Last Friday, organisations from across the country gathered in London for the Detention Forum’s Strategy Day on #Time4aTimeLimit to plot how we were going to win the campaign to end indefinite detention in the UK. It was an inspirational and hugely encouraging day, full of shared-learning, positive examples of creative campaigning and workshops on lobbying for a time-limit and communicating our key messages. But the day was anchored in the human suffering at the heart of the issue and was guided by the words of those people directly affected by it. Among them, was Souleymane. This is his story of indefinite detention in the UK – and the message is clear:
I was in detention for three and half years.
At first, I would look for signs it would end. I would get hopeful when I saw my solicitor or when other people were released. Or when they took me to the embassy. But slowly that hope faded into the walls around me.
After one year, the waiting got too much. I had rejected the Home Office’s offers to sign for voluntary return many, many times. But just waving goodbye to the days had become too hard. It was a tough decision, but I actually felt great relief after I did it – ‘at least I can have control of my own destiny again’, I said to myself.
I thought my hell in detention would end there and then. But I waited a week and heard nothing. Silence. Another week. They told me they were waiting on travel documents. Another week. Another week. Another week. Another week…Indefinite detention.
Lots of people around me collapsed mentally. They cut their wrists or hung themselves. They couldn’t take the endless not-knowing. They couldn’t take the sense of hopelessness that is the younger brother of indefinite detention – it’s always following it around, the two come together.
I gave up thinking about life outside of Colnbrook. I told myself ‘Colnbrook is your home now – that is the only way to survive’. My cell became my bedroom. The canteen became my kitchen. When I look back now, it’s crazy to think how normal it became to be locked up at night, every night.
Those three and half years in detention served no purpose.
For me, not having a time limit had a huge impact on my mental health. The stress and anxiety of indefinite detention is unimaginable. When I was released it was like coming out of a cave. I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t trust anybody. I still have to fight hard to not think back to that mental torture.
For the taxpayer, it’s also a huge waste. I personally cost the taxpayer over £175,000. For what? That same money could have been spent on a caseworker, to work with me while my claim was assessed in the community. It could have been spent on the community.
For the government too, indefinite detention does not work. They tell me the policy is there to help stop re-offending and absconding. But after two, three, four years in detention, you are a mess when you come out. I remember the first time I had to go and report to sign at Beckett House after I had been released – I was so terrified of being returned to detention, I almost didn’t go.
We need changes. We have to put detention on trial. The current system does not work – for anybody. I will never get those three and a half years back, but there are others in detention, who have also been there for years. And the clock is still ticking for them.
It is time for a time limit on detention.