How do you perceive the legal system in the UK after my detention? And, do you believe there is access to justice?
This was the question that Julio, a Latin American member of the Freed Voices group, asked some of his friends following his immigration detention of 179 days.
The answer was “many people cannot exercise their human rights and there is justice only for some”.
This was the question that Julio, a Latin American member of the Freed Voices group, asked some of his friends following his immigration detention of 179 days. (The conversation was fully recorded to make it public record. If you want to listen it, just click here)
Julio’s answer was: “Many people cannot exercise their human rights and there is justice only for some”.
His answer is not surprising. Unfortunately in the UK we have been witnessing a Government immigration policy actively sponsoring the alarming and fast-paced erosion of migrant’s rights. One of its most serious manifestations is indefinite immigration detention.
Immigration detention criminalises migrants who have committed no crime, it is indefinite by nature, separates families, traumatises women, men, boys and girls, and dehumanises people.
As Julio’s best friend, Luz, puts it: “Immigration detention causes feelings of anger, frustration, impotence, anguish, anxiety and a feeling that it is deeply unfair”. Another of his friend’s described detention in the UK as “close to torture”.
It is not uncommon for those who have experienced immigration detention to question themselves daily: why did this happen to me if I haven’t committed a crime?
As was the case with Julio, many individuals speak about how detention has deeply affected their physical health, sense of wellbeing and mental stability, or as Julio’s friend put it to him: “you lost that bright spark in your eyes’.
As the director of one of the main organisation working with Latin Americans in the UK, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), we have recently seen an increase in immigration raids and immigration detention and the regrettable consequences of these two things.
The young women and girls from our Sin Fronteras programme felt so strongly about this issue that they decided to visit Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre as part of the regular protests organised by Movement for Justice.
Some of them, who have been undocumented in the past or have known about the experiences of undocumented Latin Americans and the exclusion, exploitation and discrimination that they face – were deeply affected by the visit. Some mentioned that the most upsetting experience was to see the hands of many detainees through the walls without being able to see their faces or comfort them.
They were extremely inspired by the trip and by being able to express solidarity, human rights, hope and dignity with and for detainees from different backgrounds, races and nationalities, including many Latin American women to whom they were able to speak in Spanish through the megaphone.
As a result of the visit the young women and girls have decided to develop their campaign for social change specifically on the rights of undocumented migrants.
Indefinite immigration detention is perhaps one of the most serious human rights issues of our times.
The Coalition and the Conservative Government have developed a relentless campaign against migrants and their human rights. Women and men are not being treated like people with rights, but simply as numbers that need to be reduced and as objects for demonization.
We now have an ‘official hostile policy on migration’ sponsored by the Government. Public authorities and private individuals are becoming “de facto” immigration control officers, and many migrant women and men are at threat of being detained and criminalised as ‘illegal’.
But nobody is illegal, actions could be illegal but people are not. Migrants could be undocumented but never illegal.
But, how do we get out of this mess? We simply can’t sit still and witness fellow women and men lose their freedom indefinitely despite having committed no crime. We need to join campaigns and support civil society organisations vocal on this issue such as Detention Action and the work done by Unlocking Detention. We also need to organise ourselves better to create a movement for social change that challenges immigration detention and fights for human rights and dignity.
We need to express our solidarity with those who are in detention. There is also more prevention work to be done to raise awareness of migrant’s rights, the reality of detention and how to challenge it, and to ensure access to justice for people in this situation.
There is always important room for social change, campaigning and for policy and advocacy work against immigration detention. Let’s not let this atrocious breach of human rights go unchallenged. Let’s get vocal and fight it.
*This article is published as part of ‘Unlocking Detention’ – an annual ‘virtual’ tour of the UK’s detention estate, which aims to shine a spotlight on one of the gravest civil liberties issues in Britain today. Huge thanks to Daniel Fernando Diaz-Cebreiro of the LondonLatinx for editing this special Spanish recording for #Unlocked16.
*Carolina Gottardo: Director Latin American Women’s Rights Service
NOTE FROM THE PRISMA: In the UK there are many organisations that help immigrants and refugees, some of them fully committed to help them: Antiraids Network, Stop Deportation, Calais Migrant Solidarity, No Borders UK, Stop Deportation, MSM Migrants Support, Rescue, Stop G4S, etc.