienced several different IRCs so chose the detention centre which resonated most). Then they filled in ‘key landmarks’, such as their rooms, healthcare, the canteen, visiting rooms, legal services, the shop, the yard, welfare and/or induction areas.

Next, Freed Voices members detailed the different demographics that might make up any given detention centre – where were the detention centre staff based? Where did new arrivals come in? Where were their friends in relation to their own rooms? Did different national or religious groups congregate in different spaces? Who dominated the yard? What was their typical movement through the detention centre on any given day?

Lastly, they designed a post-it key, with different colours to represent different emotional states. The group then pin-dropped these across their maps in different loci they associated most with that particular feeling.

Feeding back to each other, and reflecting on their respective maps, several outstanding themes emerged.

Firstly, the group acknowledged how they had (at least initially) all interpreted the exercise’s leading direction – ‘to draw the outline of the detention centre’ – very differently. Some members experienced greater freedom of movement throughout their incarceration and could detail the wider physical perimeters of the detention centre in great detail.
Others (despite, in some cases, spending longer periods of time in detention) did not map out anything beyond their wing. As John* explained, “this is really where day-to-day detention happens – everything you need to know about detention is on your wing.”

All agreed, however, that this was equally applicable to their rooms – that the essence of detention boiled down to four brick walls, complete with one or two bunks, maybe a toilet, and more often than not a hermetically sealed window (occasionally with a birds-eye view of a nearby airport).
Boone, who was detained for 7 months in Colnbrook, adjacent to Heathrow, said that ‘every minute and a half a plane flew past the window. Each one reminded me I was going to be deported back to my country. My room was my hell.” Omid said ‘my room was hopeless(ness)…I thought I never ever go out and that’s why in my nightmares I can see this room.” Shariff described his room as ‘My Coffin’.

Second was the extent to which members described how their identities had been unmade, made and remade again whilst they had been detained. Almost all noted how their primary physical/emotional interaction with detention had been under the cloak of darkness, arriving in a blacked-out van, usually at around two or three in the morning, handcuffed, and marched through high-security gates like a criminal.

Joe, a survivor of torture from East Africa, spoke about how, when he arrived at Dover detention centre (where he spent the next two years) he had to pass through its three enormous gates. At the first one, they registered his name and country of origin. At the second, they frisked him. At the third, they gave him a ‘Prison Number’ and waved him through. “I had never committed a crime in my life, I received no trial, and yet I was given a life-sentence?”

John, who was predominately detained in Colnbrook, spoke about being stripped of the most important aspect of his identity: his humanity. He recounted how he had been spoken to like an animal, caged like an animal, and barked at by immigration officers like an animal – and not in a figurative sense, but with an actual guttural canine-growl.

Thiru, a survivor of torture from Sri Lanka, highlighted his time in segregation – or the ‘Isolated Rooms’, as he called them – as the darkest part of his detention experience (a sentiment concurred by several other members). Thiru described how here, in solitary confinement, his past and present traumas had merged into one. He said he felt; “Tortured again. Only this time I wasn’t sure why. Back home, I knew it was because of who I was. But here, it was because of who I wasn’t. It was confusing.”

Freed Voices members largely agreed that the inevitable result of these kinds of experiences – the violence of segregation, the dehumanisation encouraged by staff, the deteriorating sense of self – was an intense distrust in everything around them. On one hand, this was directed at the individuals and systems that compounded their detention: Home Office-picked solicitors, the complaints system, welfare, healthcare staff.

But it also occasionally, tragically, resulted in a self-imposed isolation, either from those going through similar experiences and/or from those with shared national, ethic or cultural backgrounds. Both Omid and Thiru marked out on their maps where people from their home country of origin, Iran and Sri Lanka respectively, tended to congregate in detention. But they also noted how, over time, they had both drifted away from these groups, and in turn, the social links/bonds to their ‘pre-detention identities’. Omid said; “I must be alone in Harmondsworth. After time, everyone the same to me. I see just faces, all the same.”

