Here at Border Criminologies we are trying to integrate images into our analysis of border control. We have begun taking photographs inside UK immigration removal centres (IRCs) and are also distributing cameras to some women and men as they leave detention. We are in the early stages of this part of the research project. 

While there is a lot of ‘talk’ about migration and its control alongside reports and a growing body of scholarly literature, the lived effects of border control remain largely hidden. Detention centres, like prisons, are difficult to access. Asylum seekers in the community are often placed in remote and derelict housing. At the border itself, control typically occurs behind closed doors, away from the gaze of other travellers. Photography provides one way to make visible the lived experiences of border control.

Photography may extend research participation. By distributing cameras to some women and men as they leave detention, we hope to hand over to them opportunities to share their experiences through alternate means. While some ideas and guidance are provided, these women and men choose what to photograph and why. They share with us what they select. For a population where finding a common language can be a challenge, communicating in images might be easier. It may also be fun, creative, engaging, and something to do. It could of course simply feel like another chore. We hope not.

While images may be strange, they may also be familiar. Photography domesticates, shares, reaches out. Many of the images captured and shared below show familiar spaces: kitchens, the public library, public transport. Others are not so familiar: the reporting centre.

Border Criminologies’ Sarah Turnbull compiled this photo story with Hussain [a pseudonym] who has recently left detention, and is awaiting a decision on his asylum case. Hussain describes some of his experiences of life after detention and reasons why he took certain photos. Though only one account, this essay evokes a more general paradox facing those after detention. Their confinement may be over, but their life remains on hold.

After spending four months in immigration detention, Hussain was released on bail and sent far away from his family and friends to live in ‘no choice’ accommodation for asylum seekers to await the resolution of his asylum claim.

The flat provided by the UK Border Agency has a small kitchen and bathroom to share with three people. Each man in the flat has his own bedroom. There is no common room other than the kitchen.

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The few available pots are small which Hussain says is a problem: “The pots are filled with food because they are small and the food doesn’t cook proper either.” As a Muslim, Hussain wonders how the small kitchen and limited number of pots could be shared with a flatmate who ate pork. So far he has had not had to deal with that particular issue.

This is Hussain’s room. There is no TV and the sofa isn’t meant to be there. It was left by the landlord. Though it's sufficient, it feels unwelcome and institutional. “No one cares and comes by," Hussain comments, "and asks how we are living or anything.”

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For the first few weeks after he was released on bail, Hussain received cards for Tesco before being switched to the Azure card. Getting by is a challenge. “You have to live on £35 a week,” Hussain explains, “which is not even cash and only a card which could be used only in some stores. No activities are offered. No cash means you cannot go to a barber shop and cannot access many other things.

In detention, Hussein observed, there was no freedom, but on bail “it’s just freedom and nothing else.” He worries that this means people in his position are “free to go end up doing something wrong and then back to the cage again.”

The next two photos show the town centre where Hussain goes for walks to help pass the time.

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Prohibited from working and without money to attend college or spend on other forms entertainment, Hussain spends a lot of time in the public library using the internet and reading books.

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Hussain must sign-on at the reporting centre once a week. He is given a one-day pass for the public transit system to use on the reporting day and no other: “So if you want to travel somewhere on another day and you have no money,” he points out, “then you’re stuck. Even if you want to see your lawyer you have to manage yourself.”

It takes Hussain about an hour and a half to travel by public transit to the reporting centre if all goes well. He has devised a route that involves the metro and a ferry that usually, but not always, gets him there on time, as sometimes there are delays. The following photos are taken on this journey to the reporting centre.

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“I am thankful for the shelter and the money given to me, Hussain observes, “but the way it’s done is wrong.” While waiting for the decision on his case, he wants to use his skills to work, pursue education, and support himself as a young man. Instead, he feels stuck. The restrictions and complicated rules are not just difficult to navigate, they make him feel that asylum seekers are not treated as human beings. Life after detention continues to be stressful and very difficult. At the time of writing, Hussain is unsure when a decision on his case will be made.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Border Criminologies (2014) Life After Detention: A Photo Story. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/photo-story (Accessed [date]).