Amidst the political and media clamour about how many asylum seekers have been or need be deported, the voices of the system's victims are necessarily stifled. Would-be refugees are mere statistics, objects in a disgusting Dutch auction as to which political brand can wash whitest. And this why such a collection is an important tool in the struggle for rights and justice.
The volume is a collection of accounts by detainees in Tinsley House, Campsfield House, Rochester (HMP), Liverpool (HMP), Belmarsh (HMP), Lindholme, Harmondsworth, Yarlswood, Dungavel, Dover and Haslar. These are people for whom the unthinkable has happened. They have been imprisoned in the UK without charge, without conviction, without time limit. They have been imprisoned by the UK government, which boasts its democratic institutions.
From the Introduction
Immigration detainees can be asylum seekers who have arrived legally and whose claims are being investigated. They may be detained because of a belief that they will 'disappear' otherwise. They can be people who have not arrived legally or who have overstayed their visas. Some are rejected asylum seekers awaiting removal. There are a few people who have criminal convictions and are being deported and there are some overlaps between the categories. All are detained on the orders of an immigration officer.
Britain currently has around 2000 immigration detainees in a range of specialist centres now called Reception Centres and Removal Centres. This number is due to double by next year - the government has promised 4000 places in these centres. Despite a promise that no more detainees would be held in prisons after 2001, up to 100 are still there. Most detainees are men, but women and children are also detained on some occasions. There is provision for up to 1000 women and children to be detained in Yarlswood, Harmondsworth, Oakington and Dungavel.
Immigration detainees have the right to apply for bail but this can be very difficult in practice. Many have no contacts in the UK and little chance of finding someone to stand surety for them. Access to good legal advice is difficult, as some of the accounts in this pamphlet describe, yet it is imperative if they are to be recognised as refugees. If you want to know more about this labyrinthine subject - the 'half world' of the Immigration 'courts' - contact Bail for Immigration Detainees (a list of contact details and web addresses is at the end of the pamphlet).
Some people spend years in detention. The helplessness, uncertainty and fear of deportation are extremely stressful, as these stories make clear. Some of those detained have been imprisoned or even tortured in their home country. Mental health problems are common and health care in detention is often poor. It can be very difficult for family or friends to visit because of the cost and travel problems. Visitors from local support groups can be very important.
Immigration detainees could be seen as the tip of the iceberg in terms of need. Those who are not detained suffer many of the same problems of fear, isolation and stress and are often very limited in their ability to move around and to communicate. For example, in big 'dispersal' hostels and in the proposed Accommodation Centres where all needs are supposed to be provided for, people have almost no cash to cover travel, telephones, letters and other necessities. Women sometimes feel very vulnerable to other inhabitants and those with babies and children find it very hard to manage in places like these.
The accounts in this pamphlet come from people who have been subject to immigration detention. They use the person's own words as far as possible and span the last 5 years. They are not in date order. The pamphlet has been put together by a small group which includes ex-detainees. We have tried to safeguard confidentiality as far as possible, unless the person wishes to be identified.