As we reflect over the festive period, people often talk about peace. At a recent visit to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, a woman reminded us of the poignant words from Malcolm X: “You cannot separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”
Maria is a 36 year old EEA national who has lived in the UK since she was eight years old, or, as she put it, “I am as English as my neighbours”.
Detained and terrified of deportation, her nightmares led her to create this drawing of a dream catcher to hang above her bed and give her the courage to fight for her freedom.
Each year 27,000 people are locked up in detention centres in the UK. Detention is an administrative process not a criminal one; the decision to deprive someone of their liberty is not overseen by a court, there‘s no automatic legal representation and no time limit on the length of detention.
Last year we supported 5,941 people to fight for their liberty including 167 parents separated from their 328 children. We exist to challenge immigration detention and do so through the provision of legal advice, information and representation alongside research, policy advocacy and strategic litigation.
With many people separated from their families and without access to legal support, detention has a grave effect on mental health. Figures obtained by The Independent showed at least one person a day needed medical treatment for self-harming in UK detention, and that the number of detainees on “suicide watch” is also rising.
Over the six months and four days Abeo was detained he missed his son’s first birthday and Christmas. Moments he will never get back. He said:
“I missed Christmas, New Year and my son’s first birthday. Imagine having a family, a future plan for life and no criminal record and being detained for a long period of time. That is enough to give a human a mental breakdown.
“I was separated from my family; my partner was pregnant, which the home office was aware of. They did not respect the fact she was pregnant or that she was alone with our son who was under one-year-old. I was the only support she had. Every day I was in detention, she would cry every night on the phone. It made me more and more down, to the extent that I was having suicidal thoughts.
“Our baby was born smaller than she should have been because of all the stress my wife was under. The doctor said the stress affected the baby in the womb; my daughter had to be monitored weekly after she was born because she was so small.”
Like most immigration detainees, Abeo was eventually released back into the community, detention having caused unnecessary harm to him and his family. After his release Abeo said:
“BID really helped me. They tried their best and explained my situation and the reasons I couldn’t be detained to the judge. It is really difficult for people to be able to talk about the law. Most people know nothing about it. Because of the hostile environment the government doesn’t listen. I felt like I had no rights, BID know how to help, they listened.
“When I saw my family after I was released it was lovely, my one-year-old son was just looking at me for hours. I was so happy, it was like pure love.
“Christmas day in a detention centre is really sad. All the staff are going to see their families for Christmas and you’re locked up like a prisoner. It was a very bad Christmas and New year. This Christmas we are going to be together. I’m very happy but I’m still recovering from what happened. Thank god I am out.”
In 2018 the Windrush scandal received wide coverage in the media. Sadly, BID deals with many similar cases on a daily basis resulting from the “hostile environment” approach deliberately adopted by the government. The nightmare continues and BID supported more people in the last year than ever before.
Here at BID we believe all detention is harmful and should be ended. Our vision is of a world free of immigration detention, where people are not deprived of their liberty for immigration purposes. We are powered towards this by the generous support of sympathetic volunteers and donors who keep our vital services going. If you are able to support our work, please make a donation this Christmas and help us end this injustice.
- Just £10 will help us fight for more people like Abeo to be released
- £33 will pay the travel cost for our Legal Advisor to visit people like Marie in detention
- £250 will keep our advice line running for a week
Whatever you can afford to give will be greatly appreciated. To donate visit: http://bit.ly/BIDUKChristmas
Thank you for your support and generosity.