We had no option but to organise a protest

Locked up in Campsfield

I really find it hard to talk about my horrible experience of detention because every time I talk about it, it just brings back the sad, horrible, inhuman memory that I just don’t want to remember.

I encountered the immigration [authorities] just over 10 years now. I was here working, paying my tax, making my national insurance contribution. I was accused of working without the right to work. This is after many years of me working and contributing to the economy of this country. I was accused of not obtaining pecuniary advantage – I don’t know what that means.

I was detained at an immigration centre and I was told that my removal from the UK is imminent. I had to go through the courts to challenge such intentions, appealing against such intentions. While this was going on I applied for bail – I didn’t get no bail – a month passed – 2 months passed – one year passed. It was nearly 2 years I was still in detention.

I had to kick-off because at the time I was in one of these detention [centres] – you know I was really frustrated for me – for other detainees. A lot of them attempted suicide. Most of them were suicidal, depressed. Imagine you’ve been in detention, you can’t get proper medical treatment. I was very ill at the time and even though the doctor within the detention centre recommend me being taken to the hospital, they said to me that they going to get me to the hospital – but that it would be in handcuffs – I said “no, I’m not a criminal – I can’t go the hospital in handcuffs”.

It just went on for several weeks and my health was deteriorating. You don’t get proper food to eat. You’re locked up for nearly 24 hours of the day, maybe if you’re lucky you get an hour of going to the exercise area to just walk around – If you’re lucky. But majority of the time you’re locked up for nearly 24 hours of the day.

They open your door – to go get food. The food is . . . if I was to feed my dog or animal I would provide better food than what you get in detention centres.

You may wish to know that these rooms – they’re tiny rooms – you have a toilet within the room – in some cases there’ll be a separate toilet. You have unrelated adults sharing a little room. Some have actually within it – where you’re eating . . . your room mate or cellmate can also use the toilet whilst you’re eating – that tells you how bad it was.

It was just . . . it was so, so frustrating, to the point that a lot of people I know attempted suicide. A lot of people when they kick-off in the detention centres, the heavy-handedness of these people who we describe as prison warders who say they’re security guards – people are just being . . . they beat them up – a lot of them will be bleeding all over their body.

After that they will be kept in solitary confinement – which is more like a cell – you’ll just be by yourself – you sleep there, you eat within the cell. I’ve experience it as well. Whilst I was in detention I was provided with a bed – it was a metal bed without a mattress. When I tried to complain about it I received terrible beatings. I was kept in isolation for over a week.

It’s just . . . I can’t even go into some details which will just make me cry.

Detention centres are a horrible place to be. The Home Offices’ excuse for doing that is that they won’t let them stay in the UK, even when we have family here. I have my kid here. And I have a partner for this length of time I was in detention – nearly 2 years. I didn’t get to see my child because every time I applied for bail the Home Office will go and argue that my removal from the UK is imminent.

Resistance in Campsfield

Eventually, at a point I was so frustrated, we arranged a protest within one of the detention centres. The protest was successful. It really made the sort of impact we wanted it to make. Firstly, before we organised a protest we came together and wrote a letter to the Home Office, querying them for the indefinite detention of most of us there. We wanted to know why we were kept indefinitely in a detention centre. It fell on deaf ears.

We had no option but to organise a protest. Part of the protest was that when we were let out of our rooms, which were more like cells, for exercise, we were going to refuse going back into the room. And that was what happened. So when it was time for us to be locked up – we refused to go back to the rooms.

The protest was successful – we refused to go back in. People kicked-off. Kicking gates, forcing the gate down. Some people were able to escape. But I didn’t escape, because I wanted to see the matter relating to this whole thing being concluded. The Detention Manager asked riot police to come in – the riot police came in and rounded us up. I was among the people that were picked up and shipped to a prison.

When I got there I asked why I was being brought to a prison. They said to me that I was the ringleader of the protest. I said “I need to go to court because I’ve not been charged with anything – I can’t understand why I’m in prison”. I shouldn’t go into any more detail about this but I would like to mention that when I kicked-off at the prison I was taken to the isolation unit when I was kept again for a couple of weeks. My health started deteriorating again.

There was some organisation called … I don’t quite remember the name but their job relates to the independent monitoring board who were visiting the prison – I think they heard about my detention so they came to see me and I told them what was happening. They helped me to get a solicitor who applied for bail for me.

Eventually I go to court. When I got to court the Home Office actually made up some story that I was a ringleader of the protest, that I escaped and that I was re-arrested. As luck would have it we had a judge in the court – the judge asked the Home Office, after saying my side of the story that I’d never escaped but I was part of a protest against the inhumane treatment of the detainees by the Home Office, and the Judge listened to what I had to stay and listened to what my legal rep had to say and then asked the Home Office some questions, [the judge] said: “This man – you said he escaped – if he had escaped then where was he re-arrested and what police station was he taken to?”

