Notes From the Detention Center
A view into a room at the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center near London's Heathrow Airport. (Photo: Peter Macdiarmid / AFP-Getty Images)
Bob Hughes of the Campaign to Close Campsfield says there are similarities between how asylum seekers are treated in the United Kingdom today and the abuse that slaves and the poor were subjected to in Victorian England.
"A huge violence is being done to some very good people. It's a national scandal," he said. "When the history books are written, this episode of hysteria against asylum seekers will be compared to the Victorian workhouses and slavery."
Hughes' comments came in July after an inquest heard how a failed asylum seeker killed himself at Campsfield House.
The 18-year-old Kurd from Turkey had been detained at the immigration removal center for four and a half months.
The following month, in August, the leading opposition political party in the U.K. demanded an independent inquiry into conditions at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center.
Damien Green, the Conservatives' shadow home secretary, made the call after revelations that 49 detainees had received medical treatment for self-harm in the first half of this year alone.
According to a report in The Guardian, a total of 461 detainees at the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center were placed on "formal self-harm at risk" procedures from Jan. 1 to June 30.
Since July, Joanne Bean has been visiting her boyfriend, who is in detention and has been held in a number of immigration detention centers.
She documents what she sees and hears during her visits in e-mails that she sends out to a number of people.
The following narrative is based on Joanne Bean's e-mails and gives an insight into some of the pressures experienced by detainees and their friends and families.
I visited Campsfield House yesterday. I was appalled by what I learnt while I was there.
They are holding a 15-year-old Ugandan boy.
Also, I learnt that at 5 p.m., an Afghan failed asylum seeker attempted suicide. He cut both of his wrists and his throat. He'd received removal directions four months earlier and had accepted that he was going to be sent back to Afghanistan. But, four months on, he is still being held at Campsfield House.
The staff on the day shift were absolutely brilliant. They had respect for the detainees but I was dismayed when I met the evening staff.
One Jamaican detainee is being deported to Jamaica today so he and his wife were having a kiss and a cuddle; one of the officers went over to them and told them that their behavior was unacceptable. There have been several complaints about this female officer, about her attitude towards the detainees. She's only worked there for about a week.
The evening shift did not have a lighter to allow the detainees and visitors to have a cigarette. We were told that none of the officers on duty smoked. A detainee went and asked for a light. Eventually, after half an hour, a lighter was found and, amazingly, the officer that had said she did not smoke lit up a cigarette.
A detainee that has been there for just three weeks has seen absolute nightmare situations: countless attempted suicides and detainees trying to escape getting caught and ripped to shreds by the razor-like fences that surround the detention center.
It was very hot yesterday. I saw many vans bringing detainees into Campsfield. The detainees were locked in cages like animals. On a very hot day like yesterday, this was inhumane.
Just this one visit has made me take a reality check and made me feel fortunate for what I've got. I'd hate it if a person I loved were locked up there. I hate it now but if it was a person I loved who was being held there, I don't know what I'd do.
I spoke to the wife of the Jamaican man who is being held there. He's been married to her for nine years. He got into a bit of trouble with the police and got his British citizenship and passport revoked and he was sent to Campsfield.
Ibrahim, the Ugandan boy, was born on Oct. 10, 1990. His father died in 1995 and his mother in 1996. After his parents' death, Ibrahim lived roughly on the streets of Uganda for five years. He was taken in by a badminton coach who'd found out that Ibrahim was very good at badminton.
There were tournaments in the U.K. so this badminton coach changed his travel documents to record his birthday as July 7, 1986, so that Ibrahim would be able to come to the U.K.
When the tournament was over, Ibrahim was expected to return back to Uganda. He decided not to go and ran away and, again, lived on the streets for a while.
This is not the first time he has been detained. He has been in other detention centers in the U.K. He arrived at Campsfield on June 10, 2006. Campsfield, as you may know, is a removal center for male detainees only. The detainees are supposed to be over the age of 18.
Ibrahim has his birth certificate to prove he is a minor but no one will believe him. He has not even been given the chance to prove that he's only 15 years old.
I have been in contact with many different organizations about Ibrahim and they've all passed on my message to others, and it's gotten to a point where one of the organizations is going to speak to Ibrahim directly and another one's trying to bail him out, and the bail circle's going to get in touch with the Refugee Council's panel for unaccompanied minors. So it looks like we are making some progress. They've all said they'll regularly keep me informed of any updates.
