Guest post by Dan Godshaw, doctoral researcher on immigration detention and gender at the University of Bristol’s School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, and member of the Bristol Institute for Migration and Mobility Studies. Dan is the researcher and author of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group’s report Don’t dump me in a foreign land: Immigration detention and young arrivers, published in November 2017. Dan is on Twitter @DanGodshaw. This is the first post of Border Criminologies’ themed week on 'Young Arrivers in Immigration Detention' organised by Dan.   

In this first post of this themed week on young arrivers in immigration detention, I summarise some of the main findings from a recent study I conducted with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group (GDWG), Don’t dump me in a foreign land: Immigration detention and young arrivers. Drawing on interviews with those held in detention and practitioners who work with them as well as analysis of Home Office documents, I explore how young arrivers get to detention and experience specific forms of harm while detained.

The eyes of the wise (future self-portrait when I get out of detention), Photo: Ridy Wasolua
There are many ways that children who do not have British citizenship can enter the UK, including as unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors, as dependents and through birth, where neither parent has citizenship or settled immigration status. Children who are not citizens, or young arrivers, often face difficulties growing up in the UK, but their rights are generally more extensive than those of adults. It is far less likely that they will be detained or deported than adults. Once children approach 18, they cease to be protected by the safeguards bestowed on all children, citizen and non-citizen alike, through the 2009 Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act, and begin the process of ‘becoming adult’. Many are not able to secure settled immigration status, but even when they do, they risk automatic deportation orders if they go to prison. Having spent a significant part of their formative years in the UK, some adults end up detained in Immigration Removal Centres while the government tries to deport them to places that feel foreign. This can be a frightening process which dramatically challenges identities and rights that they previously took for granted.

Most of those we interviewed had experienced trauma as children and had been in the care system. Inadequate support and inappropriate care placements had left them vulnerable, while local authorities had failed to regularise their immigration status and citizenship. A lack of guidance as well as use of police intervention to deal with disruptive behaviour led to early convictions.

Social services are the main reason I’m [in detention]…If they didn’t just see me as caseload, if they saw me as a person instead, all of this could have been avoided with one thing - getting me a passport…that should have been part of their duty of care…the actual care was bad enough, but not doing that was even worse (Anthony, Brook House)

Many of the detained young arrivers in our study had been convicted of criminal offences. Although their crimes that lead to deportation orders were often minor, their status as foreign national prisoners meant that they are treated differently to their British peers.

[Young arrivers in detention] grew up on council estates where people sold drugs and got into trouble. We never knew any different…The judge said that I’m a product of this environment, that I didn’t come to this country to commit a crime. He’s learnt this in the UK so he’s our problem (Ahmed, formerly detained)

These young men felt deeply connected to the UK; they were shocked to be detained. Those who had previously felt British began to feel foreign. They found it hard to imagine their future post-deportation, back to countries they no longer remembered.

They’re trying to send me somewhere I don’t know…I’ve never been to Jamaica…I’ve never even been on a plane before…It’s not right on anybody to detain or deport them, but I think it’s 10 times worse for someone…who doesn’t know nothing else…I’d be shocked. I can’t really imagine it (Christopher, The Verne)

Finally, these young people, who had substantial networks of family and friends in the UK, found it difficult to maintain relationships in detention and were isolated from their support networks. Those in our study had often experienced prolonged detention and were particularly vulnerable to mental illness while detained. Like other recent research by Women for Refugee Women and Detention Action, these findings show that recent Home Office guidance to prevent vulnerable people being detained in response to Stephen Shaw’s Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons are not being implemented.

I used to jump and scream if someone shouted. I’m taking Clomipramine. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and PTSD… [in detention] there is no enjoyment for me…I’m alone…sometimes I feel that my heart will blow up…you need education, hospital, nice food, nice people…You can’t find this in here. You just wait. Depression affects me a lot (Bidar, Brook House)

The detention of people who grew up in the UK is the topic of this themed week, and it is hoped that this focus will help to make the previously hidden experiences of young arrivers in immigration detention visible. The second instalment this week is by Ridy Wasolua, an artist and one of the research participants who spent more than 5 years in detention. As Ridy writes, he always felt British growing up. He was never told about the potential consequences for him of getting into trouble. Unlike his friends who had citizenship, Ridy was put in immigration detention, and his blog post details the catastrophic impact of this on him and others held there. Ridy calls for urgent action to put a time limit on detention and to ensure that young arrivers are properly informed about their legal status. More broadly, he stresses the pressing need for rehumanising migrants as people who need support but are fallible like anybody else.

The third instalment is by Dr Hindpal Singh Bhui who writes from his perspective as Immigration Detention Team Leader at HM Inspectorate of Prisons. Hindpal expresses concern at the increasing mental health problems and deaths in detention over recent years as well as at the apparent failure of the Home Office’s adults at risk policy to prevent or reduce the harm of detention. He argues that young arrivers, who are largely invisible in Home Office and HMIP data, are among the ‘most vulnerable’ in detention because of the shock and confusion of being treated so differently to their British peers and because of the well-founded fear of return to places that they have little or no memory of. This vulnerability, according to Hindpal, is often compounded by differential and inadequate treatment in the prison and youth offending systems prior to detention, where young arrivers are rarely supported to understand or address their immigration and citizenship status, are not provided with appropriate opportunities for rehabilitation and find it difficult to access legal advice.  

The fourth and final post is by Candice Morgan-Glendinning and Melanie Griffiths, researchers at the University of Bristol who are currently concluding their ESRC funded research project on deportability and the family. Supporting some of the findings from GDWG’s project, they draw on their research to show that the transition from adulthood for young arrivers can involve a transformation from protected status and a British identity to becoming deportable foreign national offenders via the criminal justice system and Operation Nexus. Being detained and/or deportable, they argue, can put a considerable and sometimes terminal strain on young arrivers’ relationships with UK-based family, the distressing impact of which is further exasperated by the actions of Home Office decision makers who frequently deploy gender, racial and class biases to downplay the strength and significance of men’s family roles. They conclude that for young arrivers with families, detention and the threat of deportation is a form of active, ‘emotional violence’, perpetrated by UK immigration authorities in systematic and cruel ways.

Taken together, the posts in this themed week call for change in the way that young arrivers are treated in the UK, including within the detention system, as well as for meaningful detention reform more widely. Rather than being funnelled towards marginalisation through exclusionary and reactionary policy and practice in the care, criminal justice and immigration systems, we argue that non-citizens who grow up in the UK should be included and supported in society. 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Godshaw, D. (2018) Young Arrivers’ Routes to Immigration Detention and Specific Forms of Harm. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2018/01/young-arrivers (Accessed [date]).