This week, members of Detention Action’s Advisory Panel joined members of Detention Action staff at a APPG on Refugees event about detention held in Parliament. In this piece, long-time member Frank, reflects on the day and his feelings about what needs to happen next in the fight to end indefinite detention in the UK.
I was excited to go to Parliament. I was counting down the days before the APPG on Refugees event on Tuesday. I wanted to see how far our message – of ending indefinite detention – had got with those people in power. I wanted to see how understanding they would be of my story and of the experiences of other members of the Advisory Panel.
Even being in Westminster, taking my picture by Big Ben (see above), walking through the lobby, seeing the statues of former ministers – it all gave me hope. You got the feeling you were in a place where things get done. I was encouraged to see so many people at the event and excited to hear the panel speak.
Sarah Teather MP introduced the event by reminding everyone of the UK’s terrible record on detention. The UK is one of the only countries in Europe without a time-limit. It made me think about how happy I was when I first came here. I had grown up with an image of the UK as a country that respected human rights. I could have gone to Canada but I came here because I thought I would have freedom. That didn’t last very long for me…
Sarah Teather was followed by Rachel Robinson from Liberty, who said that ‘57% of long-term detainees in 2013 were released’ and that their detention served no purpose. Well, I could definitely relate to that! I was put in detention in 2009 and they sent me to Harmondsworth, Colnbrook, Morton Hall, Dungavel, Brook House, everywhere. It was like a tour of the UK, just from behind closed doors. They finally released me in 2012. Those three years were completely unecessary. Those were a waste of my life and I can never get them back.
After Rachel, it was the turn of Meltem Avcil – another campaigner on detention and expert by experience after her time in Yarl’s Wood. She started by saying that the ‘trauma of detention’ will always stay with her. It made me think about the way detention affected people’s mental health, including my own. You felt trapped in a box. I had nightmares and flashbacks of my experiences in Congo. I saw people fall apart. I saw people become vengeful and depressed. Detention effects everyone, just in different ways. I remember one man smashing his head on the door for hours and hours and hours. I remember people shouting out at night. I remember the fear of getting your removal directions. Meltem also spoke about the Home Office’s attempt to remove her and it brought it all back to me – the plane, the beatings, shouting at other passengers for help, the handcuffs (which I still have marks from)…my poor friend Jimmy Mubenga.
Next it was Detention Action director, Jerome. He spoke about how radical the UK was to not have a time-limit on detention. For me, a time-limit on detention is both vital and a question of common sense. It does not work for people like me, who have been kept inside for no reason, never knowing when their suffering will end, only to be released. And it does not work for the government or the taxpayer either. It costs around £45,000 to keep one person in detention for a year. There are so many other uses for that money. It makes me very sad when I think about it.
After Jerome, it was Natasha Walter from Women for Refugees. She congratulated those MPs from different political parties, who were getting involved in ending indefinite detention. Especially when there is so much tension around migration at the moment. In response, Lord Dubs said: “I feel guilty. We in politics should have done more. Indefinite detention is against everything we believe in.” I was pleased to hear this – it gives me hope – but what I really need is for him to turn his guilt into action. There are lots of people that need persuading that don’t have a sense of guilt. Much worse, they don’t have any idea about detention or what it is doing to people!
After the speakers, there were questions and answers, and the Advisory Panel spoke about their time in detention. It can be difficult to talk about such traumatic experiences but we all feel we have to speak out so that others do not go through the same thing. We have a duty to inform people.
As one of my colleagues, Souleymane, said in his speech, ‘it is time to put the UK detention system on trial.’
Well, we are part of the evidence.