For International Women’s Day this year, we’re invited to ‘Embrace Equity’: to imagine a world where difference is valued and celebrated. A world where we can forge women’s equality, raise awareness of women’s strength, and come together to fight for equality.
It can feel almost impossible to join with such powerful and positive global messaging to embrace equity in a hostile immigration system which doesn’t recognise humanity, let alone equity. For the 563 women who suffered through the rigours and indignities of Immigration Detention in 2021, its hard on the face of it to embrace equity.
“I do feel it was very unfair, I was detained because my appeal for asylum was refused, however, the Home Office failed to notify me or my solicitor of that refusal, which led to me getting detained because I had exhausted my rights to further appeal, but by not notifying me of their decision I believe they took away that right, as you know, that detention led to me being transferred from one detention centre to another back and forth without any consideration, I’m at the point now that though I am physically alright, I am always anxious, about when would be the day it will happen again, am always expecting for someone to knock at my door, stop me in the middle of the street or detain me at the reporting site again, it’s always an ongoing fear.”
JRS friend in detention
The JRS UK Detention Outreach Team visit the predominantly male detention centres at Heathrow each week. The Sahara Unit, situated within Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), is a Short-term Holding Unit for women at Heathrow.
The Sahara Unit has capacity for 18 women in shared rooms of two. As a Short-term Holding Unit, woman are usually held for between 5-7 days, before being released into the community, relocated to another detention facility, or sometimes deported.
JRS’s Detention Outreach Manager Naomi Blackwell, visits women in detention regularly, she said “Many of the women I meet in detention report that they are confused, many are tearful and distressed. These women are not a danger to society, most are released back into the community, begging the question: ‘what is the point of this expensive disruptive process’?
“Women still suffer on release and say that the trauma of detention remains with them. Women who are victims of trafficking will also be detained here and struggle to access legal advice, everyone should have prompt face-to-face access to legal advice. We don’t have the capacity to provide that, sometimes all I can do is to listen and just give them a hug, which is a very small comfort. I always wish we could do more.”
Inside the Sahara Unit the shared rooms are small, though the living area is large, with exercise machines, a pool table, a massage chair, sofas and television, computers, books, a small kitchen, and laundry area. There is no natural light in the communal area. There is no immediately accessible outdoor space, and detainees have to wait for officers to escort them for fresh air. There’s limited personal space, or time to be alone.
And yet, amidst all this darkness and confusion, there is incredible peer-support. Women championing women, and fighting together for equity, which is summed up beautifully and poignantly by a message left in Portuguese on a table in the Sahara Unit, it said:
O amor de Deus te trouxe aqui pra te dizer qu nao é o fim. O seu futuro está nas maos daquele que tudo pode. Acredite querida.
“The love of God brought you here to tell you that this is not the end. Your future is in the hands of the one who can do everything. Believe me dear.”
Please support JRS UK’s work accompanying women in detention today