Detention Action and Detention Forum, along with the Regional Refugee Forum and North East Refugee Forum, held an open meeting in Middlesbrough on June 15th, 2015 to highlight the injustice and individual pain caused by the UK’s system of indefinite detention for immigration purposes. The UK is the only country in the EU that has detention without time limit, and people are held in detention centres on the instructions of a Home Office official, without trial, and without any judicial oversight. Here are some notes from the day’s event with thanks to Suzanne Fletcher.
Organisations who worked with those seeking sanctuary, people who had been in detention, and those who wanted to understand the situation more were there to hear first hand what experiences were, how they affected people, and then look at what could be done.
We heard from Abdal.
He had fled from his home country because of torture, and although he had committed no crime, and had over 263 scars from torture, he has been in every detention centre in UK.
He told of his experiences, being escorted to his cell, and the door shutting.
He gave the sad advice “Don’t make friends in a detention centre. You build a relationship. But then they are gone and replaced by another person. They go. You are left with nothing and it continues.
You are never told how long you will be there, just a month at a time. In total, 6 years of his life has been lost by being in detention. For no purpose.
“Indefinite kills”. He gave the example of a young man aged 19. When in detention they tried to make life for themselves, and when this young man arrived he was full of life despite everything. But the whole system got him down, and he wanted to end his life. Abdal advised him to “Keep faith in God”, which he tried to do, but then began to self harm. Abdal told the guards to watch out for his friend, but he did commit suicide.
Abdal told us how he fought all way to high court himself. Won and secured freedom.
But, he said “Detention never leaves you afterwards, every day, every time you hear keys. There are flashbacks. Recovery is very difficult indeed”
He found relief and comfort in having support in others. Knowing people care, and cried with joy when heard about the detention inquiry. “Detention destroys life, it benefits nobody”.
He said he was sorry for the unpleasant story and urged us all to fight till we see change.
To keep up the good work, keep on, work together.
Eiri Ohtani (Detention Forum) spoke about the work of the Detention Forum. She showed us a picture of how scary the entrance to The Verne detention centre is.
DF is a network of 30 different organisations to plan and campaign to end indefinite detention, end vulnerable people being detained, and improve conditions. She stressed how the Detention Inquiry was all party, based on evidence, and with key recommendation.
Jerome Phelps (Detention Action) talked about the All Party Parliamentary Group report on the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the UK published in March.
A radical report is not the usual outcome of an All Party Parliamentary Group. Theresa May is having her own enquiry but only about conditions and a cosmetic change is not the answer. Too many have been detained for too long. Many should not have been detained in first place.
Starting point is to have a time limit as every other country does.
Detention should be last resort not first when home office start thinking what to do.
Need to develop alternatives in the community. There is now a project based in Tyne Tees area.
International evidence shows this does work.
High court ruling re Fast Track – Detention Action are taking action to appeal
Pointed out there is LACK of judicial oversight, people are put into high security like conditions on the say of a junior civil servant. There is no independent oversight of your case.
“Darkest corner of our judicial system”.
The Report is a huge step forward.
Q and A Issues that came out:
When you come out of detention, nothing happens, there is no support, you are in limbo.
Even Australia gives alternatives to detention.
What is happening now ? Lib Dems and Labour have it in their manifesto. Tories might tag. Green and SNP said they wanted reform.
It is the first time the issue is high on agenda.
Future of APPG Report .don’t let it gather dust! But it is up to us now.
Immigration bill. New set of laws and discussion after summer.
We need to speak to local authorities. Some have been active. Do something on human rights day.
Ideas for Actions
Contact MPs and councillors.
Wider networks not necessarily connected with asylum issues.
Widen out. Such as Taxpayers Alliance, Women’s Institute.
Newcastle law centre have an intern we could use to co-ordinate action
Guy Oppenheimer may listen.
*ALWAYS TRY TO FILE A REPORT IF A MEETING with an MP.
There is a Social media event each year called UNLOCKED. That people can take part in.
Empowering the victim very important! They need to tell untold stories.
Tories now don’t have liberals for cloak of social respectability, so may succumb to some pressure.
Experiences of those who have been in detention:
“Been in three, nobody cares about you. More difficult to go for bail, just make up things to say not fit for bail. If argue in a block. Locked up between meals. Think I will just die here. Difficult to show you are cooperating. Must have a solicitor.” .
Many people don’t know about getting legal help or BID UK
Detention Action have a presence In all centres.
“Cannot use same solicitor if moved from Scotland to England which causes problems”
“Some solicitors work for Home Office as well but no choice as there are exclusive contracts”.
“More difficult for those who go straight into detention on arrival”.
“People are freed and don’t know where to go”.
Practical things if someone is about to be detained:
Can keep numbers on SIM card elsewhere in case the SIM card is taken off you.
Take your papers when signing on.
Keys to accommodation need to be with someone else.
Copy of documents somewhere safe.
Applications for JR can stop a removal
credit card sized info would be good to have to give to all asylum seekers who have had a refusal letter.
Role of cities of sanctuary? needs to be on agenda of their meetings.
Contribute to Theresa May report ? probably a good idea.
Doing things together. All organisations and people concerned need to do this.
In our hands.
AVID website has a list of all the support organisations.