In fact the judge knew that the Home Office made it up. I never escaped. Some people escaped but I never escaped. I was within the premises of the detention centre when the riot police arrived. So eventually, to cut a long story short, I got bail, and since I’ve been out of detention. I now have Leave to Remain.

Resistance inside detention centres sometimes is never allowed to come to the public light because it is subdued. When you’re in there – you have no right to freedom of expression. You have no right to express your pain, your grievances, because each time you try to do it, you’re faced with heavy handedness – you’re picked up – you’re bent over, you’re beaten – you’re left with injuries that people on the outside never know, because you will not be allowed to be taken to the public hospital and be seen by an independent doctor.

So the whole thing is being suppressed within the detention centre. When you’re in such a situation, you can’t get a visitor. People are not allowed to visit you because they give reasons why people on the outside cannot see you. Before you can have a visit, them injuries have to heal up, you’ll be in a better condition to be visited. Even some of the visiting groups that come from the outside – I heard of a visiting group in Campsfield that were banned from coming in to the visiting centre – banned from visiting detainees because they relayed the horrible experiences of detainees to people on the outside. The only visiting groups allowed into the detention centre are such that will not expose the secretive brutality, torture of the staff of the detention centres. So it’s difficult to say how the campaigners outside can work with the detainees in their resistance.

Resistance Outside Detention

I know what detention is like. I know the suffering, the pain of the people. Since I’ve been out of detention I’ve been working with groups campaigning against detention and supporting people in detention.

I know that when I was behind the huge fences which are like prisons, I knew that there were people out there that were campaigning. I got a lot of support from people outside. It’s such a relief when you’re incarcerated in an immigration detention centre to know that there are people out there who are not part of the torture, part of the oppression, part of the ordeal that you’re going through.

It’s such a relief. Because when I was in there I could hear people protesting outside, asking that Campsfield be closed down. These people I didn’t even know them – they don’t even know some of us. These people are English people. It was such a relief – each day, such a demonstration or protest takes place – I get that relief from knowing that – hang on – these guys are not all the same. There are people out there who look at things differently – who think humans should be treated as human beings – not worse than animals.

That’s why since I came out of detention I’ve been actively involved in campaign groups that have been campaigning over the years to see the end of this brutality. To see an end to this barbaric practice of incarcerating human beings, of depriving humans of their right to existence, right to family life, right to private life, right to live, you know? So it’s such a privilege for me to be part of these campaign groups.

Violence of Deportations

I’m aware of how the Home Office over the years has introduced charter flights which they use to secretly remove people who have been here for years. People who have established family life here. People who have worked and contributed to this country. They’re simply being treated like animals or worse than animals. There’s been a lot of cases of people being forcefully removed from the UK by charter flight where most of them are taken to countries they’ve never been for decades, a country they don’t even know, separated from their community, their families here, from their friends, from their private life.

They are being further punished for being sent to a country that they’re not from as if it’s their fault – whereas it’s the fault of the Home Office. So, things the Home Office can achieve with a charter flight is 1): They can do whatever they like to the people they’re trying to forcefully remove from the UK without anyone ever knowing about it. And 2) Charter flight can be sent to a destination that the government, or some people in the government in such country, agree to be used as a dumping ground for immigrants. Such immigrants can never ever find their way back to any where in the world.

And such people – a lot of them are taken to a country where they’re being killed. Some that are lucky not to be killed are kept in prison for life because the Home Office tell the country to which they are taken to that these guys are criminals. As soon as they arrive in such countries they are kept in prison as criminals again without a charge – just because the Home Office tells them that they are criminals.

A lot of them are languishing in detention centres – some are dead in prisons without their family here even able to track them down to know their whereabouts. Some of the families are thinking that they’re still alive. I’ve heard of cases of people who, as soon as they’ve been taken to their perceived country of origin – they are just eliminated – they’re killed – just because such countries are made to believe that they’re criminals.

Coming to the UK for refuge. Coming to the UK for good reasons is not a crime. But amazingly some immigrants have been seen as committing crimes for being in the UK. Some are described as illegal immigrants. There are different phrases that they use to describe them. Some are described as being here with no right to be here. At the end of the day we just have to look at these things and try to understand it better from the detainees perspective.

Disappointingly, most of the public don’t even know what is happening. They are being brainwashed by the Home Office who tell them that these people are bad, that they’re the cause of the problem, whereas they’re actually part of the solution to the problem. I’m sure if the public actually know the truth of this whole thing they will be more sympathetic with detainees, sympathetic with the people who are going through this inhumane, brutal and barbaric immigration-Home Office handling of lives.

It is really sad to be talking about this whole thing. It is sad for me to see it here right now, knowing full well that there are young men and women, even pregnant women, vulnerable people, with various health issues, languishing in detention centres.

It’s unimaginable what these people are going through and having to recall my experience – it just spoils my day and makes me feel really, really sad. Also being aware of how people are killed when the Home Office immigration try to forcefully, brutally remove them from the UK.

