We received this blog entry from Henry who is in Haslar Immigration Removal Centre.

My name is Henry, aged 53, and though of Nigerian and Sierra Leonean mixed parentage, I have spent the last 31 years of my life in the United Kingdom. I have a British wife, and two sons who were born here. I was arrested and detained since the beginning of Feb 2014 despite not having defaulted on anything for four years. I am considered a ‘risk to society’ by the Home Office because of a non-violent crime I committed, and served prison time for, 17 years ago. I have been detained in Haslar Immigration Removal Centre since March and on Wednesday I am due to be deported to a country I have not visited for 31 years and in which I have no family or friends. The following blog is part of my submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the use of Immigration Detention in the UK.

I feel we shouldn’t kid ourselves with fancy words. Immigration Removal / Detention Centres are prisons to all intent and purpose. The regime is prison affiliated and trained. Due to my experience, IRC is something I wouldn’t wish even on my worst enemy. I submit that we shut these centres down with immediate effect. No amount of revamp, restructure, amendment or similar, could change the principle behind it. However, if the final decision is to keep them then I suggest that the Home Office must be in a position to act within a maximum TWO weeks from the detention of a detainee; either deport or release the illegal immigrant from detention.

You may not believe it but it is actually more preferable serving a custodial sentence in a maximum prison than to be detained in an IRC. In a prison environment, one is focused on the fact that he or she has been found guilty of a criminal act and given a determinate sentence. This is not so with a so-called IRC. A person is locked up in a prison environment for not committing a CRIMINAL offence; this individual, who has never been in prison all his life and has never committed a criminal act, is committed to prison. To make it worse, the period of committal is indeterminate; it could be just six months or as much as and in excess of three years as has been in some cases!

The most painful thing about my incarceration which will live in my memory forever is that I am detained at a centre which is NINE hours away from my wife and six year old son. I did try on numerous occasions to apply to be moved to a centre closer to my family (my wife cannot sit still for medical reasons on a moving transport for more than two hours). All my requests were declined by the local immigration office. The reason given was that they had a blanket ban on transfers. Yet, I have known of cases where they transferred individuals they felt were risk cases from Haslar to either Brook House or far Dover.

Though I speak to my wife and son more than TWENTY times a day (and I do get frequent free calling credit from Friends Without Borders charity) it is never the same as seeing them, hugging them, crying with them, make jokes with them and sharing simple basic bonding; therefore each night I cry myself to sleep and pray to a God who seem to have deserted me at the age of 53 and hope for a better tomorrow. My sad conclusion is that detention in itself is very damaging to families and families left behind are more victims than the detainee.

At Haslar IRC, medical welfare is rated very high and the medical staff and healthcare officials appear to be doing their utmost best, under stressful conditions, clearly hampered by the limit they are allowed to go. The nurses, healthcare manager and attending doctors strive to do their best to support detainees. However, medical care is seriously lacking in all aspects of health caring of mentally challenged detainees. There are absolutely NO facilities for vulnerable detainees who have physical and emotional problems apart from the various NGOs and Charities like Friends Without Borders and IMB who, from all feedback appear to be doing a tremendous job within their physical capabilities. This is a serious failing that could spell major disasters.

Dolphin Way College, based within Haslar is the best thing that has and could happen to any detainee. They are a far cry from what I witnessed from four other detention centres where I was sadly detained (Harmondsworth, Colnbrooke, Brook House and Morton Hall). The teachers are absolutely fantastic and the few courses they offer are unequalled. I know of various individuals from non-English speaking EU nations, Africa and Asia who, after a few weeks became proficient in spoken and written English, IT, Arts, Music, Drama and a few other courses.

In-house legal assistance for immigration matters is non-existent and should be addressed in the spirit of British fairness. There is a sizeable proportion of detainees who are considered to be ineligible for legal aid, usually because they had used up their given eligibility prior to being detained and though their circumstances have changed, they are still regarded are non-eligible. There is a third significant proportion of the IRC population who cannot speak English and from my personal experience, they are completely ignored and suffer in silence. As a dormitory representative, they tend to approach me all the time seeking assistance with basic matters like how to fill in a legal form, how to explain the often inaccurate immigration monthly report given to them every month by the Home Office local representatives (good practise in Haslar IRC) and a few other simple minor legal issues associated with their immigration matter. At Haslar IRC, during some of our weekly meetings with the management, Home Office representative and others, I tabled this matter many times. The feedback from the Home Office staff was clearly impenitent, unrepentant, somewhat disheartening and perhaps truthfully harsh. They made it clear that their duty was to ensure we were all deported; as simple as that.

I then discussed this issue with the management staff and Education Department, though it was clear that neither could assist. According to their employment and contract agreement (which I sourced and read) they were not allowed to assist “us” with immigration or legal issues neither could the Education Department assist as they do not have the prerequisite Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) regulation. It was then suggested we approach the local CAB (Citizens Advisory Bureau) who clearly were neither trained on immigration advice nor are they specifically licensed or regulated to offer immigration advice by the OISC or the SRA (solicitors)! Moreover, one would have thought that the CAB was set up for the benefit of “citizens” as the name suggests and not for illegal aliens who may not have the same rights as the citizens. Catch 22, really! This is another aspect of IRCs I passionately consider to be unacceptable and heartless.

Again I submit that we shut these centres down with immediate effect. Although issues such as mental health care, legal representation and education are important and often problematic, nothing can truly improve the uncertainty and damage of detention for detainees and their families. However, if they are to kept then I suggest that the Home Office must limit detention to two weeks; then either deport or release the immigrant from detention. This is definitely better than locking up an innocent man or woman in a prison disguised with fancy words when he or she is not a criminal. This is better than denying someone his simple dignity and basic human rights of being with his family, all in the name of some biased, wicked, arrogant and uselessly faulty immigration rules and powers. This is what I call being British, being humane and being a leader in the fight against immigration offence. At the moment there are too many laws and not enough justice.