This year, Unlocking Detention is exploring how detention affects communities across the UK – not just where detention centres are located.  This blog post is written by an artist who is a member of an asylum/immigration support group in Liverpool, about the detention and enforced removal of a leading light in their group.   The person to whom this blog post is dedicated – the person detained and removed – was a strong link between the group and Right to Remain, who provide the group with ongoing support and training.  We at Right to Remain got to know her well, campaigned together, and through our relationship with her, our bond to the group grew also.  We also still feel her loss. 

We all still have problems talking about it.

There are different ways to speak about it, the feeling that you have when a friend, colleague, comrade or ‘service user’ is detained.  Vicarious trauma is too sanitized,  it implies that the trauma is not really ours, but It is our trauma.  It belongs to us as people who live in Britain who have regular migration status and the freedom of movement.

It needs to be sudden to be effective.

The first time, I packed my friend’s things when she was detained, I was sent to retrieve medicine, I was given her key, told I had an hour. I took a taxi, went through drawers and cupboards and couldn’t find it.  I felt like I was in Warsaw until Nazi occupation.  I am not saying this to be hyperbolic, I am saying this because even now as I type I can feel a certain fear return to my body and when I felt this fear and panic about having to choose things to pack I remember thinking that this is what it felt like when people are rounded up for transport.

I am just doing my job, I have to pay my mortgage.

This is what the guard said to me when I arrived back and said I couldn’t find the medicine.  He said she would have to go without it.  I don’t remember what I said, but his response was this.

Dual Representational Theory of Traumatic Memory

I can’t remember a lot of the details of the second time it happened. The memory is in snippets and sounds.  Somebody else packed her things.  She lived here for 13 years, has British children and grandchildren.

There are some facts.  She was refused and detained simultaneously.  We could not get her adequate legal representation.  There were horrible panicked calls from the detention centre.  She successfully resisted her first removal.  While waiting for transport back to Yarls Wood somebody called her on the phone in the waiting room. A guard handed her the phone.  A person told her she would be bailed for £800.  Her family gave this person the money.  They were not heard from again.  Her family went to the police.  They asked to file a report.  The police did not allow them to file a report.  The detention centre admitted that this has happened before.  Her family asked the detention centre to call the police so that she could make a report.  She never made a police report.
They removed her suddenly.
She called me.
She told the guard she wanted to pray.
The guard told her that God wanted her to get on the plane.
I heard this because I was on the phone.
We don’t know what to do with her stuff.
There is a lot of stuff.
The fake solicitor was finally apprehended.
It is over a year and her things are still in our office.
We do not know what to do.
We all still have problems talking about it.