What gave you hope in the fight against detention in 2016, and how are you planning to use that hope in 2017?
In this piece, Ben du Preez, Campaigns Co-ordinator at Detention Action and ‘Unlocking Detention’ Co-Coordinator (alongside Lisa Matthews of Right to Remain) gives his thoughts.
There seems little point pretending these are not extraordinary and nightmarish times. So much so, it can sometimes feel as if disillusion, cynicism and defeatism took one look at 2016 and conspired to bury hope and imagination deep (deep) down in some underground bunker. Students of political despair will no doubt reflect on the last twelve months and conclude with great certainty ‘we’re doomed.’
In many ways, indefinite detention – as practised by this government – is designed to have precisely the same affect. It projects a message of powerlessness, that taking action is futile, that you cannot win. The Home Office would have you believe the incarceration of immigrants is inevitable and immutable. ‘Better just take what’s coming to you’. Despair in detention is often a loss of belief that any struggle is worthwhile.
And yet, many (many) times over the last few months, #Unlocked16 has felt like a direct rebuke to hopelessness and despair.
There’s been an important taking-stock of this year’s milestones – an end to the indefinite detention of pregnant women; introduction of judicial oversight into the detention estate for the first time; farewell tours for Haslar, Dover, Cedars, the Detained Fast Track; big community wins in Scotland; an emerging consensus for the need for alternatives across Europe. These are milestones that record how we can and do win but more importantly, act as providers of encouragement to keep going, to wake up and keep fighting tomorrow. #Unlocked16 has also seen much broader engagement in detention as a civil liberties and human rights issue beyond the usual faces – from the Royal College of Midwives to mainstream comedians, different kinds of actors are getting involved. Meanwhile, the open-source nature of Unlocking Detention has meant a coming together within the anti-detention movement itself (not least evidenced in the wide range of authors in this Reflection Round-Up) that champions collective power over factionalism.
But it is perhaps the discovery of personal power that really stands out.
On Thursday, I read Jose’s reflection piece – written just three weeks after he was interviewed for the live #Unlocked16 Q&A in Campsfield; just two weeks after he was released – and could not help but recognise a passionate joy familiar in many experts-by-experience I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Individuals who might have lost everything because of their incarceration but who have found agency, meaning, community and immediacy in speaking out about it. Meet any of the members of the #TheseWallsMustFall campaign, the Freed Voices group, Movement for Justice and countless other expert-by-experience groups fighting detention today, and you’ll hear it, smell it, feel it. It is infectious. As is the determination, sacrifice, patience, ingenuity and laughter that usually surrounds and supports it.
In turn, some of the #Unlocked16 moments that gave me the most hope were those that made me smile – when Kasonga’s interview with his best friend, Harsha, collapsed into giggles recalling how the former had tricked the latter upon his release, telling him he was still in Harmondsworth when he was actually standing on his doorstep; almost any live Q&A response to the question ‘What would you say to Theresa May if you met her?’; and when Mo finished dictating his piece on the Verne to me by singing ‘Let My People Go’ very loudly down the phone.
These instances fill me with hope because, in the face of asylum and immigration systems that aspire to make people feel fearful, alienated, and isolated, they are actually acts of great insurrection. Just as they do not deny the realities of detention they also do not betray the fight against it either – they sustain it. They help frame hope more as a state of mind than a state of the world.
And that is what I want to take forward into 2017: the idea that hope means another world might be possible – not promised, not guaranteed, but possible. And in the words of Rebecca Solint; “it is a hope that calls for action; just as action is impossible without hope.”