This dissolving of national identities was not the case for Michael, who has been based in the UK since he was 12, and who spent his two and a half years of detention exclusively in Morton Hall.

His English fluency, English upbringing, and English partner were all a cause of social stigma within detention, where he wasn’t enough of an Other. At the same time, his proposed deportation promised to wipe clean these cultural indicators, erasing any sense of self in one fell swoop: “I grew up in the East End on pie and mash. I supported Chelsea. I went to British school. And now I’m an illegal immigrant about to be deported? I had no idea whether to hold on to who I was in detention, or let it go.”

Michael did note however, that some sense of self was salvaged whenever his partner – someone from outside Morton Hall’s walls – came to visit. Only then was he reminded who he was and what was normal.


This was echoed by other members, who also relied on some kind of external ‘force’ (real or imagined) to help puncture the mind/identity-bending bubble of detention. Boone took great solace in the Colnbrook’s chapel, which he said brought him closer to his family, ‘even though they were thousands of miles away’. Joe’s room at Dover IRC looked out over the sea and he spoke about how, on a clear day, he could see France and that this vague outline of land became a source of calm: “It helped me focus. I remember why I came to the UK in the first place.”

Others reiterated the vitality of visitor-groups, like the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group, Detention Action or the Verne Visitors Group, who provided practical advice and support but also treated them ‘as individuals’. “We weren’t just numbers to them,” reflected Michael.
Lastly (although perhaps unsurprisingly), was the omnipresent black cloud of indefinite detention. Fogging every other aspect of life in detention, the psychological impact of not-knowing when they would be released was the singular, outstanding theme Freed Voices members kept coming back to. ‘Torture’ was repeatedly used to express the horror of endless incarceration.

Freed Voices members were quick to point out that it was almost impossible to delineate and dissect other aspects of life in detention – whether it be the activities available to them or conditions more generally – in separation from indefinite detention. Timelessness infected everything. At one point in the exercise, Thiru covered almost his whole map in post-it notes in an attempt to explain the geographical translation of this pervasive emotional violence. Shariff said that indefinite detention meant that ‘even the smallest details in detention make you lose hope’. Joe spoke about the mental and physical fatigue that comes with bearing this psychological weight everyday: “I felt every second of my detention. I was there more than two years. It was exhausting.”

Week 5: #Unlocked17 Visits The Verne

From the 13th – 19th November, #Unlocked17 visited The Verne, a remote detention centre on the edge of Dorset, which is scheduled to close at the end of this year. With nearly 600 beds, it is the UK’s second largest detention centre (the largest is Harmondsworth, with 676). 
Alongside the virtual visit to the Verne, this week #Unlocked17 visited parliament for a meeting on immigration detention, bringing together MPs, peers, experts-by-experience and others campaigning for detention reform. You can read a summary of the meeting here.

Maddie Biddlecombe, a member of Verne Visitors Group, wrote a blog for #Unlocked17 based on her experiences of visiting this remote centre: “Sometimes we wave out the window at my life waiting patiently for me out on the grass, in the sunshine, but mostly we talk of life lessons, and things that don’t matter or matter so much that I shed a tear.” 

The Verne’s isolated location – on the Isle of Portland, off Weymouth in Dorset – makes it the least visited centre in the UK. As Jerome Phelps of Detention Action described, earlier in the #Unlocked17 tour: “A mile out into the Channel, inside the peak of the closest Dorset gets to a mountain, five hundred migrants are locked away.”
On the blog this week, Ruth Jacobson of the Verne Visitors Group described how this isolation “exacerbates the already appalling effects of indefinite detention”: leading to a greater sense of separation from friends, family and community and severely limiting access to legal support.
What happens to a visitors group when a centre closes? As Ruth’s blog shows, members of the Verne Visitors Group have seen the injustice of indefinite detention, and its “appalling effects”, first hand. They will not give up:

As one person wrote in a comment at the end of the blog: “Thank you so much Ruth for so eloquently capturing the injustice and inhumanity of detention.”

