Guest post by Joe. This is the last instalment of Border Criminologies themed week on Masculinities at the Border organised by Dan Godshaw.
5 October 2015. My name is Joe. I came to the UK to seek asylum after I reported on government corruption in my country. I grew up and was educated in Japan where my parents used to work. I’m originally from East Africa where I moved back to work as an auditor. Since I was good at my job I was recruited by the Intelligence and Security Services and that’s where my problems started. This job came with lots of power but I could see that part of my role was to take advantage of the rest of population. I couldn’t do this so I became a whistle-blower. I was arrested and tortured. Thankfully, I was able to escape to a neighbouring country but while I was in hiding there almost all of my family were killed. I lost my mum.
I thought Britain was a place for human rights. I thought I was going to be safe. I’d never heard about detention centres before. I never expected that when I applied for asylum they would detain me for three years.
Life in a detention centre is so tough because they treat us as criminals even though we’re not. Because of our place of birth, as foreigners we’re treated so badly―worse than people who’ve committed very serious crimes in this country because they’re British and we’re not. I was locked for 19 hours a day in my cell, criminalised, traumatised, treated like an animal and a slave.
Most of the guards at Dover IRC are employed by the Prison Service because it used to be a facility for young offenders. It was a difficult relationship with the guards at Dover because they didn’t have any connection to the decision-makers at the Home Office and were also separated from the IRC’s senior management. If you have an issue, the guards say: ‘go away, this is not our job, go and tell someone else. We’re just here to guard you.’ One day I needed to see an optician outside the centre. Four guards escorted me in handcuffs in the street. In the town of Dover, all the people see is a black man in handcuffs with prison officers so it looks like I’ve come from prison. It was so horrible.
I’m suffering with mental health issues. I’ve witnessed so many people try to kill themselves in detention. They put lots of people together with similar issues related to their backgrounds and fleeing their countries. I tried to kill myself five times when I was detained and I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My two kids―a boy and a girl―missed me a lot. Every time they visited me they had to go through the security search and now they’re suffering mental health issues because of it.
I was released from detention in the autumn of 2012. There is never any information about when you’re going to be released so I was so happy when they said: ‘Joe, you are free today. You are free. You don’t belong to us anymore.’ But I’ve been left in limbo ever since.
I’m not allowed to work and I have to sign on at a Home Office reporting centre all the time. I’m living in Section 4 accommodation in a very tiny flat. I’m forced to share with five different men in a block of 19 flats, all Section 4 men. You don’t know them, their backgrounds, or their cultures, so it’s tough. Recently, my reporting frequency was changed to weekly and this caused so much confusion. The Home Office ended up seizing my accommodation and stopping food vouchers. I was homeless for a month. It’s like they just took the coin from one pocket and put it in the other.
I still feel like I’m in prison. I’m outside of the detention centre but I don’t have any control. I’m not free to do anything. I cannot support myself. I cannot support my kids so I cannot tell them what and what not to do. So how can I be a father? I’m not allowed to live with them even though my son is eager to stay with me. But the Home Office says they’re British, you’re not British, and they weren’t in your asylum claims. My kids are suffering, and myself, I’m suffering. But also the taxpayers are suffering.
I don’t think there is any point in detaining somebody when the Home Office is looking into your case. It’s a waste of time, money, and skills. To detain somebody costs about £33,000 a year. By the time I was released about £100,000 was spent on me alone. That’s a lot of money and a lot of pain. So what’s the point? Who benefits? I think that government and the immigration regime are keeping people in the system to benefit from migrants. For example, I used to teach GCSE and A Level maths to people who were detained for £1 an hour. It’s pure slavery. If I was allowed to work in detention, why am I not being allowed to work after I’ve been released?
In March of this year I gave evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into the use of immigration detention. They recommended a time limit. The UK is the only country in Europe without a time limit for detention. Other countries have reception or reporting centres. I would advise the government to scrap detention centres. If they’re going to have detention centres then they have to treat us better and have a time limit of 28 days. It would save millions of pounds. It’s time for time limit! It’s unjust and inhumane to detain people like this.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):
Joe. (2016) Joe’s Story. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/01/joes-story (Accessed [date]).