Christmas in the UK is traditionally a time of year for celebration, parties, spending time with close family and friends, and exchanging gifts. But for thousands of people held in immigration detention in a prison or detention centre, it will be just another day. A day like any other spent locked up, waiting for a release that never seems to come. There is no time limit on immigration detention in the UK.
“Being detained for not doing wrong was very distressful and an awful feeling.”
Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) is a small national charity that provides free legal advice and representation to individuals in detention facing deportation or administrative removal. Many of the people we help are survivors of torture or trafficking, have physical or mental health problems or are parents separated from their children Official government figures show that in the last year alone, 1,836 people were detained for more than four months - half of them were then released to return to their families, their detention having served no purpose and their distress completely unjustified and unnecessary. Most of the people we help have been living in the UK for many years - most have families and friends here, homes and jobs. Many call the UK home and many more fear for their lives if they should ever be sent away.
"I don’t know what I would do if I had to leave the UK, leave my kids. Phew, I can’t cope, I can’t even think about it, I don’t want to think about it."
Take Jack*, a man in his late twenties who first came to the UK on a tourist visa and then changed to a study visa over 8 years ago. Jack is a single father and sole carer for his seven year old British son, Alfie*, who suffers from a severe life-limiting disability. Jack suffers from severe depression. Government policy says that people with mental illness should only be detained in `exceptional circumstances’. Despite this, seven months ago Jack was taken into immigration detention. As a consequence of his dad’s detention, Alfie is now living with a distant relative, in an unfamiliar place, has become very withdrawn, and faces spending Christmas without his father. Jack has no money to get legal representation and he couldn’t get legal aid. He got in touch with BID and we are currently working on his case to help reunite him with his son who is struggling to cope without his father, who has been taken from him for reasons he cannot understand.
“Dad – I love you and I miss you and I think about you every day. Can’t wait to see you so we can play football when you get out. I wish you don’t get deported because I wouldn’t know what I could do without you.”
Immigration detention is an arbitrary measure, used as an administrative convenience. Anyone in the UK subject to immigration control can be detained by an immigration officer. Immigration detention is the only form of detention in the UK with no time limit and the decision to detain doesn’t have to be authorised by a court. Detention centres are like prisons. Detainees are locked up for long periods of the day and have their access to outside spaces severely restricted. When they are allowed out they are surrounded by barbed wire. Suspected terrorists can only be detained for 14 days without being charged, yet BID has helped people who have been locked in immigration detention for many years.
"The tough thing is this environment. Not being able to go out, to do things, to move on, being locked up. Sometimes it’s not really easy you know, to be honest. Sometimes I find it difficult. But I don’t really know how to explain that. Sometimes it’s like somebody’s suffocating me, like I can’t breathe. Because every time I just look at walls, walls.”
Immigration detention is unjust; it doesn’t take into account the long-lasting effect on an individual’s life and the lives of their loved ones. Just under half of all people who are detained are released back into the community. The question is obvious – why were they detained in the first place?
“The worst thing about detention was seeing people harming themselves, seeing people slashing their clothing. People trying to put naked wires, connecting them in water and standing on them. Seeing people slashing their arms.”
In the last year, BID has assisted 3,574 people, including 137 families who had been torn apart by immigration detention. The government detains around 30,000 people every year. For every person we help, there are countless more that we haven't yet been able to reach.
Immigration detention damages lives.
Together we can fight the injustice of detention.
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*Please note that names have been changed in order to protect the identity of our clients and their families.