The closure of the Verne

In October, the Government announced that the Verne would close at the end of 2017. As we argued at the time, this is a welcome first step towards detention reform, but a far more fundamental and radical change is long overdue. As shown in the latest statistics, the number of people in detention has not gone down and there has been no change in the UK’s trend of long-term detention. With or without the Verne, thousands of people will still be detained indefinitely in the UK.
On Sunday morning, a 27-year-old Iraqi man died at Morton Hall – the tenth person to die in detention this year. The closure of the Verne does not change the fact that we urgently need systemic reform.
The need for change is clear in Juan’s powerful poem, posted on the blog this week. Juan was detained in the Verne twice, for three months altogether. He wrote this poem in response to the news of its closure. Near the end, he says:
I am pleased to hear that the Verne is closing.
But for those of us that have already experienced it, it will always be open.
This is the real meaning of indefinite detention.
Detention is a demon that stays with you forever.

I am a man and I don’t know how it is to walk alone as a women in the street but I have many female friends and when they explain their fear, it sometimes feels familiar to me.
When you have experienced detention, you walk every day with the experience on your back.
It is a trauma that follows you everywhere.
You are always looking behind you.

… All we can do is speak out – about the pain, and the cruelty, and the alternatives.”

Trafficked into detention

This week also saw the launch of new research from Detention Action: “Trafficked into detention: How victims of trafficking are missed in detention.” The report shows that trafficked people in detention are being denied the full protection of the Home Office’s flagship system for protecting victims of modern slavery.
The report identifies the structural factors contributing to the failure of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to identify, advise, support and eventually release victims of trafficking in detention. One such factor is the Home Office’s conflict of interest between its responsibility to identify and protect victims of trafficking and its role in detaining and removing undocumented migrants.

On the blog this week, Susannah Wilcox of Detention Action describes their findings, and how they came to light through Detention Action’s casework. As she explains,
“Our work is driven by the stories people tell us about the barriers and frustrations they face while detained indefinitely.
One of the stories that has emerged over the last few years is about the difficulty that people in detention face in gaining advice, support and recognition of their experiences of trafficking.”

How does the detention of a parent affect their children?

The impact of detention extends far beyond any one individual. Writing for #Unlocked17 this week, Nick Watts of the charity Migrant Family Action summarises a range of evidence relating to the impact on children when a family member is detained. Concluding that, “we can quite safely say that the impact of immigration detention on children is huge”, he then explains what can be done in this situation to support children affected. 

#TheseWallsMustFall Manchester

This year, Unlocking Detention is trying to shine a light on the many actions that people are taking to challenge immigration detention. On the blog this week, Luke Butterly of Right to Remain reported back on a recent campaign event of These Walls Must Fall which took place in Manchester.
Human rights campaigners, union members, migrant rights groups, political representatives and other members of the public came together to hear from experts-by-experience and others about the harms of indefinite detention, and to discuss what they can do to locally challenge detention.

Yarl’s Wood inspection report

This week, while #Unlocked17 visited the Verne, the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons released their report on their latest independent, unannounced inspection of Yarl’s Wood. According to the report:

  • At the time of the inspection, 15 people had been held for between six months and a year and one had recently been held in detention for more than three years.
  • Nearly 70% of those detained were released back into the community.
  • One in five of those in detention had been assessed by Home Office to be ‘at the higher levels of risk’. In several cases, detention was maintained despite the acceptance of professional evidence of torture.

The report repeats its recommendation from 2015, calling for a strict time limit on the length of detention.
You can read our response here.

