My name is NtambweNkombe. I came from Congo (DRC) and have been in the UK as an asylum-seeker since 2001. I was in detention for 10 months in 2011, and then another time for about a month in 2013, finally for the third time, a month in 2017. It was terrible and unfortunate to be in this situation. Since I was in detention, I have been raising awareness about how terrible it is. I couldn’t stay silent after what I experienced.
I had come to the UK to flee the Congo. I got into political activism as a student in Congo when it became clear that Laurent Kabila, who had toppled the previous dictator Mobutu, was yet another corrupt dictator. I had to flee Congo after being persecuted and abused because of my opposition; the government imprisons or kills people who oppose it.
I arrived in the UK and began to work because I was destitute and needed to survive. I was arrested and put in prison because I had been working illegally.
In detention you do not know how long you will be there. It is so difficult, especially when you find that other detainees have been in there for a long time and they still do not know when they will be released or even if they will be deported.
Your first night there, you start to hear these horror stories about detention that you cannot believe: that there is no time limit and people had been there for two years, or even four years.
But they were not stories; I saw it with my own eyes. In detention, there is nothing much to do, all day. You just sleep, wake up, sit, sleep, wake up, sleep again. There is no support to deal with mental, physical or emotional issues.
But somehow I still coped on my own, and because of others people who were helping me in this situation. I just do not know why in a country like the UK, they are locking people up like that and that there is no time limit.
I am still involved in political activism on Congo with the resistance movement APARECO for which I am a Yorkshire propaganda officer. But I also volunteer to help other refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK.
Before detention and prison I was just seeing myself, seeing my own suffering. But now my mind-set has changed. I don’t just want to receive; I have a lot to give too. That is why I’ve been volunteering.
I work with RETAS (Refugee Education Training Advice Service) in Leeds. We help refugees and asylum-seekers, with education, training, advice for job-seekers and CV guidance. I also volunteer with BHA Skyline, where we work on prevention, support and advice for those affected by HIV/AIDS. In both places I mainly work as a receptionist. I like this because I work with so many people from many different communities and backgrounds.I definitely learn a lot and it helps me forget whatever has been worrying me.
Stand up and speak
There are a lot of good people in this country but they really don’t know the reality about detention. Even in the press, they don’t talk about all these things. I was an asylum-seeker since 2001, and even I did not know until I was there. So I had to use my situation to make known what was happening. The people who can talk the reality are the people like us who see these things, and live these things.
This is why I told Parliament about what it was like, to make known what is happening. My testimony contributed to a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration which said that too many people were being detained, for too long, and often unnecessarily.
I definitely think things are changing. People are starting to stand up and talk about what is happening in prisons and detention centres, that human rights are not protected in these places, because they’ve heard the testimonies of those who were affected.
My advice for people who want to change these things is: engage. You can’t change things if you are just 1%, but you can make a change if you work with the organisations which are already working on this situation, trying to change what the government is doing. Yes, engage.
You can find a list of organisations involved in challenging the injustices of immigration on the ‘Useful Resources’ page of No Walls.