Collateral – A BBC drama shining a light on the secret world of indefinite immigration detention

Immigration detention dramatised on TV? Sylvia Gauthereau, one of the Detention Forum volunteers, reviews a BBC drama, Collateral.

Immigration detention featured quite centrally on the four-part series Collateral. Produced and shown by the BBC, it was broadcast on BBC2 last month. Media attention has grown quite significantly lately over this issue that remains largely hidden from the public view so, is this a sign that time is changing?

The series written by David Hare followed the investigation of a detective inspector into the apparent random murder of a pizza delivery man. As the plot developed, the police stumbled upon the world of people smuggling. After the murder, the victim’s two sisters, Mona and Fatima, who came to the UK with him, are sent to an immigration removal centre whilst enquiries are made over their identity and country of origin.

As the sisters approach the fictive centre of Harlsfleet, Fatima looks at the barbed wires and heavy gate, wondering where they are. “Are we in prison?” she asks upon arrival. “How long are we in there for?”. To which the “custody officer” exclaims: “Ah well if we knew that! No one is this place knows when they are getting their ticket.” Ticket? Airline ticket, to send you home.

It was interesting to see that writers touched upon the common complaints around immigration detention such as the isolated location, the complexity of a visit which involved a tedious procedure to follow. “But I thought we were the police!” cries one of officers on the case. To which the detective leading the investigation replies “What are they afraid of? Do they think I work for Panorama and wear a camera under my f*****g hat?”. There were also some good observations of the common responses to those complaints. For instance, after a visit to the centre, the detective laments on how depressing the place was. Her colleague replies: “What’s depressing about it? It’s clean, it’s warm, it’s decently run”.

There were further mentions over the indefinite element of immigration detention. In an exchange with another woman held at the centre, as she is still trying to understand what this place is, Fatima learns that she’s been in this ‘removal’ centre for two years. So much for removal. The woman then explains how she has lived in the country since she was three for 30 years until it was decided her papers were not valid. Fatima is distraught and puzzled, how can this be? Further comments included “Prison is not that bad as in prison you know when you are getting out”.

This is a fictional drama of course but it has a real life feel to it and in a post-Brexit Britain, it made socio-politically relevant points. The current approach toward refugees and migrants is casting a large shadow over the functioning of everything. There is mistrust between agencies and sometimes between officers who all come to the job with various degrees of prejudice.  The writer was able to capture this exceptionally well, delivered by a talented cast who gave life to the highly sensitive narrative that is immigration detention.

You can catch up with the four full episodes on BBC i-Player as well as on Netflix.

Sylvia tweets @CricklewoodMum