What an exciting first week of Unlocking Detention 2016!
This first week was partly an introduction to this virtual tour of the UK’s immigration detention estate, but also focused on two of the most hidden sites of detention: short-term holding centres; and detention under immigration powers in prisons.

A changing landscape

This is the third year of Unlocking Detention, and there’s been considerable changes to the detention landscape since the last virtual tour.

Dover detention centre closed during Unlocking Detention 2015 (and Haslar detention centre also closed in 2015).

On 21 July this year, the government announced that Cedars – the ‘pre-departure accommodation’ centre near Gatwick, where families with children are held for up to one week – will close. A new unit for families with children will open in Tinsley House detention centre. You can read the Detention Forum’s statement on the announcement here.

On 8 September, the government announced that Dungavel detention centre in Scotland will close. A new “short term holding facility” will open near Glasgow airport.  You can read Scottish Detainee Visitors statement on the closure, and proposed new facility, here.
Brook House and Tinsley House (also known as “Gatwick detention centres”)  are being expanded by a reported 100 bed spaces.

Shining a light

What hasn’t changed is the need to shine a light on this still hidden injustice.  Unlocking Detention is a way of doing this, of starting a conversation, of advocating for change.

We’ve been delighted with the huge amount of positive engagement with the tour so far – please do spread the word far and wide!

As well as our regular blogs, articles published elsewhere, and Twitter this year we’re also on Facebook and Instagram!

Blog posts and articles

In just this first week of #Unlocked16:

  • We started the tour with a powerful blog post from Abdal, detained under immigration powers in prison: The Death Warrant
  • Eiri Ohtani, coordinator of the Detention Forum, wrote for the pan-European PICUM blog on why Unlocking Detention is needed.
  • Jerome Phelps of Detention Action wrote for Open Democracy 50:50 on the need to develop alternatives to detention with civil society to arrest the slide into the abyss of mass detention of migrants in Europe.
  • Kasonga from the Freed Voices group continued this theme with his piece on the need to “build trust, not walls“.

Short-term holding centres

In this first week of #Unlocked16, one of the hidden sites of detention we explored was short-term holding centres.  There are two types of short-term centres.

The first type is residential short-term detention centres where adults can be held for up to one week. There are residential short-term facilities including units at two long-term detention centres, and two stand-alone facilities called Pennine House (Manchester) and Larne House (Northern Ireland), pictured below.

You can read a great piece on Larne House from last year’s Unlocking Detention here. This was written by someone who is both part of the Larne House visitor group and is also at risk of detention themselves.

There are also over 30 other “short term holding facilities” which are generally, small complexes of cells, either at ports or at reporting centres (where asylum seekers and other migrants have to “sign on” at regular intervals).   People usually held at these for less than 24 hours; however, large numbers have been kept for several days in the busy holding centres at Dover and Folkestone ports.  There are even three (under UK Home Office control) in France, at Calais port, Coquelles (by the Eurotunnel), and Dunkerque.

Detention in prisons

The UK is alone in Europe for its routine detention of migrants in prisons under immigration powers.

There is no automatic access to on-site immigration legal advice like that provided in detention centres – many people held in prison under immigration powers don’t have (don’t even know they have the right to) a solicitor.

There is no access to mobile phones or internet, therefore communication with legal, emotional, community support is heavily restricted.

Some of the longest cases of detention involve foreign nationals held post sentence.

The exact numbers of people held in prisons under immigration powers each month are not published, but it is usually around 600 people.

To find out what it’s like, read this incredible live interview with Abdi who is currently detained in a prison.

This interview was very difficult to make happen.  Initially, Ben from Detention Action was due to speak to Ali but they lost contact – a common problem given the communication barriers in prison.  Then, when Ben spoke to Abdi, he could only do so for ten minutes at a time, because this is the maximum length of time a phonecall can take in the ward.

Abdi spoke of how he didn’t know that he would continue to be detained in a prison till the day of his release – expecting to be free, he was then told there was an “immigration issue”.  He remains in the same cell, surrounded by the same people, with other prisoners who feel sorry for him still being stuck there despite having completed his criminal sentence.  Abdi has now been detained for five months.  His criminal sentence was around this length as well, so Abdi has very literally served a double sentence.

Thank you to everyone who sent us questions to ask Abdi, and of course to Abdi for sharing his experience and his views.
Read the interview with Abdi here.