Last week we launched our new report – ‘The State of Detention‘ – and also rolled our the first self-advocacy training session of our Community Support Project (more to come on this). In this extract from the report, Hamid, a member of our Freed Voices group, speaks out about the importance of exploring other options to detention – ones which do not assume coercion and enforcement as presuppositions of immigration control. A version of this article was also published on the Unlocking Detention website in support of the Detention Forum’s Unlocked tour of the UK’s detention estate.
In the three and a half years I was in detention, I was visited twice by the Home Office – first, they took my fingerprints and then to take my photo. That was it. They gave me no reasons why I was at Harmondsworth IRC or how long I would stay. The monthly reports they sent me just said they were waiting to hear back from the Iranian embassy. But I knew that without passport or ID card, the Iranian embassy would not give them travel documents. I knew it, the embassy knew it, the Home Office knew it, everybody knew it. The Iranian embassy even closed and they still kept me locked up! I could not understand why I was not being released. I co-operated from day one. I started to think the Home Office were evil and torturing me on purpose. I tried to understand their reasons but I could not find any. It did not make sense. I remember thinking to myself that ‘there must be another way’.
When I was finally released from detention I felt lost. I felt scared. I had been isolated so long I couldn’t look people in the eye. I was so used to only ever moving a few metres this way or that, I found it difficult to walk any more than that. The Home Office had turned off my brain for three and a half years, so I had trouble reading. Even basic street or shop signs.
After a few months I got involved in Detention Action’s ‘Freed Voices’ project. Slowly, session by session, I started to feel better. I felt supported. My asylum case was ongoing and Detention Action helped me find a solicitor and explained the process. They put me in touch with other organisations that offered different kinds of help. I started to go to church and talk with people there. My brain switched on and my confidence started to come back. With this structure around me I did not abscond and I did not re-offend.
Last week, almost fifteen years after I first claimed asylum, I won the appeal on my fresh claim. When I look back it is still very difficult to understand why I was ever in detention during this period. Even the Home Office do not seem to know. Earlier this year, they offered me tens of thousands of pounds in financial compensation. They admitted that my detention was unlawful. So why did they do it then? They knew I could not go back. They have lost lots of money, I have lost my mental health. So who won? I did not need to be locked up for them to telephone the Iranian embassy every few months. With support and structure, I could have been adding to society. That way, everyone would have benefited.
Detention Action’s new ‘Community Support Project’ is trying to build on the ‘Freed Voices’ pilot. I think it can provide even stronger evidence that there is ‘another way’. It can add to the debate on alternatives to detention. I am happy to hear the UN and some UK political parties are already talking about these options. I am happy to hear the first Parliamentary Inquiry on Detention is looking into it too. But the public doesn’t know anything about this debate. Many don’t even know about detention, full-stop. We need to educate them.
Only then will they be able to ask politicians the million-dollar question: if detention does not work, and there are better and cheaper alternatives, why is the UK government still putting people in detention?
I think it is because detention in the UK is Big Business.