Migrants, Multiculture, Our People, United Kingdom

Detention centres should be banned

People fleeing from violence are suffering abuse inside the British detention centres. The open attitude of the UK government towards the Ukrainians contrasts sharply with the rejection of non-Europeans, an example that racism and xenophobia are rooted in our societies. “Our dreadful white ghost still recounts”.


Photo Anna Konik

Juanjo Andres Cuervo


“Detention is indefinite”, and in that sense, “a prison sentence is better than detention”.

This is said by a woman who escaped from her country, hoping to find a better life in the United Kingdom.

She is not the only one to criticise the role of the Home Office and the violation of Human Rights that happen inside British detention centres.

Leaving the Ivory Coast, a man was moved to a high-security prison in Milton Keynes, where he was “brutally raped”. Even though he admits to have suffered stabbing and being shot” in the past, “this was a different kind of pain, it was a pain that reached the soul”. After this horrific experience, he “didn’t see the point in living”.

Another was detained in a detention centre for “153 days”. He remembers the exact number because, as he recalls, “in detention you live through your past every single day”. A past full of war, violence and abuse, which force millions of people to flee from their country in search of a safe place.

Photo Bartosz Gorka

And yet, “detention period is the worst”. He was so desperate that he went through a hunger strike. “I did not eat for 14 days”, he explains, and eventually he did not care about what would happen to him. “If I lose my life, I don’t mind”.

The horror and agony that refugees experience inside the British detention centres is part of a mechanism rooted in racism and a structural mechanism built on hate towards foreigners.

After reaching the UK, a woman noticed this situation through the British media. As soon as she started to read the newspapers, listening to the radio and watching the news, she realised how immigrants were being constantly targeted by a racist rhetoric. Headlines like “we don’t want all these refugees; we don’t want all these asylum seekers” showed her the crude reality of how the mainstream media tried to demonise foreigners. They were being portrayed as people who wanted to take advantage of the welfare system and who did not want to integrate within the society.

In order to be accepted as part of the community, “you always have to prove yourself”, she admits. This requires a supreme effort every day, and eventually, you “get old to try to please everyone”.

Having talked extensively with Angela, Janahan, Merwa, Michael, Mohamed, Nirmala, and Selamawit, Anna Konik speaks firmly about this unjust treatment that they faced when they arrived to the UK as refugees. “Detention centres should be prohibited. It is against Human Rights to hold people indefinitely”.

Photo: Pixabay

The director of “Silence heard loud” was told about the orientalist approach towards non-Europeans, which shows the intrinsic racism within our societies. “This is where racism and xenophobia are rooted, where our dreadful white ghost still recounts”.

The exclusionary idea was implemented fiercely by far-right leaders such as Nigel Farage, especially during the Brexit campaign and his infamous anti-migrant poster. All these actions coalesce and create an imagery in people’s minds.

Instead of denouncing capitalism and its exploitative system rooted in racism and colonisation, most extremists blame refugees for the problems faced by contemporary societies. Thus, foreigners become the scapegoats of an uncertain reality.

This current is part of the rising of far-right populist parties, the use of “nationalistic rhetoric of many governments who manipulate reality with lies and fear.” Alongside these governments, the approach of the media in appealing to feelings serves to extend this exclusionary idea. “Using the heat of emotional power and xenophobia makes it much easier to manage the masses”.

In spite of this wave of racism and hate, Anna sees signs for optimism. Living in Warsaw, the Polish director has witnessed how people in the country are showing huge solidarity towards the Ukrainians who are fleeing from the war. “What is happening in Poland is a spontaneous reaction of an ordinary people”.

Her open attitude contrasts drastically with those leaders of Europe who while showing a warm approach towards the Ukrainians, are failing to help the people from Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq, among many other non-European nations.

“There should not be difference in welcoming people who are seeking refuge from war, violence and oppression”.

In the second part of the interview with The Prisma, Anna Konik talks about the detention centres in the UK, the solidarity of Poland with Ukraine, and the role that everybody must play to help people escaping from violence.

Photo Anna Konik

In “Silence heard loud”, there is criticism against the Home Office and detention centres. With the National Borders Bill threatening the status of the refugees in the UK, what is the role of people’s demonstrations to change this institutional racism?

People’s voices during the protests are important because politicians count public opinion. Sometimes it is harder, as there are cases where the leaders have populist, exclusionary or nationalistic inclinations. Unfortunately, in recent times, many governments have taken a turn towards this nationalistic rhetoric. Using the heat of emotional power and xenophobia makes much easier to manage the masses.

In the documentary, one of the characters, Michael, explains, that in Europe many people see non-European as “primitive” and “savages”. This shows how racism and xenophobia are rooted, and how our dreadful white ghost still remains.

In this sense, detention centres should be prohibited. People cannot be held indefinitely. It is against Human Rights. The words of the protagonists are proof that this situation is happening every day, and I am really grateful to them for speaking so openly about these subjects.

Photo by Dominik Szwemberg

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is on the mainstream media, and the Western world is showing a huge solidarity with Ukrainian refugees. What do you think are the reasons that lie behind this difference of treatment depending on the refugees’ origin?

There should not be difference in welcoming people who are seeking refuge from war, violence and oppression. I am against policies that exclude people on the basis of colour, country of origin, or religion.

There are many people in Poland who are opposed to these exclusionary policies, and I hope that the reception of refugees from Ukraine will make people realise that everybody deserves help. I hope that the populist governments who manipulate with lies and fear will collapse quickly. In Poland, we remember the experience after the Second World War and the fact that we were a Russian colony for many years. We know what it means having Russian tanks in the streets.

That is why many Poles have opened their hearts to the refugees from Ukraine. It is a spontaneous reaction of ordinary people. At the same time, the nearness of the border makes you feel the breath of a new war.

Photo Anna Konik

Having worked in London, with the Compass Project at Birkbeck, being part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and learning about the refugees’ experiences, do you feel that the British capital has an open attitude towards them?

There are different experiences; you can feel that in the movie. On the one hand, people are kept for years in detention centres without the opportunity to work or learn. I also remember the tension that grew over Brexit and the negative attitude towards refugees and migrants. On the other hand, London is unique, beautiful, very vibrant and diverse, and there were constant demonstrations in Downing Street against these exclusionary policies. Moreover, there are opportunities which makes education possible for refugees, such as the Compass Project at Birkbeck. I can only regret there are just few people who can take advantage of this opportunity.

Through my experience, I have met many people who follow the same values, such as those involved in the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the Compass Project, and the work “In the same city, under the same sky”. I believe it is possible to change things.

(Photos by Anna Konik, supplied by Anna Konik and HRWFF)


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