Speaking-out about detention: if you don’t, who will?

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Just over two weeks ago, Samphire held their annual conference at the Amnesty International Human Rights Centre in London. The theme this year was self-advocacy and the first keynote speaker invited to take the stage was Justice – a detention campaigner who joined the Freed Voices group earlier this year after being referred by Samphire following his release from The Verne. This was the second time Justice had given a public speech as a Freed Voices member; his first for an inter-faith event in Parliament. You can read his Samphire speech below: 

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My wife said I should do it.

I thought it would affect my case.

My wife said I should do it.

I thought I would be on TV and the whole England will see me as an ex-convict.

My wife said I should do it.

I was worried I didn’t really have any experience of public speaking.

My wife said I should do it.

I had never been to Parliament before – even the idea of speaking there made me nervous.

My wife said I should do it.

I was scared to go back to that place in my life – to talk about it in front of other people.

My wife said I should do it.

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She said to me: “Just imagine if speaking out changed someone else’s situation?”

She said to me: “If you don’t speak out about your time in detention, who will?”

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My name is Justice, and I am a member of the Freed Voices group.

Samphire were the ones who introduced me to Freed Voices when I was released, and I thank them for it.

Freed Voices are a group of experts-by-experience dedicated to speaking out about the realities of immigration detention in the UK.

Between us we have lost over 20 years of our lives.

I, myself, was detained for 6 months.

I want to spend the next few minutes to talk about my experience of speaking out about detention – why I did it? What it was like? Why I think it is important we all try and speak out, in our own way.

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I remember in my first Freed Voices session, members of the group had a conversation about who we speak out for when we speak out about detention.

We came to the conclusion that we speak out for ourselves…but also for other people too.

People still in detention…

People who can’t speak, for whatever reason…

People who have been deported…

For eachother…there in the room.

I left that session with a sense of shared responsibility.

And it changed the way I thought about telling my story.

Our story.

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At the end of the second or third session, we were asked if anyone wanted to speak at an inter-faith event in Parliament a few weeks later.

That’s when I came home and spoke to my wife.

I called in the next day to say, if there was still a slot, I was interested.

The week before, I wrote and practised my speech again, again and again – in front of my wife, in front of the TV, over the phone with the Freed Voices group.

The speech was going to be in Parliament on the same day as a vote on Amendment 84 of the Immigration Bill.

If it was passed, Amendment 84 would introduce judicial oversight to the detention system for the first time.

On the day itself, me and Ajay – who is here and also spoke that day – stood on a park-bench in Parliament Square and practiced our speeches in front of passers-by before we went in.

It relaxed me. I went in feeling prepared.

I felt confident as an expert on this issue – I have lived detention.

I knew that I knew more about it then all of the politicians and leaders in that room put together.

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When it got to the point of opening my mouth, I won’t lie though, I was still nervous.

But as I got going, it became it easy.

I remember looking out and seeing the other Freed Voices members in the audience.

It gave me an extra wind – I felt I had backup.

Afterwards, many people came up to me. Lots of people said well done.

But even better, several of the MPs and Lords said they would support Amendment 84 because of my speech.

That was the best bit – action, change. That’s why I opened my mouth in the first place.

I felt like I was directly challenging my own experience of detention.

Being in detention is like being in a cage on an isolated island – far away from the general public…

…let alone in a room with decision-makers.

You are made to feel voiceless.

And the Home Office like it best that way – when you are silent.

Well, it felt good for me to speak out, to tell my story, and to demand change in light of it.

It was actually a huge release.

Would I do it again? Well, I’m up here aren’t I..?

To finish, I think it is important we remember how very, very few people know about detention from someone who has experienced it first-hand.

And there is real power when an expert-by-experience stands up, speaks out, and demands change.

It’s not easy to do, and it might not be for everyone…that is important to acknowledge.

But it is also important to know that there are many different ways to speak out – it doesn’t just have to be in Parliament.

It can be through blogs, through social media, in one-to-one conversations.

And why speak out now?

Well, because Theresa May is the new Prime Minister.

She detained more people in her time as Home Secretary than anyone else in British history.

She painted those in detention as criminals and dangerous.

She made it her job to encourage racism towards migrants.

If we don’t control the narrative around detention, then people like her will.

Enjoy today – find out to about speaking out, learn about the different ways to speak out, explore the most suitable way for you.

Speak to those people that have done it, talk it over with your families and friends, get involved in the fight for detention reform.

Because, as my wife says: “If you don’t, who will?”