After six years living in the UK, she was detained for five and then seven months. This is the story of a Cameroonian woman who saw people die in detention and gives her account to The Prisma.
Marcos Ortiz F.
She asks for anonymity to tell a story that began in 2013 when she had been in the United Kingdom for over six years. Becky – the name she chooses for this interview – is 37 years old and will tell during 35 minutes the story of her two detentions in Yarl’s Wood centre. The first time, in 2013, for five months; the second time, for another seven. With the support of Black women’s rape action project she will explain, always with moist eyes but without shedding a single tear, how she faced deportation a total of nine times.
Becky arrived to the UK as a student and then began working in the country for the NHS. She says she suffered from domestic violence from her partner, which made her put an end to the relationship. This was when he called immigration to denounce her.
Becky did not know her visa had been revoked. She left the UK on holidays for a weekend unwittingly as there was no notification sent to her by the authorities. She was still moving forward and backward as her ex-partner kept on persuading her back into the relationship, while secretly alerting the immigration to revoke her visa. When she got back she was detained. It was then when her battle began.
“I spent a night at the airport because they were trying to get me on the next flight back to the European country I was coming from. When I resisted, telling them that I was not from that country, they kept me there for a night. The next day I was taken to the detention centre.”
“That was shocking to me. I was working in a full time job with the NHS and in a care home and I was having a one-week holiday. I stopped working on Friday and on Tuesday morning I was in the detention centre. I thought it was a matter of hours or that they were just going to leave me after that.”
“Spending a whole day and night was a nightmare to me as I was handcuffed in the airport into the van and then driven all over the UK to get into a detention centre called Colnbrook, where you are supposed to be a few days awaiting deportation.”
“So the same night they woke me up at midnight and told me they had a flight for me at 3 am. I was so terrified with the whole system, because I was not sure where I was, what was going on, or whether they were ready to listen to me”.
“I was trying to get a lawyer at that same time from all these restricted places where you are given a phone to use, not your own phone and calls are monitored. You don’t even know who to contact, because you have to think of who you know outside so that they can get a lawyer for you”.
So I was struggling. In the morning they woke me up at 3am. I resisted, I said I’m not going. So they frightened me. They told me all sorts of things that they would come with escorts to drag me out, but they finally let me leave by myself”.
“They kept me there for one more day and took me to Yarl’s Wood, one of the largest women detention centres in the UK. I discovered that there were lawyers coming to see people, to take up cases. That was when I tried to get a lawyer to open a domestic violence case”.
What is it like being in there?
It’s a horrible place. It’s a place to torture people emotionally, physically. I always believed that torture existed in less developed countries. European countries and America preach about human rights and making sure that people are not tortured and in my face I was being tortured, and I was caught in a deliberate system where I was made to be a number and nothing else.
The more I started fighting to put on a case nobody was interested in, the more they were trying to deport me.
Being in detention centres is like hitting a brick wall every day. If you want to see a solicitor they will give you a list to put your name down and you can’t see a solicitor there, you have to wait for more than two weeks.
And within those two weeks the immigration can do anything to you. They will bring flight tickets, make sure that as you have not seen a solicitor you wouldn’t have anything to put on. It’s like a trick; it’s a system that is well arranged for them to block any information from coming in or going out.
A lot of people where suffering from a lot of health issues.
When you talk about torture, what do specifically talk about?
I talk about physical torture, first of all. I saw people being handcuffed, being dragged into another prison in the detention centre called Kingfisher. I saw women who had bruises over them, who’d been refused to be interviewed without a solicitor, and because of their race and opinion they had been punished.
Mental torture – I saw people losing their minds. One lady went mad in one section. Deliberately, the healthcare prescribed just paracetamol for nearly every case. The more you show symptoms of anything, the more they are trained to tell you there is nothing wrong with you. I think most women come out of detention centres worst off than when they go in. So for me it is a deliberate scheme of worsening the mental health of asylum seekers.
There were a lot of women that were on suicide watch, because they were ready to kill themselves. They were ready to boil a kettle and poor it on their arms, they were ready to cut their veins or take overdose tablets.
Did people die when you were at Yarl’s Wood?
Yes. When I was there I witnessed one death. It was a lady from Jamaica called Christine Case. She was three doors away from me.
That morning we heard somebody screaming. I woke up at night and I ran into the area, because we normally came together at night to pray. I still heard the lady screaming, so I was confused and I went straight to the lady I knew and woke her up to see what was going on. From the time I went to see her the screaming died down.
At that time it was when the officers ran through and were trying to push us inside the rooms, not to see what was going on. Within that period the lady passed out.
Her file said she had a heart problem, but nobody noticed it. She went to healthcare the day before and she was prescribed paracetamol. She was in such a pain that I think everything fell apart. It affected us straight away because it could have been one of us, it could have been me.
We were so upset we immediately had a hunger strike that day. Everybody knew that it was the negligence of the system and the lack of compassion that was to blame.
Were you able to help each other out?
I tried to help other women inside. We had a book called the Self-help guide and there was a centre helping us in London, the Crossroads Women Centre. We couldn’t access the lawyers or the lawyers dropped our cases so it was so difficult for us to follow up the cases by ourselves.
What is the Self help guide book?
I found one of these guides in the detention centre in one of the inmate’s rooms. I picked it up and read it. At that time I was about appealing my case. Without a lawyer, I used this book and I won my appeal. When I contacted Crossroads women centre as a victim of rape and domestic violence they directed me to a group there called Women against rape (WAR). WAR was very happy to help me in following up to see that I have a lawyer and I was treated fairly by the court. For the first time they wrote a support letter for me to take for my hearing at the Upper Tribunal.
When I got this letter I cried so hard because that was the first time I had a genuine support, their letters touched me so much. I always considered these letters as my lawyer as that was the only thing that made judges deliberate on my case. So the Help Guide is like a lifesaver and thanks to Legal action for women and WAR who freely send these guides to detention centres.
We struggled to do it by helping each other when we read these books. We tried to help each other understand our cases and see even how to go to court alone was something so hard.
Because the torture inside is deliberately putting fear into women not to even represent themselves, not to even go to court because when you don’t go to court it means that your case got run through and you exhaust all your rights, then you are ready for deportation.
Next week Part 2. Becky: “We can’t accept everything that is done to us”
(Photos: Pixabay & Wikimedia Commons)