12 to 18 Oct – the Unlocking Detention team looks back on the week they visited Brook House detention centre, near Gatwick Airport.

Unlocking Detention visited Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, near Gatwick Airport.  This centre and another one nearby called Tinsley House, are visited and supported by our member, Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group.  They are also a member of our Indefinite Detention Working Group calling for a time limit on detention – well, you can tell that from their tweet, can’t you…

Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group’s report on mental health impact of immigration detention was very useful when navigating this week’s tour.

Thank you!

This was our third week and we were slowly getting used to being a “tour guide”.  The golden rule of the tour = use photos as often as possible.  Many of us are now too used to those imagines of detention centres and forget that that’s not necessarily the case for others.  We do need to take communicating detention more seriously and use more imaginative methods.

Brook House, like Colnbrook detention centre, is built to a Category B prison standard.  One person commented on the above photo that this looks like an IKEA prison.  Our impression is that it was never that bright inside…

We were also getting used to reading both the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) and the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons reports to find tweet-worthy material.  They are really a great source of information about the inner workings of the detention centres, and although it takes time (and many sections, after a while, read quite repetitive), we recommend you read one or two reports in full to get a real sense of what these reports convey.  By the way, we are increasingly fascinated by the different approaches and tones employed by IMBs.  At the end of the tour, we can probably write a book about it.

While these monitoring reports are important, it is personal testimonies, people’s accounts of immigration detention that make these numbers, statistics and descriptions come alive.  We were fortunate to be able to ask H, a young man who was detained in Brook House, to write a blog for our collaborative project with openDemocracy.  Each individual expresses their experience of immigration differently and uniquely, and that uniqueness of voice is also evident in H’s piece.  We are extremely grateful to an anonymous member organisation who facilitated this work and ensured that H was able to share his experience of detention in a safe and supported manner.  You can read H’s piece here.

We were moved by the comment under H’s piece, ‘Animals or slaves? Memories of a migrant detention centre’, someone sharing their own experience of losing their foster son to Brook House.  It said:

‘Years ago we visited Brook House to see someone we love. The visits proved traumatic and heart rending , we will never forget these experiences and our shock at finding ourselves and our foster son in such a dire and powerless situation. The sound of the planes flying above us were a constant reminder of the imminent loss and feeling of hopelessness. It is a place untouched by humanity or the need toshow respect to fellow human beings. Human rights do not exist. Many of the young people arrived in this country as children looking for safety, at the age of 18 they are deemed adults , ready to return to their previous broken lives with no support or consideration as to how they will survive. Most are treated as criminals (they become illegal!) and the ‘foster’ families that have nurtured and love them are ridiculed by the immigration service for continuing to care. The system abuses those who have suffered abuse and trauma, these youngsters have experienced war, seen death first hand and have been exposed to horrors we can only imagine. We just want a good life for the boys we have welcomed into our lives, we are proud of them and pray that all will be well and there will be no more visits to Brook House for us.’

Another strength of Unlocking Detention is that we are in touch with people who know things about detention that other people simply don’t know about.  So a blog piece about a visit to the Brook House isolation units provided an interesting alternative piece about the very physical space that has been such a controversial issue in that particular detention centre (Brook House has been repeatedly criticised for its excessive use of isolation).

Now our selfies.  We were never sure our selfie campaign would attract attention.  Unlocking Detention team did have a long debate about this and to be frank, the team was somewhat skeptical.  But it seems to be working and we are getting many selfies now.  Here’s one from our member organisation, Migrants’ Rights Network.

Getting such a lovely selfie from Don at MRN made us happy.  But selfies sent to us by organisations and groups that we do not know very well have been making us EXTREMELY happy.  This one is by DOST (@DostCentre).

These selfies make us realise that the impact of detention if felt outside the gates of the detention centres.  How can we tap into these groups’ willingness to stand up against it into action that does change and eventually end immigration detention?  It is a million dollar question.  In the meantime, we hope that our selfie cards make it easier for many other individuals and organisations to voice their concerns and challenge immigration detention.

We really want you to join in the campaign, so here’s more info on how to send us your selfies.

One of the reasons for doing Unlocking Detention is to ensure that the Detention Inquiry continues to attract interests from others and also that the inquiry panel understands how strongly many of us feel that immigration detention is unacceptable.  We hope to tweet more about the Detention Inquiry during the tour, and thank you to CSEL for sharing their tweet with the hashtag, #unlocked.

We were also able to make friends over Twitter and through our work to help the Detention Inquiry.  One such organisation is Regional Asylum Activism North West, who wrote for us their experience of collecting evidence for the Detention Inquiry in Manchester and Liverpool. You can read their blog here.  We would like to thank them for contributing to our tour but also engaging other local groups to work together on these important topic.

We hope you can see from the above that it was a rather busy week!
By Unlocking Detention team