BBC Panorama documents systemic violence of Immigration Detention

I just watched a harrowing episode of BBC Panorama that showed undercover footage from inside Brook House immigration detention centre, filmed by whistle-blower and reporter Callum Tulley. For those of us who have worked with people in detention even for a little while, the stories were both familiar and shocking.

The documentary did a number of things very well. At first, I was a little sceptical of the biographical focus of the documentary following the life of Tulley, an ordinary British ‘lad’ who got his first job, aged 18, as a detention centre officer. But it soon becomes clear that he’s giving an audience a lens through which to experience the mystifying and alien world of detention. It helped me understand the effects of detention on the guards without ever making us sympathise with the abuse that goes on at their hands. It also put front and centre the toxic masculinity that saturates the culture amongst the detention centre staff.

It captures footage of serious physical and psychological abuse on camera and successfully captures how common place it is. In contrast to the way G4S have tried to present the abuse as isolated incidents committed by particular individuals, the documentary presents abuse as systemic rather than down to a few individuals. It resonates with the feeling, I think widely held within the community of anti-detention organisations and activists, of outrage that such violence has been allowed to exist for so long in plain sight.

It makes us question how this has been allowed to continue. It reminds us of how the allegations of violence made particularly by people of colour against the police have been ignored for so long. It is all the more astounding given the number of recorded allegations of interpersonal and sexual violence committed in Detention Centres but also the mundane abuses – people working for slave wages, the constant verbal assault, the feelings powerlessness and confusion – that constitute the reality of detention. This reality is readily available by listening to people in detention through projects such as Detained Voices, Freed Voices and Detention Unlocked. Previous undercover footage, parliamentary reports, independent inquiries have all been pushed into the long grass.

However, there are also a number of reservations I have about the documentary. A big part of Callum’s experience seems to be about how wrong it is for people with criminal convictions to be incarcerated alongside other immigration and asylum applicants. The documentary reinforces a strong binary between Foreign National Offenders – who are presented as violent and dangerous – and others people in the immigration system – who are by contrast vulnerable and innocent.

The distinction perpetuates the binary logic of immigration control that enables the legitimate social exclusion of some people as well as the precarious inclusion of others. It allows a society to ignore violence perpetrated against those we deem to be guilty, illegitimate and unworthy of safety. But any contact with Foreign National Offenders will reveal people with complex histories and needs, people who have been damaged (not hardened) by the prison system, people who are facing removal to countries they have never known.

The narrative that migrant communities are particularly dangerous is also part of a well-tread racist mythology that casts people as undeserving of safety. The focus on the drug spice which is common in detention, again, seemed to be associated with the kind of people you find in detention rather than understood within the context of the institution itself.

We need to challenge these easy distinctions between who belongs and who does not and work towards a world where no one is expendable, deportable or detainable on the basis of their race or nationality. To be a part of this project there are practical things that can be done now. Please continue to speak out against detention and deportation and advocate for systemic change – time limits, judicial oversight, ending charter flights and much more. Attend Wednesdays’ protest at the Home Office calling for detention to be abolished. Listen to and amplify the voices of people speaking out from inside detention.

Please also consider supporting SDS to continue its work supporting people in detention by donating to its crowdfunder.

Written by Tom Kemp


SHUT DOWN BROOK HOUSE – Demo @ the Home Office 6/09/17

If you saw last night’s Panorama you’ll know how important it is to show up to this demonstration at the Home Office TOMORROW @ 12:30pm. Join Kent Anti Racism Network, Movement for Justice, SOAS Detainee Support and other groups in calling an end to detention centres and the violence on which they are premised.

All info here – see you there!

Help us crowdfund for solidarity visits to immigration detention

Help us to visit and support people in immigration detention, reducing isolation and offering practical support to stop deportations and quicken release.

Right now…

2,930 people are locked up in immigration detention centres across the UK, without charge or trial, for indefinite periods of time. People are wrenched out of their families and communities, often detained in raids on their homes or workplaces, or picked up on the street. The detention system is violent and incredibly harmful, and these centres have become notorious sites of mistreatment and human rights abuse. Working class people of colour, like in the prison system, are significantly overrepresented in immigration detention.

What are we doing about it?

Volunteers with SOAS Detainee Support visit people in detention every week, reducing isolation and offering practical support to stop deportations and quicken release.

Since 2005, we have worked alongside hundreds of people whilst they are held in detention and after their release. In the last 12 months alone, we have worked in solidarity with just over 100 people in detention. More and more people in detention are getting in touch with SDS and requesting visits. This autumn, we’ll be training a new cohort of visitors to be able to support more people in detention. But to keep the visits going, we need your help.

Donate here:

Stop the Arms Fair: free movement for people, not for weapons

DSEI – the world’s largest arms fair – is coming to London.  From 4th-11th September 2017, we’re going to try to stop it.

Read more about some of the ‘defence’ companies who will be at DSEI and how their wares are used to kill people crossing borders in this article by the Shoal Collective.

We say no to military reinforcement, no to racist borders, no to profiting from death and dispossession. Yes to freedom of movement – for people, not for weapons.

On Thurs 7th September, 11am-7pm we’ll be at the ExCel Centre alongside Stop The Arms Fair, Campaign Against Arms TradeAll African Women’s GroupNorth London Food Not BombsBrighton Against Detention – BADLesbians and Gays Support the Migrants and many others to try and  #StopDSEI

Come with us!  Facebook event is here.


Workshops last weekend

BIG thanks to everyone who participated in one of our workshops on Saturday.  SDS went transmetropolitan, delivering simultaneous workshops at Get Organised! in London and PowerShift in Manchester.

With great contributions from participants we discussed immigration detention in the UK, how it fits into a wider tapestry of border controls, as well as how to challenge border violence & immigration prisons.

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Workshop at Get Organised!

We’ve been invited to contribute to Get Organised!, a day of workshops and discussions bringing together people and groups that are interested in or campaigning on the key issues of 2017 such as migrant solidarity, precarious work, the Far Right, housing or gentrification.  Full programme for the day here.

Saturday 8th July, 11am-5.30pm
Waterloo Action Centre
14 Baylis Road

Right now, 3000 people are locked up in UK immigration detention centres – without charge or trial, and without knowing when they will be released.  Often they have been wrenched out of their families and communities, detained in raids on their homes or workplaces, or transferred to detention at the end of a prison sentence.

In this workshop we’ll be discussing:

  • What is immigration detention?  Why does it exist and who does it affect?
  • How do struggles for an end to detention link into other struggles for social justice?
  • How can we challenge detention and support people inside?

Get Organised! is free to attend but please register for the day here.

2017-07-9 Get Organised 3