Detention centres are a place of misery for anyone who has fallen victim to Britain’s punitive immigration system.
These already oppressed and persecuted groups of people, fleeing violence, war and intimidation in their home country, arrive in Britain looking for safety.
Instead they face insecure housing, poverty benefits or detention and being hounded by immigration officers.
If their leave to remain is refused they are deported back to the country they are fleeing. Many are herded into detention centres where whole families can be held for months.
Almost 30,000 people, including 2,000 children, experience immigration detention every year. This can be in one of the 11 “immigration removal centres”, or in prison or police cells.
Although many immigration detainees have never committed a crime, they enter the criminal justice system with no laws on how long they can be locked up for, or an automatic bail hearing in court.
Some 70 percent of these people are asylum seekers.
A recent report by Bail for Immigration Detainees, a charity working with people in detention centres, uses interviews, individual cases and life stories to paint a horrific picture of detention.
Jenna was detained with her three children aged between seven and 11.
She told the report, “I know that there are rules that children are not supposed to be in detention long term, but I’m a typical example.
“My children were in Yarl’s Wood for more than 70 days.”
The traumatising effects of detention are widespread. Children develop nervous illnesses and self-harm is rife, particularly among women.
Helen, a failed asylum seeker, was being taken to a detention centre for the second time when she tried to commit suicide in the van.
She said, “I cut my arm but I did not feel the pain. I said I have fought a lot, and I can’t fight any more.”
David said, “I didn’t know what was going on; all my surroundings felt like a big cage around me, like somebody wants to do me harm. My conditions were getting the better of me.”
Selina said, “Sometimes it’s like somebody’s suffocating me, like I can’t breathe. Because every time
I just look at walls, walls. I want to be able to do things, I want to move.
“I don’t just want to be locked up here without doing anything. It’s like they are treating me as if I was a criminal, but I’m a normal human being. I’ve been here for almost three months now. I want to be free.”
Dorothy said, “To be detained is making my mind sick. The way that they are detaining me, it’s killing me. My mind is dead.
“There is nothing you can do, because the way they treat you sometimes, you feel as if you are not anything. You are nothing. The experience has changed my life.”
The rules in detention centres vary greatly, although there is no difference in who is sent where. Detainees often get moved around.
Bassam has been in detention for three and a half years in total, in over six detention centres.
The Home Office said it was for “operational reasons”—but this tactic is used to make people feel less secure and stop them from building relationships with fellow detainees.
Bassam said, “In some you’re allowed mobile phones, others not. Some have internet. But in fact in all of them we are locked in, we can’t go out, we are deprived of freedom in all of them.”
To read the Out of Sight, Out of Mind report go to » www.bid.org.uk