Like most people, I had never heard about the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre for women, until I found myself there for what turned out to be five and a half months. Despite the words ‘removal centres’ featuring heavily in detention speak, detention centres are not removal centres but rather glorified prisons where detainees are imprisoned indefinitely.
I was taken by force from my home in the early hours of the morning, but due to lack of transport, I was locked in a police cell for 14 hours. I was later transported in the middle of the night, in the back of a pitch-dark van that sounded like it was about to breakdown at any moment. I cannot describe the fear I felt during that journey. No one told me where I was being taken and I only found out it was Yarl’s Wood detention centre when we got there. This sort of clandestine operation can only be orchestrated by people with something to hide.
Upon arriving, I was taken to the reception where I found other detainees waiting to be processed. The only possessions I had with me were the clothes I wore and my phone. They were short-staffed - an officer actually said this - and so we were told that we had to wait for everyone to be processed before being escorted to the induction wing. By the time I actually stepped foot in a room, it was 5am in the morning.
Unbeknownst to me, this was just the beginning of a five and a half month-long nightmare. After a few days in the induction wing, I came to find out that the majority of the detainees were brought to the centre in the middle of the night.
The ‘induction’ was done by a detainee who was paid £1/hour for the job, which is just one of the many jobs detainees undertake in detention, including, cleaning the dining and laundry rooms, food preparation, washing pots, serving meals among many others. I watched in disbelief when a senior immigration official, during the Human Rights Committee meeting on Wednesday 6 June 2018 at 16:40:29 said that ‘upon entry into detention obviously there is a process of so-called induction and making people aware of their rights and their ability to apply for bail’. Using the word ‘so-called’ is indicative of someone who is not sure that the word ‘induction’ is befitting in this context… I wonder why.
In my experience, new detainees had no idea what was happening and, only after they were transferred from the induction wing to a general wing (which happened seven days after arrival) did they begin to find out information and, this was mostly from fellow detainees who had been there longer.
Whilst in detention I was on the receiving end of unprovoked excessive use of force for refusing to be removed forcibly from the UK while I still had a pending case. While being escorted to the airport by five staff (three men and two women), I was strapped in a tight waist restraint belt that was also attached to my wrists such that my arm movements were very restricted.
Only after they were told the removal would not go ahead, did they remove the restraints. As if this was not enough, I was also placed in solitary confinement, also known as the punishment room. In 2017, Duncan Lewis solicitors successfully challenged the use of segregation in detention. This was a very important win as the Home office has misused segregation in detention for a very long time.
The detention staff have lost their sense of compassion, with some revelling in the power they have over the detainees under their care. The end result, human beings are reduced to statistics, targets, ambitions or aims - the Home Office seems to think coining new terms to cover up their reprehensible actions goes unnoticed.
Detention had a very detrimental effect on me mentally and physically. I was constantly distressed and anxious not knowing how long I would be detained and segregation compounded that, which ultimately led to depression. My asylum case is still ongoing and the uncertainty, worry, anxiety and fear of being detained again combine to make the recovery journey impossible. Sadly, this experience is the norm for asylum seekers in detention, many of whom are victims of torture.
I now use my time to volunteer with organisations that help asylum seekers and refugees. This helps me to stay positive and focused in a situation that has no upside. The torturous experience in detention is something I will never forget.
End indefinite detention: UK is the only country that detains people indefinitely. It is time for a 28-day limit on immigration detention.
Accountability: those responsible for making a catalogue of inexcusable errors whether due to lack of common sense and/or what appears to be an ingrained systemic issue of deliberate and awful inhumane decisions, with catastrophic implications and consequences, should be personally held accountable.
Home Office policy and culture change: the Home Office’s hostile environment policy towards asylum seekers and refugees is not fit for purpose in a 21st century Britain and rebranding it as a ‘compliant environment’ means absolutely nothing if the same ingrained hostile practices are allowed to continue. It is time top immigration officials stopped paying lip service to the idea of Home Office policy and culture change.
Exposure: individuals (detainees and ex-detainees), organisations and the media should continue in their efforts to expose the truth about the UK Home Office Hostile environment. There is power in a unified voice.
Mrs A did not use her full name in order to protect her identity.