Immigration detainees in prison are often held in conditions amounting to prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement.
After spending over a year in solitary confinement, Omar was deported to his country of origin. While he s happy to have been released and reunited with his family, the time he spent in detention will stay with him for life. He is currently suing the Home Office for unlawful detention.
You can watch ‘I Need Air’ which is a short documentary by Omar Omar, Yasmine Jessy Amar & Bail for Immigration Detainees documenting Omar's experience of being locked in a cell for 22-23 hours a day for over a year, on YouTube.
*Please note that this film contains references to human rights abuses, self-harm & suicide, which some viewers may find distressing. Please also note a transcript is available below*
"It’s like when you watch TV and you watch a tsunami come. You see it coming, and then after when it goes, you see the destruction.
Before the UK I had a small life. It was alright, it was good, but not that perfect, so I decided to come here. Some friends told me to come and I just came. Then I got some work here and there. Working it was ok, I was good, I was sending some money home, everyone was alright.
And then I just made a mistake. I just make an offence and I end up spending time in prison. I never have any problems with the law before this happened to me. So I spent time in prison and then I meet immigration and I told them I want to go back. They told me if you want to go back you’re going to reduce some sentence on this. So I signed the paper. When I finished signing the paper, I asked them if I will go home on that date when my day comes and they said yeah no problem you’re going to go. But I ended up in solitary confinement for more than a year. They didn’t deport me. So I ended up spending 23/24 hours behind doors.
Normally a detainee is meant to be in detention, a prisoner is meant to be in prison. But I was a detainee, a free person, who was sitting in a prison.
My cell was about 5 metres by 3 metres. There was a toilet, a bed, a TV, a kettle and, a window, but you don’t have it open, you just have a flap to get some fresh air. This was the hardest part for me because when you develop a panic attack or something you want to breathe. You can’t get this. Even if you cry or shout there is no one at that tim so it’s very hard to get help, for people to understand that you want to open the door. But you can’t open the door, it’s not allowed unless it’s a very big medical issue- if someone’s having a heart attack. You tell them you’re having a panic attack and want to breathe, a nurse can come and say to you just do some relaxation, but you want some fresh air.
You just want to breathe because your heart, everything is just sweating and you feel like everything down your throat and you’re life is going. This is how a panic attack is. You get hot, heat, the temperature of your body rises and if you had the power to break everything, get out and breathe a little bit. But there was only a flap and you can’t get air. You have to put your mouth to it, like you have to suck the air. It’s not breathing but you take it by yourself.
This is where everything starts. So many thoughts come in your head and you can’t sleep, anxiety, and panic attacks. My body starts shaking at night like someone is giving me an electric shock and I lost my speech. I’ve been to the doctor for two weeks for my speech therapy and I lost my memory, there are so many things I forget. I stopped writing letters to my family when I was there, to my niece and to everyone I loved. I loved to write to them but I can’t write. I miss so many words and have to double-check, and triple-check words that are missing and this is where I got frustrated so I stopped writing.
Now I understand why people sometimes take their life. There is no help, there is no support. They want something but they can’t speak and if they speak no one comes to their help and this is what happened to me. I was just left like this. I didn’t know when I was going to be out, I was sick all the time because you don’t know when. One time I self-harmed. I have only self-harmed one time just to get the pain out a little bit.
What you’re feeling, the pain, the quiet pain, this is the thing that people don’t know. It’s not only me, there are other people suffering like this. We are human like every human so please, we need a little respect. Even if we are foreigners."