An Iraqi failed asylum seeker is also being held at the detention center. He spent six months in prison. His release date came and went. Three weeks ago, he was transferred to Campsfield and told to wait there until the judge has made a decision on what to do with him. His friends are in the process of getting him out on temporary release and hopefully getting him some sort of status in this country.
I am also trying to find out more about the Afghan that slashed his wrists and throat, including his whereabouts.
Another failed asylum seeker from Afghanistan, Hamid Arsalan, is due to be forcibly removed today on Emirates Airline flight No. EK016 at 2:15 p.m. to Dubai and then on to Kabul, Afghanistan, against his will.
This will be the third time in the last five weeks that Immigration have tried to deport Hamid Arsalan. The previous two attempts were called off at the last minute following faxes and phone calls to the airline.
Hamid says that he and his family were caught up in the violent fighting between the warring factions that has plagued Afghanistan for years. His father, a well-known leader and religious teacher in the city of Baghlan, was suspected of being a Christian because he taught that Muslims should read the Koran and the Bible as part of their studies of Islam. His father, mother, and two brothers were brutally murdered and his home reduced to rubble in the chaos that followed the invasion of Afghanistan. There may have been other reasons why his family were targeted; his father had been previously involved in maintaining law and order in the city, his family were Sunni in a largely Shia area, and there may have been an element of revenge involved.
Hamid fled believing that he would also be murdered. He believes that if he is returned to Afghanistan he will almost certainly be killed, as those responsible for his parents' murder are now in power in Baghlan and have strong links with the government in Kabul. He is well known to them.
Hamid is a young man with serious health problems. He suffers from chronic back pain and has spinal problems. At the present time, an operation for spinal fusion is considered too risky so he is being treated with strong medication. This will need to be reviewed and further hospital investigations carried out. He says that it will be impossible for him to obtain the drugs in Afghanistan or to obtain the necessary hospital treatment. The trauma and mental distress has caused profound depression, which means that he finds it very difficult to act for himself. He is at great risk.
The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating by the hour. Five British soldiers have been killed in recent weeks and even the president of Afghanistan admits things are going downhill at a fast pace.
I've contacted the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (N.C.A.D.C.) for an update on Hamid Arsalan. I've not had anything back. It does not look too hopeful because I think if he were saved, we'd have heard something by now.
The current situation in Afghanistan is rapidly declining: six deaths of British soldiers in a week and a huge blast yesterday in Kabul that killed 12 and injured at least 40 civilians.
The Iraqi man is of Kurdish origin. He spent six months in Glen Parva young offenders' prison. When he was due to be released, he was sent before a judge and ordered to stay in Campsfield until the judge had made a decision on what to do with him next. This was four weeks ago. No decision has been made yet. Whilst he was in prison, he self-harmed. He slashed his arms. He now bears huge scars down both arms.
I've told him that self-harming is not the way to do things and he's agreed that he will stop. Will have to see if he has any fresh wounds on Sunday when I go.
He should have put a bail application in by now. It usually takes around three days for a decision to be made on whether a bail application is going to a hearing or not.
All being well he will be released soon.
The 15-year-old Ugandan boy, I'm not sure about what is happening to him but the whole of the system deems him to be a liar. He had false documents so he could travel alone. He has his birth certificate but they all think it is forged. There are still people out there who are trying to help him.
The Jamaican man has been deported but has been told that, after he has been in Jamaica for three months, he can apply to come back to the U.K. When he does apply, he will most probably be refused a visa. He had been in the U.K. for seven years!
Another Jamaican man in there has applied for a bail hearing. He will probably have his hearing tomorrow or on Monday. He too got into the trouble with the police. He was on probation then immigration removal papers were sent to him and he was sent to Campsfield. He has been married to a British citizen for nine years.
As for the suicidal Afghan, I have had no news on him whatsoever.
I've been trying to contact Campsfield all week. No answer. Can't get through to the detainees whatsoever. Sounds like there may have been trouble in the week
On the phone last night, I spoke to a volunteer from the Close Down Campsfield campaign. She is going to keep in contact with me so that at least I've got a bit of support behind me.
