Content warning: graphic descriptions of suicide and self-harm. Image by @Carcazan
This blog comes from Souleymane, a member of Freed Voices. Freed Voices are a group of experts-by-experience who are committed to speaking out about the realities of immigration detention in the UK. They are on Twitter at @FreedVoices.
My name is Souleymane and I am a member of Freed Voices. I was locked up in detention in the UK, without trial, without time-limit, for three and a half years. I want to share with you about my experiences as an asylum seeker already in the UK. I want to focus on my time in detention because this, more than anything else, has defined my experience of the UK.
I came to this country in 2003 to escape persecution. Because I am stateless, I had to use false documents to get here. When I arrived I was put in prison for a short time because of this. I thought when I left prison I would be a free man. I did not think I would be taken somewhere worse.
Detention is worse than prison, because in prison you count your days down and in detention you count your days up… and up… and up…
The UK is the only country in Europe with no time-limit on detention. There is no end in sight. And this is where mental torture really kicks in. The stress of indefinite detention had a huge impact on my mental health. It is like you are carrying a heavy load on your head everywhere you go.
I saw a lot of people around me collapse mentally. They could not take it anymore – the limbo in detention killed them. I saw people try and hang themselves. I saw people go crazy with fear. I saw a man take a razor blade and slash, slash, slash, he cut his arms. There was blood everywhere. This is indefinite detention, and the impact detention has on people when they are released. This is happening on your doorstep.
Sadly, the mental effect of detention does not stop when the gates open. When I was released, I felt like I had come out of a cave. I had been there so long I felt powerless and weak. I heard voices. I did not trust anyone. Even now, sometimes I wake in the night from flashbacks. The mental torture has not gone.
I realise now that detention is trauma – it stays with you for life.
The truth is there are many refugees and asylum seekers that need your help that are already in the UK. In 2017 27,300 people entered immigration detention. 56% were released back into the community. Their detention served no purpose.
The financial cost is very big. You even cannot begin to measure the human cost. Many of these people are now destitute or suffering on section 4 support [government-provided bail accommodation]. They are still in limbo.
Please, join our fight for justice here, in the UK. It is time for a time limit. Toda raba, thank you.