- Created: Wednesday, 03 October 2012 11:22
- Written by Mark Moncada
‘We feel like criminals despite just wanting to come here because it is not safe in our country.’
FRFI North East has recently received phonecalls from several Somali men who have been held in immigration detention for between one month and five years. One 18-year-old, who has been detained in Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Lincolnshire since 1 August and is being held until ‘further notice’, spoke to us in detail about his situation.
He fled Somalia with his younger brother when he was 12 and has lived in the northeast of England ever since. He has no family in Somalia and has made a life for himself here with family members; he has forged friendships and represented his school in athletics and played for local football teams. This September he was due to start a degree in Sports Coaching at Sunderland University. During his A Levels, he was told: ‘someone wants to talk to you’; he was then arrested, handcuffed and locked in a police cell for three days. He was then temporarily released and then re-arrested four weeks later and taken to Morton Hall.
His solicitor is currently trying to get him bail. He feels that his chance to study at university and years of hard work have all been taken away from him. Since he has been in Morton Hall someone has tried to jump off the roof and others have stabbed themselves with forks. This is the desperation forced on to detainees who have no idea when or if they will be released and for what crime they are being imprisoned. In 2010, 183 people were hospitalised as a result of self-harm in immigration detention and 1,467 people were deemed ‘at risk’. On top of this they have to face a barrage of racist abuse from the immigration prison guards. There is one man who is blind and isn’t getting proper care; guards throw his documents at him in full knowledge that he cannot read them. Another man, despite suffering from a heart condition and high blood pressure, and against doctors’ orders, was recently transferred back to Colnbrook IRC, held in the segregation isolation unit for four days as punishment for ‘refusing to comply’ with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and was not allowed to go outside. Guards regularly beat up detainees while – in an attempt to ensure no witnesses – everyone else is locked in their cell. The person who has been attacked is then often transferred to another IRC.
There are currently approximately 2,500 places available in IRCs. This is set to increase to 4,000 to help with the increased use of the fast track asylum system, which allows the government to keep asylum seekers in detention from the moment they claim asylum until the outcome of their case. It allows the government to more quickly and easily deport them, and means more asylum seekers will never see the outside of a prison in Britain. They will be cut off from potential support from local communities, who have been instrumental in halting deportations, and unable to recount to the British public the desperate situations they are fleeing – many of which British imperialism is itself responsible for.
Asylum seekers can lawfully be detained ‘where there is a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable period’ and UKBA officially acknowledges that ‘detention must be used sparingly, and for the shortest possible period necessary’. However, immigration detention in Britain is without time limit and Britain has derogated from the EU Returns Directive that sets a maximum time limit of 18 months. According to UKBA statistics, 255 people had been detained for over a year as of 31 December 2010. Of these, 65 had been detained for over two years. This is an increase of 70% in less than two years. There are currently several countries – including Somalia, Iraq and Zimbabwe – to which asylum seekers cannot generally be deported due to difficulties in obtaining travel documents and the dangerous situation in those countries, but this has not stopped the government from detaining some asylum seekers and holding them for long periods of time, partly on the basis that they will be deported if and when the situation in their country changes. Amongst all the other reasons behind Britain’s current interest in Somalia (see www.revolutionarycommunist.org/index.php/international/2492-london-conference) it is clear that David Cameron’s government is keen to ‘normalise’ relations with Somalia in order to recommence deportations.
In the meantime, Somali people continue to be deported to other countries through which they are said to have transited en route to Britain. Detainees in Morton Hall say that UKBA officials there have been issuing travel documents, allegedly from the Tanzanian High Commission in order to deport Somalis to Tanzania. The documents appear to have simply been photocopied and the photographs of different detainees stuck on them.
Shut down all immigration prisons!
We support all initiatives by immigration detainees to organise to publicise their situation. Women detained in Yarls Wood IRC have recently set up a Movement for Justice Group and are campaigning for a list of 8 demands: see http://stopdeportations.wordpress.com/ for more information.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012