It felt like being back in Sri Lanka, with my life in the hands of torturers

Blog by Maaya*

After I had been tortured and had escaped to the UK, I felt more scared than ever. At times, it felt like being back in Sri Lanka, with my life in the hands of torturers. This is how being in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre felt to me.

Growing up in Sri Lanka, I studied English at school and learned about the UK. But, I never imagined that one day I would be forced to leave my family behind and come to live here.

I was 19 and at university on the day my life changed forever. Out of nowhere, five army men burst in. They were shouting at me in Sinhalese, but I couldn’t understand them because I speak Tamil. They blindfolded me. I was crying as they dragged me away. They thought I was part of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE) but they were wrong.

When they took the blindfold off, I was in an office at a government detention centre. They took my ID, fingerprints, family photos. Then they locked me up in a filthy cell. There was no toilet, just a stinking hole in the floor. The walls were rough cement and covered in writing – the names of people who had been there before.

Outside, I could hear people crying and shouting - in Sinhalese and Tamil. They were terrified they were going to die there.

They took me from the cell to torture me. They punched and kicked me, burnt me and beat me with metal poles. It was 20 days of hell.  I never thought I could feel so hopeless, so scared.

When the Sri Lankan soldiers let me go, I was so scared I would be tortured again, I escaped to the UK to stay with a friend of my dad’s.

I arrived alone and frightened. For months, I was too scared to go outside. I thought someone would discover me and send me back to be tortured. Eventually, I met some Tamil people like me who said I should apply for asylum. I did and had to visit a reporting centre every month for my case. I thought that, at last, I had found someone to help me.

I began to have hope. But on my second visit, they put me in handcuffs, shackled my legs and drove me to Yarl’s Wood. I was innocent but again I was being treated like a criminal.

Despite evidence of the harm it causes, the UK Home Office is still detaining survivors of torture for immigration purposes.

Survivors’ descriptions of their experiences in detention can be hard to tell apart from their descriptions of torture back home.

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This was the UK, but it felt no different from being arrested in Sri Lanka. Again, I couldn’t see where they were taking me. Again, I was crying and felt hopeless and scared. It brought back all the memories and feelings of being tortured. Just like before, I could hear screams and shouts outside the door of my room.

When they detained me in the UK, I thought I’d rather have stayed in Sri Lanka and died there.

I was petrified and too scared to leave the room. Every day, the guards would come and count me, like a criminal. When I got sick, they didn’t believe me. They gave me one paracetamol tablet. Later I found out I had TB. I was so sick I needed to take medication for nine months.

I was released from Yarl’s Wood after 10 days. For torture survivors like me, detention in the UK brings back the trauma of torture. It was only Freedom from Torture, and people like their supporters, that gave me hope.

* - Maaya’s name has been changed to protect her safety

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