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.     
The Verne has been a place of detention for well over a hundred years.  In 2014, it was changed from an adult prison to an IRC capable of housing up to 580 male detainees, although still run by HM Prison Service. The Verne Visitors Group (VVG) was initiated as a response to this development, and has built up a group of around 30 visitors. We have also initiated a programme of public awareness of the realities of immigration detention to address the distortions propagated by media reports and as a result of the government’s creation of a ‘hostile environment’.  In early October 2017, the Home Office announced out of the blue that The Verne would be closing as an IRC and reverting to a prison.
For the purposes of Unlocking Detention, it is helpful to convey some of the particular characteristics of The Verne. In one sense, its location is thoroughly consistent with the ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ strategy deployed by the Home Office to reduce public awareness of the realities of immigration detention. Yet at the same time, it could hardly be more visible to the regular streams of cars, walkers and super-fit cyclists who go through the intimidating access tunnel and pass right under its massive walls. So the conundrum has been “Do people know what goes on behind these walls? Do they even want to know? And if not, why not?”
In the national context, The Verne’s isolated location has made the experience of detention even more harmful than it is elsewhere.  A succession of reports have emphasised how the long, complicated and expensive journey involved in getting there impacts on visiting rates, leading to an even greater sense of separation from their families, friends and local communities. Time and again, our visitors have seen how this extra factor exacerbates the already appalling effects of indefinite detention. So as a group, our primary objective has always been to listen to, empower and support detainees and to offer a friendly point of contact with the outside world.
Moreover, the location has had another, perhaps even more pernicious effect. Local legal firms lack the kind of specialised expertise necessary for immigration/asylum/detention cases – and have not shown any enthusiasm about acquiring them. Those legal firms from outside the area which do have the necessary expertise are constrained by the cuts in legal aid, along with the time required to undertake the kind of actual face to face meetings which can be essential in complicated cases. So despite the steadfast commitment of Detention Action through its monthly casework sessions, of BID, Medical Justice and other agencies, The Verne has been a ‘legal desert’ throughout its existence.
The cumulative effect of these factors is described by one of the founder members of the VVG as follows:

Frustration, disempowerment and deterioration in morale have been common elements in the different people I have visited over three years, caused by the fact of detention, the impasses, delays, muddles and misrepresentations – deliberate or not – that are the day to day reality of nearly every individual case and the Home Office’s and judicial system’s response to it. Above all, there is the limbo of uncertainty about the length of detention, and the remoteness of contacts with those involved with their case. Immigration detention for alleged immigration irregularities is for administrative purposes, detainees who have committed no crimes are humiliated by being effectively imprisoned, those who have committed crimes have already served their time and are still not free.

The complementary activity of our group has been to challenge the prevailing attitudes about immigration and detention in the local Dorset community. Part of this has always been just to talk to friends, local colleagues, in the pub, about immigration detention and why we have chosen to be visitors. Our widely shared experience of this is meeting initial incredulity, especially around indefinite administrative detention –“Surely the government can’t do that!” This kind of conversation at least provides a starting point; on a more organised level, our public meeting in Dorchester on ‘Stolen Lives’ in February this year,  where Giles Fraser from the Guardian spoke,  attracted a standing room only audience.  This demonstrates that despite the challenges, there is potential for change. As another of our visitors has pointed out, it is essential to get across the message that:

People don’t fit neatly into boxes. They are always more than a failed asylum seeker, a visa overstayer, a foreign national prisoner, sometimes they are two or three of those at the same time. I have met many ‘foreigners’ who were not so foreign at all, having spent most of their live in the UK, people whose asylum application kept being refused only to be accepted after years of suffering. Students who had to stay after the visa expired because they were afraid to go back. All those categories are blurry. They are not just migrants, they have families, they are loved, they are full of memories and sometimes regrets, some experienced suffering or homelessness, some are victims of torture and abuse, some of them are ill, some are great story tellers, some become friends.

