The Unlocking Detention team looks back on the week they visited Dover detention centre in Kent.
The Dover week was a busy week like other weeks, but this time with the Detention Inquiry’s second evidence session taking place on Thursday (and we also had our Quarterly Meeting, which always needs a lot of preparation…)

Many blog pieces came out this week, and we would like to thank all the contributors.

We had permission to republish this powerful piece by Abdelhay Tali, who was detained in Dover in the past.

If you go to his blogpage here, you can also see the map of the detention centre he drew.  You can also read other pieces he wrote about his experience of detention here, highly recommended.

One of our members, Samphire, which visits people held in Dover detention centre contributed this piece.  Immigration detention is a national policy but how the local residents who live side by side the detention centres see it must be unique to each area.

The photo they supplied was one of our all-time favorites…  You will see why.

There was this video…

It feels odd to see this detention centre, a modern evil created by modern states, located on this rather historic site.

Many of the criticisms made by the HMIP cluster around this fundamental ambiguity about the place – that it is a prison which is not supposed to be a prison.  It looks like a prison, it feels like a prison, those who work there treat it like a prison, but it is not a prison.  The outcome of this ambiguity is that migrants who are held there experience it as a prison, though the key aspect of prison sentences, as the knowledge of how long you have to stay imprisoned and counting down your days before release, is nowhere to be found.

For those of us who are not physically there in the detention centres, their sheer cruelty makes this feel unreal.  Why keep people in a place like that for administrative convenience of the state?  A tweet like this reminds us that, as we  dissect and pontificate ever more about immigration detention, many people are actually there, right at this moment.

In our work over the last few months – particularly our work encouraging more organisations to be involved in the detention inquiry – we have come to know many great organisations who are not specialising in detention as such but who knew so painfully what the long-term impact of immigration detention is on people.  Room to Heal was one of them, and we got talking about the ethics and difficulties of asking people to share their experience of detention.  We ourselves touched upon this issue here.  We were delighted to receive this contribution to Unlocking Detention from Room to Heal.

The fact that not everyone can speak out on detention should make those who make a living out of talking about detention, set policies and procedures about detention and carry out daily practices detention sit up. Most of them/us are very likely to be operating in the darkness, with a hazy idea of what detention really is.  There are many thousands and thousands of voices which will not be heard, even when a question, ‘What does detention do to you?’ is posed.

We ourselves heard from individuals who told us that their friends and peers were simply too afraid to talk about detention because they have been completely traumatized by their experiences.  One person told us how her friend who, having secured refugee status, is still unable to open the front door of her flat because she was worried that someone might come again to ‘get her’ to detain her.  The person said ‘My friend was detained for many years.  I think her mental health is getting worse and worse.  We keep on telling her ‘You’ve got your status, you don’t have to worry about detention.’, but it doesn’t make any difference to her’.

Another person said that he encouraged his friend to come and share his experience of detention so that the inquiry panel can learn from it.  He said ‘On hearing the word detention, my friend just froze.  He just couldn’t come.  He was just too scared to even think about it again’.
We think these voices, whether audible or not, are so important to the parliamentary inquiry panel.  That’s why we have insisted from the very beginning that people’s experiences must take the centre stage of the inquiry.  After all, organisations working on detention issues have always been vocal, have published many reports, briefing papers, consultation responses.  There is so much “official” evidence about detention already available.  We wanted to make sure during the inquiry that people who are detained or have direct experience of detention are not treated as dreaded “case studies” but real people whose lives experiences are valuable and who have something to say to the government.

We were pleased to be able to help our member, Waging Peace, bring one of their clients to Parliament on the day of the detention inquiry evidence session.  Mortada gave evidence to the panel, alongside with two people from the Migrant Refugees Communities Forum.

We were also assisting one more person to give evidence on the day, but he was not able to make it.  He was scheduled to give evidence from detention during the first oral evidence session in July, but unfortunately the phone connection didn’t work out and he missed his chance to speak to the panel.  Luckily he has now been released from detention and living in the community – which, of course, raises the question of, why was he detained in the first place?

Our phone is not very ‘smart’, so we were not able to do live-tweeting from the evidence session.  But our members Rene Cassin and Detention Action did a superb job of capturing the key moments of the session.  You can read the recap of the session by clicking the link in the tweet below.

One of the recommendations made by a panel of former ‘detainees’ was this.

And will the panel listen?

The most memorable of the tweet of the week was the one by Abdelhay whose work was featured during the week.

From Unlocking Detention team