Jimmy Mubenga

The case of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan man, who was murdered, in the course of the Home Office forcefully trying to remove him from the UK. In his case, the murder came to light because the flight used at the time wasn’t a charter flight – it was a flight that had some passengers in it. I’m sure that’s the only way we knew about what happened to Jimmy Mubenga – otherwise we would never have known.

So flights that are chartered – that are solely used for the removal of detainees – and no passengers travel on such flights – you can imagine what would happen on such flights. These guys who get away with murder – if there were witnesses when they killed Jimmy Mubenga – you can imagine what would happen on flights currently being used that are not normal flights – not passenger flights – the passengers who travel on it are detainees. So if they got killed, no one would ever know about it. This whole system has a way of covering up most of these things.

When Jimmy Mubenga was murdered, my understanding was that the security guards were actually contractors to the Home Office and that they are called G4S. But you’ll not believe that nobody was ever convicted of the murder. Basically they are above the law. So they got away with murder. You may also wish to know that the same contractors to the Home Office were never stripped of their license to obtain contract. In fact they are even more popular than ever before – demonstrating that they are able to forcefully, brutally remove immigrants from the UK by any means even if it means murdering them. They’re getting more contracts. You go to hospitals – they’re there. You go to courts – they’re there. You go to various government establishments – they’re there. So, if a civilian, an ordinary person in society commits murder, they are sent to prison for life.

So we can see the double standard that we’re talking about: Immigrants are not seen as human beings – they’re only seen as numbers – they’re numbers as far as the Home Office is concerned – they are not human. That’s why you find the Home Office are working on targets to achieve a specific number of people they remove from the UK irrespective of why they are in the UK and what they are doing in the UK. It doesn’t matter to them – as long as they are able to achieve a target.

If the Home Secretary tells them we need 2,000 removed from the UK by 2018, it just basically means they have to go round raiding as much people as they want – as long as they are black – as long as they are Asian. It doesn’t matter to them whether their human right is being breached – it’s all about numbers. It’s not about lives at all. They don’t give a damn about life. The life of immigrants’ is no life. It’s not seen as life.

It’s sad that I have to sit here talking about these things. I wish there could be more people who share in my passion for seeing this oppression – for seeing this barbaric practise come to an end.

Voluntary Returns”

Voluntary Returns” is a shambles. It’s a very deceptive way of getting people out of this country against their will. As far as I’m concerned there’s no such thing as “Voluntary Returns” for immigrants. It’s a systematic, subtle removal of people against their will from this country.

It’s very deceptive. To ask someone to agree to go to a country where they don’t belong, with a promise of giving them so much money, and assuring them of protection in a country they’ll be sent to, if only they agree to go to that country – it’s one of the greatest deceptions. Basically you are told: “If you agree to go to this country, we’ll give you a lump sum of money so you can start your life in that country – though you flee persecution, torture, you fear for your life in your country of origin. But we can change your life by giving you a lump sum of money to start a life in another country that you’ve never been, that you don’t belong – all this false hope – and all this deception – it’s another subtle way of forcing people out of this country.

The word “voluntary” is deceptive. This is what I know. It isn’t a free choice … most immigrants are victims of torture. Most immigrants are in the UK experiencing the same torture. And some are killed. Being given the hope that there’s a country out there waiting to accept them, to give them protection – and that here they are being denied protection, denied a right of existence in the UK – and there’ve been given a lump sum of money to start a life somewhere, and that they won’t face any torture. Such people will naively accept such an offer because they just need a place free of the torture. A lot of them are in the UK being tortured.

[The Home Office] never leave you alone. We are pretty much aware of the current “Hostile Environment”. These people cannot access medical care. They cannot access education. They cannot access jobs. Even most of them cannot participate in activities that will relieve them of the stress. A lot of them have issues . . . I have issues with mental health. They’ve got no choice.

In Turkey they have a place for refugees. People are there because some European countries have decided that they should be there as refugees rather than be allowed to go to the country of their choice to seek refuge. So it’s not a choice – that’s what “voluntary return” is – it’s not a choice. It’s allowing the powers that be to decide where you’re going to be the next day. People languishing in detention centres today – it’s not a choice – they have no option. That’s how I look at “voluntary returns“ – that’s the truth about “voluntary returns”.

I don’t think any true “campaigner” will subscribe to collaborate with the Home Office for “Voluntary Return”. Most of the people doing the “voluntary return” scheme are doing it to earn a living. They’re not a campaign group – they’re being paid to facilitate “Voluntary Returns” – a lot of them earn a living from it. A lot of them do it because they are not true campaigners that share in the passion of the work of campaigners. They are people who actually share in the torture and oppression of the Home Office. They are more like Home Office personnel in disguise. They disguise themselves as campaigners, they have a hidden agenda, they’re part of the Home Office system, so it’s all deception.