Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, was given the Detention Forum Champion award on 8 June 2018 over a special celebratory Iftar in Sheffield, in recognition of his work in Parliament advocating for detention reform. He was the Co-Chair of the Parliamentary inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK, which was hosted by the APPG on Refugees and the APPG on Migration in 2014.
In giving him the award, Fatima (not her real name), a Sudanese refugee who is Paul’s constituent and who prepared Iftar in Paul’s honour, said the following:
“In my life I have faced many struggles, including painful times here in the UK as an asylum seeker. Some of my most painful times in the UK were as a result of being forced into immigration detention facilities. Equal to the horrific time I experienced in detention was also the fear of being taken into detention that walked with me every step of every day and that slept with me each sleepless night, for years.
“I am happy to tell you, I have worked hard to build, to create, to seize opportunities, to renew, to heal, to use my voice for myself and my people. I have been fortunate to receive incredible support from many good people and organisations along the way and today I am doing well. I still have hardship but thankfully, life is different now.
“I know what it means to fight against the odds for what you believe in your heart to be true.
“I have learned recently that you have been fighting for me, for others like me, on immigration detention reform in the UK. You’ve worked hard to make the system here better, more humane. You’ve been the voice in Parliament to the voiceless, the terrified, the traumatised and the unjustly treated who deserve to be treated justly.
“There is a time to fight and there is a time to rest, to take stock of the many accomplishments of one’s work and really appreciate those who are champions for and to so many.”
Some of the dishes prepared by Fatima for the Iftar.
This Iftar was held at Fatima’s flat who wishes to remain anonymous. It was also attended by representatives from the Detention Forum, Waging Peace, an NGO that supports Sudanese refugees to build meaningful lives in the UK,, the City of Sanctuary Sheffield and Quakers who are residents of Sheffield. During Ramadan, people break their fast at sundown with Iftar.
Eiri Ohtani, Project Director of the Detention Forum, who was at the Iftar said:
“The parliamentary inquiry, which was led by Paul and Sarah Teather, was a truly transformative moment for everyone who has been affected by immigration detention. For the first time, people who have been harmed by detention like Fatima were listened to and taken seriously – the inquiry’s report and Paul’s continuing work defending the rights and dignity of people in immigration detention have given everyone courage and confidence to continue to advocate for detention reform. We look forward to continuing to work with Paul and other parliamentarians for a radical change to the detention system.”
Maddy Crowther, Co-Executive Director of Waging Peace, said: “We work with hundreds of asylum-seekers from Sudan, a great many of whom are taken into immigration detention while trying to establish lives here. They tell us they feel abandoned and voiceless while detained. MPs like Paul, who are willing to listen and give space to these voices, are a lifeline. We know Fatima found it incredibly empowering to be able to speak her truth to power, and to honour Paul with a delicious iftar meal, which in Sudanese culture is a symbol of deep friendship. Fatima, and we at Waging Peace, are grateful to have Paul as a friend and as an ally.”
The U.K. runs one of the largest immigration detention estates in Europe and uniquely has no time limit on detention, leaving many individuals locked up for years. Around 28,000 individuals are detained per year. The Detention Forum is calling for a 28-day time limit on detention, which was also the key recommendation of the parliamentary inquiry into the use of detention.
Fatima (not her real name) wishes to remain anonymous.
You can read Paul’s opinion piece calling for a 28-day time limit on immigration detention which was published in the Guardian last year here.