So where is the VVG at this point in Unlocking Detention?  Our members are determined to carry on visiting until the very end but our future is as yet unsettled. One point of agreement is that we will not simply be giving up.  As our group photo shows, ‘Verne Closes – Unjust Detention Continues’. And as the moving interview with ‘Juan’ on Monday of this week expresses it;

I am pleased to hear that the Verne is closing.
But for those of us that have already experienced it, it will always be open.
This is the real meaning of indefinite detention.
Detention is a demon that stays with you forever

Ruth Jacobson is a Committee Member of the Verne Visitors Group, but has written this blog in her individual capacity.

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.  
It started with an exploding goat in a dry and dusty land, and now this citadel in the mist is more of a home than the occupant’s land of birth. Within the damp ancient walls are more stories than the very stones that make up this fortress… and many will stay there undisturbed shrouded in pain and fear, leaving behind only a fervent wish, as the door closes behind those that get to leave, that they will remain undisturbed.
You do not see the freedom of the sunset on the ocean. Do you hear the constant roar of the sea as it throws itself upon the stony beach so far below? Rattling stones like the jailors keys and leaving abandoned dreams upon its shore.

I look up to see the blind bird upon the ramparts, swathed in the sinister glint of razor wire, a memory of another far-off place for me. What hopes, and dreams are stranded here strangled by the lioness of fear?
And yet we nod to the jailers who have no real prisoners. Laugh in the garish airy room, a hint that this is a façade – that we all will maintain. Yet for you this is an escape of sorts, from the dark and oppressing innards of this grisly fortress. Never knowing what the clang of a door may portend, the visitor’s lounge offers a temporary reprieve.
So, we don’t always talk about the silent birds that wheel so far above, but laugh the deep belly laughter that always seems at odds with the desperation of those around us; but it is your escape from the dread and anxiety that is your shadow. Finding humour in the long fall of the coke bottle from the inanimate machine that reluctantly dispenses refreshments lurking in the corner. Our ritual.

Sometimes we wave out the window at my life waiting patiently for me out on the grass, in the sunshine, but mostly we talk of life lessons, and things that don’t matter or matter so much that I shed a tear. But you are learning how easily I shed tears in the face of your deep scars and your openness in attempting to heal them.
The sticky tables, the bored watchers and always the bright chairs with their layer upon layer of stories, lives and journeys – none started here and few end here.
One day you will stand on the ramparts and experience the openness of the ocean and the freedom of the wind and you will step away into a different future.
But until then, I will make the journey up the hill to this other world where people are forgotten and the black shirts hold all the power. Where the flag taunts all those that enter here.
The journey back down the hill is always easier. Back down to the island that unwittingly hosts a cruel, cultural diversity that cannot hope ever infiltrate its shores.

“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.

The Verne is closing but for those of us who experienced it, it will always be open
By Juan, from Freed Voices.  

Last week I had an appointment with my therapist.
I see them for PTSD.
I have trauma from my time in the Verne.

As I left my therapy, I searched for the address of where I had to go for a volunteer interview but I soon realised I had lost it.
I went home to get it and on my way, I passed through a park.
I was stopped by a police officer.
He asked me if I smoked or sold drugs.
It was 11am.
I said no.
He asked why I was here at this time.
I explained I was coming from my therapist.
He asked for my status.
I explained my case was ongoing.
He said he needed to search me and took my I.D.
I said I wanted to call my solicitor.
He said there was no need.
He made a quick telephone call and then he said that we would need to go to the police station.
He said the Home Office would come and see me there.

In that moment, I felt an extreme panic.
For a second, I thought I would die there and than in the park.
All I could think about was the Verne.
I felt the walls were closing in on me again
I felt like I was falling down, down, down, down…

I have been to the Verne twice before.
Altogether, I was detained there for three months.
All I knew was that I would have preferred to die in that park then go back .

The officer put me in handcuffs like a criminal.
Even now my wrists are burning.
They took me to the police station.
They took my belongings.
They did not let me call my solicitor.
They took a police photo of me and my fingerprints.
They put me in a small cell with a bright, UV-light.

