A day in someone else’s life:
07.30: rise, dress, breakfast, settle arguing children
08.25: leave in car for child’s school, drop off
08.40: call eldest daughter for a coffee but too early
09.15 arrive at RS’s home to pick up MT’s bags, £10 and some advice about how to deal with the visit and what I can usefully do.
10.15 arrive at SW’s house for a coffee and desultory conversation.
11.30 at home and AH to get everything ready, money in clear plastic bag, mobile phone and charger in clear bag, the solicitors paperwork, some coins, double checking everything, dreading having to share the journey.
12.30 pick up TL who is a worker in asylum issues too. She is visiting another man, BC, who is Francophone so I agree to speak to him as well as MT. The journey is about an hour and a half. I remember it all from the map and get there easily. The last two or three miles are very pretty, increasingly so as we leave the main road and enter the Lincolnshire countryside and look for signs. The detention camp is not obviously signposted – eventually we see a little wooden sign, identical to a village/hamlet sign indicating IRC Morton Hall. We drive up a country lane and we see there the high fences of the old prison and the British flag flying high. It is all hidden and in glade of trees.
14.00 we park and enter the visitors reception where we must have all the things we want to give to our friends bagged up and sealed. We complete forms, very archaic, present our passports and make uncomfortable conversation about a visit to people we consider as unfairly incarcerated. The reception was held by two women in civic clothes. Some other people are arriving as well, family members, Vietnamese perhaps. We are told to call our friends inside and tell them we are here asking them to go the kitchen exit. We are told to walk to the main gate carrying our bags.
14.25 we arrive at the tall gates and a uniformed woman asks for our forms and our ID. We are asked to pass through the high gates and move right through further gates and to the security checking area. My colleague is asked in first and after ten minutes I am called in. A body search, all possessions left in a locker, money for my friend inside handed over and signed for, all his possessions left at that point to be dealt with later. Good humour from the security guards. Through a further door and across a green area between two buildings, in through a further door and a corridor, more doors unlocked and escorted we arrive in the visiting room.
14.45 again good humour from the guards who are slightly mocking of our nerves. We are given seat numbers and told to sit down and our friends would arrive. We go to number 4 and number 7 next to each other, there must be about 15 sets of visitor seats. Each one is made up of a single red soft seat, a small table in front and opposite three joined blue upholstered seats. We are instructed to sit in the blue seats and a joke is made about a button that restrains people in the red seat if there is trouble. M and C arrive and take the red seats.
14.50 There is such a warm welcome from MT. He’d been thinking about the visit since I texted the day before and the next hour and a half flew by with conversation moving from friends in the asylum field both migrants and volunteers some of whom were both. We spoke about the detention centre and conditions as well as what would happen if he were to be deported next week as will be the case if nothing happens to stop it.
M is a highly personable man well in control of himself and with a very natural kindness and sympathy in his manner. He told me that when he had been detained at the Home Office centre in Sheffield he had been several hours in a room in the building with guards constantly. One of them asked him why he didn’t seem afraid and was so calm, “some” said the guard “literally shit themselves when they get in here but you are so calm, why?” “You tell me why I should be afraid?” replied M, “I know that I have done no wrong and that you are only doing your job, I don’t hold you responsible, it’s not your fault”. When he left to be taken to the detention centre the guard said “it was nice to meet you but a pity it was in such circumstances, it is clear that you are a decent man and I wish you every luck and hope we can meet in a different situation one day”.
M explained that the relationship with the guard in the detention centre was not too bad. Language was a problem but if you could talk to them it was not so bad. The lock ups were very annoying and destabilising, just as you get settled it was time to go back to the room and be locked in while they checked everyone was present. A night he was sleeping fine but others couldn’t sleep atall, they would play music all night long just to cover the silence. What was the point in that he asked? Why not sleep.
It was in the night that people were taken away. That was very hard and brought M even him close to the edge – the guards would come late, after lock up when many were sleeping and the noises of the doors and the keys and the shouting of the detainees, and the violence if they resisted going, shouting in fear about what would befall them on their return. That was hard.
C who I visited too was one of them. He was afraid all the time, his eyes red and had slept very little. I heard that he was taking a medication for anxiety but he had no access to the medication following his arrest. He was very jumpy but reassured somewhat by our visit but still constant in his concern for his life if he were to be returned to a country in crisis.
16.15 I leave