I brought up the van situation with her. She informed me that, not last summer, the summer before, detainees were brought to Campsfield in vans and held in them for up to eight hours without food or drink. It was a hot summer too, then! You would not keep a dog like this. In fact, if you kept a dog in a van under those conditions and you were found out, you would be up in court for it, if not imprisoned or heavily fined. It is so wrong!
Also, a new system the staff at Campsfield have brought in is to fingerprint all the visitors. They are treating visitors like criminals just for visiting a loved one or friend or just to give detainees some support. The world is going insane and I don't like it.
They claim it is to make sure visitors go back out and not detainees. I have been informed that no detainee has ever escaped from Campsfield in this way — so why start fingerprinting visitors now? It's just a way of punishing visitors for visiting detainees because the system thinks that detainees should not live. It thinks they should be left in there to rot.
Visited Campsfield again yesterday. Had my fingerprints and photograph taken for their records — apparently to reduce the amount of paperwork that they have to do for the visitors.
Made me feel like a criminal. Then they put a wristband on us to show that we had been searched.
The officer that was unpleasant last week was on the front desk and was now polite and courteous to us visitors.
When we went over to the visitors' center, the smoking garden was locked. The officer on duty said that it was not going to be opened as it spoke of rain. Reluctantly, when pushed, he opened the garden and commented sarcastically that if the detainees were still here in winter the garden would be locked permanently. Did not like his attitude at all.
There is a Welsh family that visits frequently. They have had comments made to them about them being Welsh. Not nice comments either. A complaint was lodged through the manager. The family is worried that it might have impact on the treatment that their daughter's fiancée who is being held there will receive. The manager has tried to convince them that in no circumstances will it have any affect on him but they don't know if they can trust him.
No news on the Ugandan boy. No one seems to know his whereabouts; they have not seen him for days. Nor any news on the Afghan; they seem to think he died as he was in a bad way when he was taken away, although he may have been transferred to yet another detention center.
In the week, two slightly better bits of news as told to me by another detainee:
An Afghan was moved out of the main center and into the induction center in order to be removed and deported back to Afghanistan. A group of detainees had a protest at midnight by refusing to go to their rooms. The manager was called and he tried to convince them that if they went back to their rooms, the Afghan would be returned to the block. They refused and said they were not going anywhere until he was back with them. The manager called Immigration who cancelled the removal directions for the flight which had been set for the following day and sent the Afghan back to the others who subsequently returned to their rooms elated at what they at achieved.
Another Afghan detainee was actually taken to the airport to be removed during the week. Whilst there, he attempted to hang himself, was caught in time and the flight was cancelled and he was returned back to Campsfield.
The young Iraqi is still awaiting a decision on his bail application. I and two of his friends have another friend of mine stepped in as surety. Hopefully will hear some sort of outcome this week.
The Jamaican man had his appeal yesterday at Newport in South Wales.
His wife set out for the appeal at 5:00 a.m. for the journey from London to Newport. When she got there, she was told the Home Office had not submitted all their paperwork; therefore, the case was adjourned until Thursday. She then had to repeat the journey, but this time, instead of going to her sister's in London, she returned heavy-hearted back to her home in Leeds.
She told me she got very emotional and felt like giving up her fight. I told her not to give up and to keep her chin up and that I am behind her 110 percent. She said she would tell me more on Thursday. She does not drive and has to rely on friends to drive her everywhere: from Leeds to London, London to Campsfield, and now to Newport, too!
Her father has recently passed away and her mother has just had open-heart surgery. She is under a lot of stress and pressure.
The Ugandan boy has got a caseworker from the children's panel going to see him today. All being well, that will come as good news. Fingers crossed.
My Iraqi friend has got his bail hearing on Monday, July 17, in Birmingham at 10:00 a.m. Going to visit him again on Sunday, hopefully for the last time (inside, anyway). Will keep everything crossed and hope he gets his bail.
You may well remember that I told you the story about the young Ugandan boy being unlawfully detained at Campsfield House.
Last night another detainee called me and told me that Immigration was there and that Ibrahim was on the roof threatening to kill himself. All the other detainees were very distressed, so other trouble may have broken out last night as well.
