Content warning: suicide and self-harm.

This contribution comes from Bristol Free Voice, a citizen journalism project facilitating a safe platform for media for refugees and asylum seekers, to challenge the dehumanising narrative often seen in the mainstream media.

In one of our recordings, a woman speaks of her experience of detention. We follow her from reporting at the police station for three years – an often compulsory part of being an asylum seeker – to being detained in a police centre for three days, before moving to Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

She takes us through her experience of being detained. The level of fear and anxiety induced through being threatened with deportation left her feeling ‘spiritless’. She felt a completely different person when she was released.

This is just one women’s experience of being detained in Yarl’s Wood and being an asylum seeker in the ‘hostile environment’ with a constant fear of detention and deportation against her will. As she illustrates, there are families, children, disabled people and those with mental health issues detained, many without a time limit.

As the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration found in their 2014-15 Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention, ‘the lack of basic respect for privacy is unacceptable, made even more traumatic given the prior experiences of many women prior to detention’. Indeed, in the woman’s account, she met a lady with her baby who were taken from their home at 6am in a ‘dawn raid’.

Reforming detention to allow dignity is vital, and this means putting a time limit on detention. Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have all committed to introducing a time limit in their manifestos. In Bristol, the These Walls Must Fall campaign is trying to create a cross-party council motion backing the end of indefinite detention. We hope this will get passed through our local government. As this is being passed in other parts of the country, we hope that we send a clear message to the national government that it is not in our name.

Please listen to the woman’s experience here