The BBC’s recent report into China’s vast detention centres was terrifying. Releasing new evidence into the nature of these centres, the report uncovered that China is locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in the western region of Xinjiang. Named by the Chinese government as ‘vocational schools’ established to combat terrorism and religious extremism, these centres look anything but educational.
A BBC investigation has revealed shocking new evidence about China's detention of Uighur Muslims in its western Xinjiang region.@TheJohnSudworth reports.
— BBC Asia (@BBCNewsAsia) October 24, 2018
Few stories emerge from the centres where security is tight with razor-wire fences, watch towers and guards on the gates but those that do are disturbing. Families separated without any contact for years; children taken away from their parents with no explanation given of their whereabouts and testimonies of bullying and brainwashing. Perhaps worst of all though is that no date is given for their release.
It’s the stuff of an Orwellian nightmare. A covert, underground world hidden from sight.
As I listened to the horrifying details of ‘Xinjiang’s dark secret’, it struck me that the UK has dark secrets of its own – and many people know little or nothing about them. Each year in the UK thousands of people subject to immigration control are detained indefinitely with no trial or time limit given. Last year over 27,000 people were held in detention, many of who were ‘adults at risk’ – meaning people with serious physical and mental health conditions as well as survivors of torture, trafficking and gender-based violence. Children are also held in detention and, according to a recent survey, 30 per cent of those in detention have child dependents living in the UK.
The Guardian ‘snapshot’ investigation drew attention to life inside detention centres, highlighting the psychological impact and repercussions after release. Alieu, a refugee from Gambia who was tortured in his home country says the effects of being held in detention do not go away easily. Seven years on the trauma is still very real:
‘I was locked up in a very small space and was too scared to sleep. I’m still scared of people in uniform. The trauma from being locked up in detention after I’d already experienced torture will stay with me for the rest of my life.’
Savita Vas, who was held in detention in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) after being refused a spousal visa despite living, studying and working in the UK for a decade, described the centre as ‘horrifying’. Romana, a Jamaican woman held for 149 days in Yarl’s Wood IRC while pregnant, still experiences flashbacks.
— These Walls Must Fall (@wallsmustfall) October 11, 2018
Despite these stories, why do so many people know and do so little to respond to our own detention scandal?
Much of the UK’s detention estate is hidden away in the leafy countryside, closed off from the rest of the world. Out of sight for many, detention centres are also out of mind. The majority of people living in the UK, unlike the people held inside, do not have to face the reality of them every day. It’s not just a physical but also a metaphorical distance.
To face up to the UK reality is much harder particularly when as a nation we so often pride ourselves on our human rights record, and brings the challenge of a greater responsibility. Yet the proximity to the issue can make it seem overwhelming and unbearable leaving even those of us sympathetic to the issue feeling confused and helpless. Acknowledging the detention system even exists on our own soil may be where some of us need to begin before any action can be taken.
‘Knowledge is power’; the famous line attributed to Francis Bacon is important in this debate which is why #Unlocked18 with its extensive insight and first-hand testimonials, is such a great tool for those of us, like me, still being enlightened on the topic. Edging closer to the issue rather than shying away will actually make us feel more empowered. It falls on us, after all, to speak up, speak out and raise our voices against this injustice and shame on our nation.
Image by @Mishka_anonym