The Jamaican man was released on bail yesterday and called Campsfield to inquire about Ibrahim and was told that the riot squad had been called in as they were trying to deport Ibrahim.
Please, can someone try and find out what has happened to him, as I am deeply concerned about this matter?
Just to let you know that Ibrahim was eventually taken off the roof at Campsfield at 2:00 a.m. Whether or not force was used is unknown as all the detainees were locked in their blocks by then.
It is thought that he has been transferred to another detention center, destination unknown. Probably another place where he is not supposed to be.
Any news, please let me know directly, and I will keep you informed of anything I hear.
Just had an update from Bail for Immigration Detainees (B.I.D.) Oxford. Apparently, Ibrahim was taken to hospital and is due to be transferred to Colnbrook later today.
Will keep you updated.
My question is that, according to the others, he did not hurt himself — so why was he taken to hospital? Did the officers use force on him to get him down?
He is just a frightened boy that needs our help. We just need to track him down again.
Please don't let this keep happening. He needs our support.
My Iraqi friend has had his bail application withdrawn because my friend and I did not have sufficient funds in our bank accounts to act as sureties. He was absolutely gutted at the outcome of this.
When I spoke to his solicitor, earlier, she had said if I could show the court I had regular money going in and out of my account it would be fine. I earn £210 ($388) a week and could easily afford to pay back the surety money in a week if he happened to abscond, which I doubt he would.
The Jamaican man was granted bail on Thursday. I spoke to his wife and she said he had to report and sign in at the Home Office in Leeds twice a week and would have the appeal to stay in the country heard in three months' time.
Went to visit Campsfield on Sunday. What we all thought was going to be the last visit.
Rules have changed again. You are not allowed to take in an open packet of cigarettes. If you visit twice in one day, you have to take two packs with you. Also, the attitude of the staff was not as friendly as it has been previously. They were quite cold and unwelcoming toward all of us.
Remember me telling you about the Kurdish man with a Welsh fiancée? Well, he was deported to Germany at 12:00 midnight last night even though he had pleaded with the Home office that he wanted to return to Iraq.
The Home Office said that he could not go back to Iraq and had to go to Germany where he is probably in another detention center now.
Going to Campsfield again on Sunday and also to a prison in Liverpool tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if there are any differences.
Had a few responses from my appeal to help Diyako. I am extremely grateful. Just waiting for his next bail hearing now.
Went to Altcourse prison in Liverpool on Saturday to visit my cousin's boyfriend.
The differences between the prison and Campsfield are shocking.
It is claimed that Campsfield is not a prison and yet the prisoners in Liverpool are treated with more dignity and respect than the detainees at Campsfield.
The prison is run by GSL, the company that previously ran Campsfield. There are fingerprinting facilities for visitors to provide fingerprints but none was used on any of the visitors whilst I was there.
The searching of the visitors is not as advanced as it is at Campsfield.
The only difference in favor of Campsfield is that the visiting hours are longer. You only get two hours a month visiting time at Altcourse.
On Sunday, I visited Campsfield. The staff at the detention center were disrespectful to both the visitors and detainees.
I visited Diyako with a former detainee who had been released from Campsfield only last Wednesday.
All of his old friends were banging on the window, asking him how he was and how he was doing.
He replied to them. At this point three officers came into the garden and told him that he was there to see Diyako and no one else and that if he made any other contact with any of the other detainees the visit would be terminated and he would be banned from the center.
So, he just sat at picnic table with me and Diyako.
After about ten minutes, the manager came over and told him the same thing the three officers had told him earlier. She said it was his final warning.
I explained that he had not spoken to the other detainees. They were banging on the windows and speaking to him and it would be rude not to reply.
She explained again that we were there to visit Diyako and not to talk to anyone else — and they have the cheek to say that Campsfield is not a prison!
In my opinion, it is worse than a prison. At least with a prison sentence you know exactly when you will be released. In a detention center, you could be there indefinitely. Even then, you could be sent to another country to meet your death, torture or straight into war zones.
The Home Office has no compassion for asylum seekers whatsoever. A barrister has told me that they do not care whether or not they are killed when they get home. To the Home Office they are just a number. It's so wrong. I wish more people could get involved in helping these innocent people.
