26 Oct to 1 Nov – the Unlocking Detention team looks back on the week they visited Harmondsworth detention centre, right beside Heathrow Airport.

Our Harmondworth week started with ominous news, which only confirmed the UK government’s commitment to ‘Hostile Environment’ to make immigrants’ lives as difficult as possible.  The only difference, this time, is that it is played out on the Mediterranean. And the hostility meant simple deaths – no rescue if migrants drowned during their passage to Europe.

‘Did someone turn the lights of civilisation out?’ ‘Have we lost our sense of common humanity?’ People were asking the same question that we posed, when the long term hunger striker, Isa Muazu, was held in Harmondsworth detention centre.

While the above is an official image of Harmondsworth detention centre, the one many of us remember vividly is the one below.

The center literally being next to the runway of the airport, it’s difficult to escape from the sense of proximity to removals and deportations.

Harmondsworth week coincided with the week in which the second part of the appeal hearing of the Detention Action’s the Detained Fast Track litigation took place.

While Detention Action team was getting themselves ready for another day at the High Court…

… noisy, regular demonstrations continue outside the detention centre.

This was a particularly busy week, as far as immigration detention was concerned. Vice ran a great piece about the LGBT asylum seekers, many of whom end up being on the DFT.  Our member, UKLGIG was quoted in the piece below.

Another member, Refugee Action, published their report on immigration detention.  A beautifully written piece, Detention Breaks the Soul, by one of their volunteers, who was himself detained, appeared in Huffington Post.

Opposition to detention is spreading – and a community organising group, CitizensUK, organised a vigil to remember those who died in immigration detention at the end of the week.

Alois Dvorzac, who died in handcuffs in Harmondsworth, was one of the people who was remembered at the vigil.  He was 84 years old and was suffering from Alzheimer.

There was a call for action…

…and this was the result of the vigil. The candles are laid out to show a clock – for a time limit.

Although the start of the week was pretty depressing, we were heartened by more support for Unlocking #Detention.  There was a really great group selfie…

… and the first time ever, one of our followers used our selfie card for their Twitter profile photo!  We were stunned (in a good way)!  Thank you, Kim!

There was also a thoughtful and much-needed piece of writing which appeared on openDemocracy, dissecting the consensus around the figure of “foreign criminals”.  Many people who are labeled “foreign criminals”, having finished their sentences, languish in immigration detention centres waiting for deportations which sometimes do not take place for years – or ever.  We tend to use the terminology of foreign national ex-offenders if we need to; as Luke points out, “foreign criminals” is the catch-all phrase that has come to embody the contemporary norm = foreigners must be excluded at whatever the cost or the circumstances.  We also need to face up to the fact that some only oppose immigration detention of asylum seekers and not of foreign national ex-offenders.  For them, these “foreign criminals” are an inconvenient fact which contaminates the “deserving asylum seekers are unfairly detained” narrative.

When tweeting constantly about detention, it’s easy to feel gloomy and depressed.  So when someone spontaneously shared a good news using the hashtag of #unlocked, it felt really good and positive.  Thank you, Ben!

Looking back, lots happened during this Harmondsworth week.  The most moving thing that happened this week, however, was a letter to Harmondsworth written by Sharif who was detained there for three months, which we published on our website.  In the letter, he asks over 30 questions – knowing very well that he will not get any answers.

If you have any answers to Sharif’s questions, please do tweet at us.
By Unlocking Detention Team