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Over 30,000 people were locked up in the UK last year – but not because they had committed a crime. They were trying to apply for the right to stay in this country. They had the misfortune to enter a system that uses detention in prison-like conditions as an administrative tool.
Immigration detention is nothing new – but this year, we have an opportunity. There is a parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention. There is a general election. If public opinion turned strongly enough against the current practice of locking up innocent people for years at a time, there would have to be a reaction.
Five years ago, at the last general election, The Forum was part of a coalition of organisations that fought for a commitment to end the immigration detention of children and their families. People up and down the country used the election as a chance to lobby MPs and political parties. Numbers of children in detention dropped from over 1,000 to less than a hundred. The policy became law and there is now independent oversight of the family removals process.
The countdown to the general election is on, and with a collective push we could yet make change for those still in immigration detention. That’s why The Forum is supporting Citizens UK’s Sanctuary Pledge 2015, which calls for a time limit on detention. That is why we are submitting evidence to the Detention Inquiry and why we are working with other organisations such as Detention Action and the Detention Forum to lobby for change.
To recognise the courage and strength of those who have been in detention and are speaking out to make change, we have invited our member and guest blogger Penny Keza to share her thoughts from detention.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AS A FORMER DETAINEE
by Penny Keza
Liberty of a person and freedom of movement are fundamental principles of liberal democracies, protected in all international and regional human rights instruments (Article 1 of the international convention of human rights and fundamental freedoms – 1950).
Detention, however, constitutes an interference with this right, defined as “the deprivation of liberty in a confined place such as a prison or purpose built closed reception centre or holding facility in which the asylum seeker is not at liberty to leave”.
Immigration detentions are at the centre of tensions between the interest of the state to control immigration and the individual’s right to liberty – an asylum seeker poses a challenge as an individual potentially deserving of international protection but who awaits a final determination of their right to remain.
To my personal understanding, people’s liberty should not come at a price. Everyone should expect the same standard irrespective of colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or age.
A short tale from my own personal experience
It was one sunny Thursday morning back June 2007; I had gone to do my normal chores as I had done for about two to three months. I was assisting a friend who owned an Internet cafe run it in some managerial duties. That fateful day, as I was tending to the cafe, I was approached by four gentlemen who informed me that they had a search warrant for the premises.
Lo and behold, when the search was over – the whole process lasted about 3.5 hours – I was taken into custody under the ruse of assisting the ‘police’ – what a shame! I spent almost two nights in the cells. The following evening, I was picked up and taken to what would become to me a home for the next 98 days – the dreaded detention centre, via a few other police stations.
I am usually an adventurous person, going where the action is but this experience turned out to be a negative one. When one is young, carefree and not constrained in any way, you feel as if the world is your oyster. My life, and others’ in detention, would turn out different.
I managed to reach the detention in one piece, having had episodes of hysterical laughs and tears. I left the police station on Friday at around 9:00pm, and arrived at the detention place on Saturday around 6:00am. A journey that normally takes less than two hours, on this adventurous exercise took us almost eight hours. By the time we arrived I had no sense of direction… I felt lost in a wilderness. I wished for death so that I would escape my misery but none came forth. Everything around me looked like a huge void, the people around seemed like beasts waiting to suck my blood like vampires.
An officer approached informing me that I was due to be deported. I asked her where to and her response was, ‘I thought you were aware’. Well, that would mark the beginning of a very long 98 days stay.
My first two weeks passed by in a blur; the program was made up of shower, eat, sleep; there was literally nothing to do – so you had to try and fill the void by either re-reading novels you had read a few times, feign a sickness and make up excuses of going to the healthcare services so that you may meet up with other people for a quick chat.
I went through a period of psychotic breakdown, I had to attend a number of therapy sessions to get to my senses. I went on a hunger strike, tried to commit suicide – all for the sake of trying to have my voice heard in the midst of the chaotic world.
There are both short and long term effects of detention. You might experience one or the other. I have personally experienced both. Most of the common effects ones include physical effects and mental ones like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD), depression, suicidal idealisations…
During the asylum seeking process, detentions are used at various stages including applications and during the reporting system which varies for different people: you can be required to report daily, weekly, monthly and more recently I have heard asylum seekers required to report twice per annum. Detention is also used quite a lot to facilitate deportations. In many European countries, deportation orders are issued concurrently with the initial rejection of the asylum claim. There is little evidence and statistics on how many asylum seekers are detained and for how long, however, there’s growing evidence that detention of asylum seekers is associated with substantial trauma-related mental health problems.
Asylum seekers often come from countries in conflict and many of us have experienced pre-migration adversities that may affect our health. The process of seeking asylum places additional demands on our lives. Some studies and research has established that the asylum seeking process may contribute to extreme high levels of stress and psychiatric episodes to those of us who have been previously traumatised.
Some other physical and mental health related issues include: psychiatric disorders, anxiety, depression, clinical, reflections on the detention centre environment including but not limited to – loss of liberty, uncertainty regarding return to countries of origin, social isolation, mismanagement of staff and officers, hunger strikes and self-harm, sleep disturbances including night terrors, disrupting behaviours among many others – to mention but a few.
The consequences of detention can be long-term impacting profoundly on all areas of life, mind, body and soul – regardless of whether one is allowed to stay or required to leave at the end of the whole process.
I have always said and will say it again: detention is a place I would not want my worst enemy to ever go through.
Life as a detainee, whether former, survivor or any other, is no life at all.
I have survived the worst; but today, if anyone mentions the word detention to me, my initial reaction is freezing, feeling like a sharp-cold block of ice has been dropped on my brain and all sense of dignity and worthfulness look for the nearest exit.
According to all that has been done in terms of research and studies, I am pretty sure that there should be alternatives to detention. A human being does not deserve to be detained without ‘good cause’ and if any – it should be limited to the minimal periods ever.
People – young and old, women and men are scared, crying from fear and anger. MPs have the power to give them the peace and love they deserve. It’s never an easy road from being called names (illegals, good for nothing, benefit scroungers to name but a few) – and it is a shameful world to live in. Someone out there has the capability to end this barbaric action once and for all; if you believe in doing right and if that is you, do not pass over this chance. It may be among the few things that you will be remembered by, the ball is in your hands – it’s time to do right.
Thank you. ‘Aluta-continua’.
The Forum is supporting individuals to submit evidence to the Detention Inquiry – if you need support to submit evidence by the 1st October deadline, please contact Jessica Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 896 4815