Mani* has lived in the UK for 12 years and has a British wife, Josie*. After completing a short prison sentence he was expecting to be released and re-united with his wife. What followed was a nightmare that lasted 3 months.
Mani found out on the day of his release that he was going to be detained ‘pending removal from the UK’ and he was put in the back of a van and taken to Harmondsworth Detention Centre. Beyond this, nobody explained anything to him.
Mani’s experience in immigration detention is something that he’ll never forget. “it’s a different planet, it’s something I’ve not experienced before. Staff are rude, and you can’t access the internet for more than one hour. It is difficult in there. You’re being locked up with different kinds of offenders… I was very scared of what might happen in the detention centre.”
The human impact of immigration detention goes far beyond those individuals who are detained. It separates families and tears communities apart. “I couldn’t even put it into words to be honest, it’s like a black hole you can’t get out of” said Josie. “Just constantly worrying every day about his safety, is he alive, is he well? Because we had very little contact, we would be able to speak for about 5 minutes every day if we were lucky. And it was a constant worry for his mental health as well.” Josie added that on some days they weren’t able to speak to one another. “You only have a Lyca mobile but if you don’t have money to put on then you have no contact with the outside world”.
Mani hoped that he would be able to get support from the legal aid lawyers who deliver advice surgeries in immigration detention. He told us that “when I was in there they said I could access legal aid but when the solicitor turned up they asked for money”. Unfortunately many people in detention report similar experiences and we have serious concerns about the operation of legal advice surgeries in immigration detention.
Mani’s mental health deteriorated so severely in immigration detention that he tried to take his own life. Even then he was not supported and the Home Office kept him in detention. “When his mental health dipped there was an emergency situation and I emailed the detention centre and they never even bothered to get back to me. There’s no contact with the relatives in the detention centre” said Josie. “They say it’s safe in the detention centre, they say it’s safe and well looked after. But when Mani tried to commit suicide he was just left on the floor for hours and they didn’t even bother to tell me. One of the inmates had to text me. Then I sent a letter to them and they didn’t even bother to reply”.
Mani described the appalling treatment he received from staff after he attempted suicide. “After the suicide attempt when I didn’t feel like eating, I didn’t fill out the meal sheet. So when I asked the officers if I could have some food they refused me food. I went for 72 hours without being fed because I was too ill to get out of bed”.
Unfortunately, such is the scale of immigration detention in the UK – around 25,000 people are detained every year – we do not have the resources to provide full legal representation for most clients. To reach as many people as possible BID set up its ‘DIY Project’ which provides self-help guides, templates and forms as well as telephone, email and postal support to help people to prepare their own bail applications. This was the case for Mani, we helped him and Josie to prepare an application for bail and Mani was eventually released on bail just a couple of weeks before Christmas. “BID were brilliant” said Josie. “As soon as I got in touch, BID led us through the application process for bail, helped us put the bail pack together, and they were always at the other end of the phone if I needed them. Everything you did for us was spot on. We couldn’t have asked for anything else.” Mani said “Also BID helped us get my probation officer’s details which really secured the application. We wouldn’t have got bail without that”.
It is worth reflecting not only on the cruelty of this experience but also the sheer pointlessness. Like Mani, most people are simply released back into the community, their period in immigration detention having caused untold harm and served no purpose whatsoever. BID believes that nobody should be treated this way and alongside our casework we campaign for a complete end to immigration detention. The courage and resilience of people like Mani and Josie are what make this possible.
I asked Mani and Josie to explain why they felt it was important for people to hear their story. “To raise awareness of what goes on in detention centres” said Mani. “they were sending people back to be deported because they had nobody to help them fight their case – they had no family on the outside and no representation. And there were people who were physically disabled in there who weren’t getting any help either.” Josie added “If people realise what’s going on then people might want to stop it. it’s unjust and dangerous”.
*Mani and Josie's names have been changed to protect their identity.