People in the U.K. only hear about the bad ones and the bad press that tells the public that asylum seekers are all a burden on society and all bogus and that none of them has got any problems in their own country. They don't hear the horror stories of what the asylum seekers have seen, what they had to go through to actually get here only to be turned away and returned to war torn countries that the U.K. has contributed to destroying or caused upheaval and more death and human right breaches.
Diyako's bail application has been put in. Now we are waiting to hear what day it will be heard on.
The Jamaican man released on bail earlier in the month has been told his appeal to stay in the country will be heard in August.
Will keep you updated on what is happening with both cases.
Fingers crossed and hoping all will be O.K.
We have a bail application in to try and release Diyako from detention. This hearing will be soon but that is the easier part of the battle. I have been told that all of his appeal rights have been exhausted and the U.K. does intend to deport him eventually.
He says he can never go back to Iraq but the Home Office will not support his plea for life.
He left Iraq in September 2003 with his brother Ako. They traveled to Istanbul where they were hidden and then put in a lorry — destination unknown. After six days, they both arrived in the U.K. cold and hungry from the long journey here. They did not know what country they were in until Immigration Officals at Dover interviewed them.
Ako, the brother, had previously left Iraq and traveled to Greece but was turned away and sent back to Iraq. Their father was a high official of Islamic extremists and asked both of them to join. When they declined, their father disowned them and said that if they ever returned back to Iraq he or someone else would kill them.
Ako and Diyako were sent to live at accommodation provided by the National Asylum Support Services (N.A.S.S.) in Middlesbrough. Later on in the year Ako was called to the Home Office and told that since he had previously traveled to Greece, he would therefore be deported to Greece.
It would be sometime before Diyako found out that Ako had been deported back to Greece and was awaiting deportation back to Iraq. He had no one to turn to, and was feeling very depressed in a country unknown to him and had no money to do anything. One day he got drunk with two other friends and did something, which he deeply regrets now and for which he was convicted and sentenced to 20 months in prison. He served 10 months and was released in May 2006.
He returned to court in May 2006 and was told that he faces deportation to Iraq and was sent to Campsfield House.
He says if he is ever put on a plane back to Iraq he will kill himself before the plane lands.
On Monday, there was a fight at Campsfield House between a group of Jamaicans and Iraq Kurd detainees. My friend was involved in the fight and ended up spending four days in isolation with no link to the outside world. He could receive calls but could not make calls and an officer was watching him 24/7 through a mirror in his room.
On Friday, he was sent to induction where he was told he would be removed from Campsfield and sent to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center where the Jamaicans he had fought earlier had also been sent.
The logic in this I do not know. I rang the duty manager. She said she had no power whatsoever to stop the removal. It was down to the immigration service.
I tried to explain that it was not fair to remove him to the same place as the people he had been fighting with, as there would just be further violence between them.
On Saturday morning, I called Campsfield to make sure he was still there.
He was but was now being told that he was going to be removed to Harmondsworth, which is next door to Colnbrook.
He is still waiting his bail hearing date then hopefully he will be released and can start a new life. He is desperate for release. Just hope he won't be denied this.
I spoke to an officer on duty whilst on my visit. He has worked at Campsfield for many years and has told me there are frequent fights between the detainees, and sometimes whilst trying to break up fights they themselves get hurt. On Monday, he got hit twice trying to separate the detainees. He also had to take away a knife that one of the Jamaicans was going to stab my friend with.
The visiting times have changed again.
Visitors can come in between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. with no break. If the visit lasts all day the detainee will not have an evening meal. And visitors are not allowed to bring food into the center.
Visiting times used to be between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Then 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. There was an hour in between so the detainees could have their evening meal.
Also, another thing they might be bringing in is that detainees might now be able to receive calls up until 11 p.m. At the moment they cannot receive calls after 9 p.m.
So this is a little bit swinging in the detainees' favor.
Is there a detention center for removals in Birmingham?
Diyako has been told that he is being removed from Campsfield and being sent to a place in Birmingham. I have looked everywhere and I cannot find it.
They have suggested Lindholme to him but he is only 20 and the minimum age for detainees at Lindholme is 21. The visiting hours at Lindholme are extremely short.
I have tried to contact Campsfield and speak to the manager and they have said it is out of their hands now.