After two hours, an immigration officer came in.
He made the room feel very cold.
He said I had not complied.
I explained my medical situation.
He said he needed to speak to his superior.
He said one of two things would happen:
One – I would be released.
Two – I would be taken back to detention.

Just thinking about the Verne makes me think of death.
So many people have died inside detention – 31 now.
The Verne is a cemetery for hope.
I don’t see how I would survive a fourth time in detention.
You are cut off from the rest of the world there.
You are completely isolated.
You are waiting to die.
It is inhumane.
It is a torture.

When the immigration officer said detention, my heart started beating very, very fast.
I starting to crash.
My head went blank.
My legs started to feel very weak.
I lost control.
I felt like an old cancer had returned to my body after a period of remission.

I was in this kind of state for the next two hours before they released me.
I went to a friend’s house that night.
He hugged me the whole night I was so scared, I could not stop shaking.
I did not want to go out on to the street again.

I am pleased to hear that the Verne is closing.
But for those of us that have already experienced it, it will always be open.
This is the real meaning of indefinite detention.
Detention is a demon that stays with you forever.

I am a man and I don’t know how it is to walk alone as a women in the street but I have many female friends and when they explain their fear, it sometimes feels familiar to me.
When you have experienced detention, you walk every day with the experience on your back.
It is a trauma that follows you everywhere.
You are always looking behind you.

I think a part of me died in detention.
I am different person now.
The abuse in that factory changed me – I have a different identity.
Sometimes I can say ‘ok, pick yourself up now, keep going, move forward.’
Other times, I stop and say ‘wow, I really miss who I used to be.’

Detention does not just change the way people see migrants.
Detention also changes the way that migrants see ourselves.
That is the horror of detention, for me.

I am finding strength in the community of people around me and the other members of Freed Voices.
These kind of triggers release a lot of emotions and they are a family that can share and absorb them.
They are helping me find my feet again.
For how long, I don’t know.

All we can do is speak out – about the pain, and the cruelty, and the alternatives.
All we can do is speak out – about the pain, and the cruelty, and the alternatives.

