Freedom from Torture - Why immigration detention is not the answer

Why immigration detention is not the answer

Blog by Borry, member of the Survivors Speak OUT network.

With MPs raising concerns about immigration detention in Parliament today, Borry shares his experience of immigration detention and urges the Government to take into account recommendations of those with lived experience when reviewing their Adults at Risk policy. His view: detention is not the answer to managing migration.

Survivors Speak OUT (SSO) is a national network of torture survivors and former clients of Freedom from Torture. It was set up by survivors, for survivors, to speak with authority on issues of torture including those that impact their lives here in the UK.

I am a torture survivor and I claimed asylum in the UK. I was detained because I was seeking protection. I wasn’t a criminal but I was being treated like one: I couldn’t and still can’t understand why.

When I came to the UK, I was in a bad physical and mental state. I could not trust any authority anywhere and thought that I might be tortured again. Being detained brought back memories. The sound of the locks, the footsteps, the four walls, the not knowing what was happening – this was all mental torture. The detention guards and health staff were not able to respond to my physical and mental needs resulting from my torture.

It was during my time in the immigration detention centre that I began to realise the impact of what had happened to me, my family and the life that I once knew and had to leave behind. It began with nightmares and flashbacks. I did not trust anyone. I wanted to be left alone. I struggled to sleep. I struggled to eat. I had headaches and I had visible ongoing physical injuries and ailments as a result of the physical torture suffered. But, I couldn’t respond to any help because I did not feel safe.

Some years have passed now but I still struggle every time I recall my detention experience, as it takes me back to my memories of torture. Detention is hugely retraumatising for refugees who have survived torture. For any asylum seeker, detention only adds an extra trauma to an already traumatic life.

Detention centres are not the answer to managing immigration. Yet the Government’s current position is that detention is to be an element of the immigration system. If that is to continue to be the case, then the Government should at least apply their own principle not to detain vulnerable people: torture survivors, like myself, should not be detained in any circumstances. The safeguards exist to identify vulnerable people and ensure they aren’t detained but they don’t work, as the Adults at Risk policy is too narrow and the system is not sufficiently resourced to allow healthcare staff in detention centres to do their jobs properly.

This is why I’m glad that a number of MPs, like Joan Ryan and Seema Malhotra, are asking Parliamentary Questions on detention today. When the Government reviews its Adults at Risk policy, they should take note of the recommendations of those with lived experience. Community-based alternatives to detention do exist and the government should work with NGOs and survivors to explore more humane and cost-effective ways to achieve their goals. Ultimately, what is needed is a safe home to provide the protective environment for vulnerable people.

The Government has admitted that its immigration detention system needs reform, and has committed to reviewing its policies this year. This creates a genuine opportunity to help make sure torture survivors are protected. MPs across the country are already supporting this campaign, and Freedom from Torture is calling for supporters to ask their MP to raise their concerns with the Government, by signing an Early Day Motion.

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