Diyako has spent over a week with no free association. I am deeply concerned about his welfare.
We had a bail hearing in but this was not accepted as they are trying to remove him to another center.
I only get to see him on Sundays and I travel over 90 miles one way to see him. If he is moved to Colnbrook or Harmondsworth it's an extra 50 miles on top of the 90 and the court will be further for me to travel. At least Campsfield deals with Sheldon court, which I can easily reach.
Diyako is on the verge of self-harming again.
His eyes that once seemed so full of life now look empty.
Living like this is destroying him and me in the process.
They removed him from Campsfield House in Oxford and transferred him to Colnbrook near to Heathrow airport.
I got promised by a duty manager that under no circumstances would he [be] transferred to Colnbrook as the men that tried to stab him had gone there. I pleaded with duty managers not to move him on and to let him stay at Campsfield but as usual my pleas fell on deaf ears.
I am in the process of writing a formal complaint about this.
So it looks like I will be visiting Colnbrook from now on.
I have called many people to try and help us. Sometimes it all gets too much and it feels like I can't go on anymore.
It's not right that he should be imprisoned any longer. I will keep fighting as long as I am physically able to.
Diyako has got another bail hearing on Wednesday at York House in Feltham, London. I'm trying to keep his hopes up.
He is so depressed at the moment. Nothing I do cheers him up. I normally try to see him but he said he did not want any visitors this week. I don't know what to do anymore.
It's getting more and more of a struggle though especially since there is a threat from the Home Office to start resuming deportations to Northern Iraq this September.
Last Nov. 15 men were forced to return to Iraq from Stansted Airport, provoking outrage from all concerned parties.
Diyako's bail application was refused.
The judge did not even allow me to give evidence to support his claim.
The Home Office refused to believe we were in a relationship because we have been separated for so long and the Home Office said that Diyako was going to be deported back to Iraq within a reasonable time limit. When I heard this, I was physically sick.
After the hearing, we went outside and spoke to the barrister. He suggested that we put in an out of time appeal and said he was going to go and see Diyako. He asked if we had any messages for Diyako.
We asked him to see if Diyako wanted to see us at Colnbrook when he got back there. When the barrister returned, he told us that Diyako was eager to see us all. He told us that he would be back at Colnbrook at 5 p.m.
We went and waited at Colnbrook for him to return.
He got back there at 7 p.m. but we were not allowed to see him till 8 p.m., as he had to be processed again into the system.
At 9 p.m., we left Colnbrook and a journey that would normally take two hours took me three and a half hours, as I had to keep stopping on the hard shoulder of the motorway because I felt so ill.
I got home at 12.30 a.m. and tried to go to sleep. I couldn't sleep and I couldn't think about anything.
I am so scared at the thought of him being taken away from me. All I want is for us to be given the chance to be together, get married, and have a family but it does not look like we will get the chance to.
It really infuriates me that if I was a European citizen but not from the U.K. Diyako would be able to stay with me regardless of his past history. And I could marry and stay with a murderer or pedophile if he was British. The U.K. government takes pride in its family values, yet they are tearing families and couples apart if they don't fit the government's racial criteria.
If the worst came to the worst and he was deported, he would not be able to return to the U.K. for three years and even then, there is no guarantee he would be allowed back. I could not go over to him as we are not married and the Iraqi embassy will only give visas if we are married. He will probably be killed when he is sent back to Iraq.
What do I do?
Diyako is really depressed now.
He does not want to fight anymore. He feels like he is fighting a losing battle and feels that he might as well be dead. He does not see the point in living anymore. He does not want visitors and only just answers calls and e-mails I send him. The stress that the Home Office is putting on us is unbearable.
We do not know the reason why the Home Office is so against the thought of us being together. He won't be claiming anything off the government. We will not ask them for anything. Just the right to live and found a family together, but in the view of the government here in the U.K., we are not allowed to do this.
There is a group that I have recently joined, Brides Without Borders, of whom all the members have partners or spouses that are not permitted to stay in the U.K. together. They are all in the same situation as me and they, like me, are also getting nowhere, but not many of them have spouses or partners who are currently in detention like my Diyako. They are all there to support each other and pass on any news we have about the governments' increasingly impossible rules and regulations.
View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Ambrose Musiyiwa.