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.  
Detention centres feel permanent.  There is nothing like the experience of visiting a detention centre, confronting the walls and locked doors and razor wire, to give a doomy sense of inevitability.
All the more so when the detention centre you are visiting is The Verne, a three hour train journey and half hour taxi ride from the scrutiny of Parliament.  Its symbolism could hardly be more crushing – after you leave the spectacular causeway of Chesil Beach, the taxi takes you onto the Isle of Portland, a seeming enclave of extraterritoriality.  A mile out into the Channel, inside the peak of the closest Dorset gets to a mountain, five hundred migrants are locked away.
It is a journey that Detention Action staff and volunteers have been making to hold advice surgeries every month for nearly four years, since it opened.
Yet last week, the Home Office quietly announced that The Verne will close by the end of the year.  It will revert to its former identity as a prison, less than four years after the Home Office instilled the extra razor wire to adapt it to detain migrants.  By January, every night around 500 fewer people will bed down to sleep or insomnia in a British detention centre.
Why is the Home Office closing its second largest detention centre?  The official explanation is that the detention estate is to be consolidated around the main airports. This is undoubtedly accurate – there was an aborted attempt last year to close the remote Dungavel detention centre in Scotland and replace it with a small short-term holding facility at Glasgow Airport.
But it isn’t the full story, unless consolidation is understood to also mean reduction.
Indeed, the then Immigration Minister last year promised that fewer migrants would be detained, for shorter periods.  It hasn’t happened, until now (although Dungavel closure would have helped, if planning permission hadn’t been refused).  But the political momentum for change has not gone away.
The Minister was responding the first review of welfare in detention by Stephen Shaw, ordered by then Home Secretary Theresa May following the scathing indictment of detention by a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry.  Shaw did not mince his words, describing the treatment of mentally ill people in detention as ‘an affront to civilised values’.  Neither did he attempt to separate welfare from detention policy as a whole, condemning the scale of detention and the lengths of time migrants are held.
Unfortunately, since the former Minister’s statement, neither the numbers of migrants detained, nor lengths of detention, have gone down.  Detention remains unreformed.
It is an unsolved problem that has suddenly become a high profile political problem again, in the wake of the appalling abuse revelations of the BBC Panorama documentary on Brook House.  The sustained media focus on detention coincided with three more people dying in detention.  Last week, the High Court found unlawful an aspect of the Home Office’s flagship adults at risk policy, its main response to the criticisms of the Shaw Review.  And only yesterday, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission demanded an independent inquiry into the issues raised by the Panorama documentary, including the Home Office’s use of private contracts and the impact of indefinite detention, and threatened to launch its own investigation.
All of this is happening at the worst possible time for confidence in the detention estate, because Shaw has just begun his follow-up review of Home Office progress.  He is unlikely to be impressed.
This is ultimately a political problem for a Government that can ill afford any more political problems.  The follow-up Shaw Review was promised following unprecedented parliamentary pressure for wholesale detention reform during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016.  The Government was twice defeated in the Lords on amendments that would have introduced a time limit for the first time, in line with the rest of Europe.  Led by parliamentarians who had been involved in the inquiry, both Houses gave Ministers a thorough grilling.  Compromise amendments, introducing a time limit for pregnant women among other things, were accompanied by promises that detention reform was in hand, with Shaw providing the oversight.
So detention is now a real problem for the Home Office.  It cannot afford Shaw to conclude that nothing significant has changed, giving further encouragement to the Lords to derail the coming Brexit immigration bill.  It knows that the political pressure will not go away, having been cultivated over many years by the Detention Forum’s broad and durable civil society alliance.
Indeed, detention reform could end up being an object lesson for anyone doubting that passionate, principled parliamentarians can change anything.  Given that one or two other things have been happening in politics lately, it has been astonishing how our allies in Parliament from all the main parties have continued to keep up the pressure.
In politics, it is easy to win the argument and lose the war.  So often, momentum and small wins fail to add up to radical reform.  The coming months are an unprecedented opportunity to convert those wins into major and lasting change.  Immigration will not completely go away as a political hot potato, but we can begin to build a fairer and more humane system that doesn’t have to depend on damaging and routine immigration detention.  We have set out in our report Without Detention how this can happen.
But for any change to happen, people demanding that change still need to come together and build a much bigger voice to capture the attention of the government.  The ongoing Unlocking Detention is the perfect online opportunity – join us.

Week 2 of #Unlocked16: The Verne

This week, Unlocking Detention visited The Verne, perhaps the most isolated of the UK’s detention centres.

The Verne opened as a detention centre (“immigration removal centre”) in 2014, and has 580 bed spaces.  Only men are detained here.  The centre is on the Isle of Portland, off Weymouth in Dorset.

The Verne is notorious for its high usage of segregation, but it is also isolating in many other ways.

On Friday, we conducted a live interview with Mark who is currently detained in the Verne.  When asked what his first thoughts were on arrival at the Verne, Mark replied:

And the Verne’s beautiful setting is small comfort to those detained there.

Read the full interview with Mark
The Verne is the least visited detention centre depsite being one of the largest.
https://twitter.com/McGinleyAM/status/789379806865395712

There are just 0.2 visits per detainee each month.  (The infographic below is from Phil Miller’s excellent article on The Verne here).

There are visitor groups working hard to combat this isolation – both the Verne Visitors Group and Detention Action regularly visit the centre.

The Verne’s History

The Verne has an interesting history …

The Verne remained a prison until 2014, when it became a detention centre, but still looks and feels like a prision (and is run by the Prison Service).

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