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Notes From the Detention Center II

Joanne Bean, As Told to Ambrose Musiyiwa, Leicester, Britain, December 6, 2006

A view into a room at the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center near London's Heathrow Airport. (Photo: Peter Macdiarmid / AFP-Getty Images)

Joanne Bean has been visiting her boyfriend, who is in detention and has been held in a number of immigration detention centers in the United Kingdom.

Since July, she has been documenting what she sees and hears during her visits in e-mails that she sends out to a number of people.

The following narrative is based on Joanne Bean's e-mail. It gives an insight into some of the pressures immigration detainees and their families and friends experience.

Nov. 27, 2006

The Independent has published my questions to [Home Secretary] John Reid.

"My partner is in one of your immigration removal centers, and at great risk if returned to Iraq, but you still seem determined to return him to his death. Do you not want British citizens to have foreign partners?" I asked.

And John Reid responded:

"I've always spoken positively about the cultural benefits migrants bring. However, we have to balance that with ensuring people are here legally; part of that is preventing people coming here for one reason and then applying for permission to stay as the spouse of an individual."

This does not console me because late last night Diyako was transferred from Colnbrook to Harmondsworth — reason unknown. But you may remember me saying that while in Campsfield House a fellow detainee tried to stab Diyako. It is known that the same detainee is in Harmondsworth.

Have Immigration Services really got no compassion?

I attended Diyako's bail hearing on Nov. 14. We represented ourselves as the Refugee Legal Center. They have said there is nothing they can do for us.

Another person suggested that the best way would be for Diyako to return to Iraq and then go to Jordan for me to apply for a fiancée visa. The problem I have with that suggestion is that Diyako has a criminal conviction in the U.K. If he was deported, I would not be able to bring him back and it is unthinkable and unreasonable for me to go and live in Iraq. So what do they expect us to do? Separate and go our separate ways?

I cannot live like this anymore, living in the constant fear of waking up one day and not being able to see him ever again. It is taking its toll on me. I cannot eat, I cannot sleep and I am suffering from depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

The only consolation I have is that the judge who heard Diyako's last bail application ruled that if Diyako was not removed from the country in four weeks then any subsequent hearing was likely to be successful. Now, two weeks before this date, Immigration Services has decided to transfer Diyako to Harmondsworth. What does this mean? That they are going to deport him soon or are just thinking of ways to hide him and then smuggle him out of the country?

I am running out of ideas.

What should we do now? Why is it so wrong to want to be with someone you love?

Nov. 30, 2006

Did I tell you that Diyako was transferred from Colnbrook to Harmondsworth late on Sunday night?

He was forced to go against his will.

Fifteen officers went into his room and ordered him to collect his belongings. They told him he was being transferred to Harmondsworth. They escorted him to the reception area where he asked to see the manager.

He told the manager that he was reluctant to go to Harmondsworth because the Jamaicans who had tried to stab him when he was being detained at Campsfield House had also been moved to Harmondsworth.

The manager told him he was not interested in his excuses and that he had to go. Several officers grabbed hold of Diyako's arms and hands to restrain him.

Diyako asked why they were restraining him. He had done nothing wrong. He told them he was going to Harmondsworth and that they had to take it on their own back if something happened to him when he got there.

He called me at midnight to say he was in Harmondsworth. He was extremely depressed.

I called him again on Monday evening. He had been made to change rooms and two of the Jamaicans he had clashed with were on the same wing as him! He felt really vulnerable and unsafe.

I tried to call him later on that evening but there was no reply.

At 6 a.m. he called me and told me what had happened: the prison service had done an inspection on Harmondsworth and a report on it was broadcast on BBC news on Monday evening. Detainees saw an ex-detainee on the program and listened to what he was saying. Officers at Harmondsworth tried to prevent the detainees from watching the program and the whole place erupted.

Diyako was very shocked and disturbed by what he saw and was very cold. The sprinkler system had gone off when the fire alarm was raised and the place was waterlogged too.

He told me that everywhere was smashed up.

I told him to be careful and that was the last I heard from him. I have been calling Harmondsworth and his other friends in Colnbrook continuously to see if they have heard any news from him.

I called Harmondsworth today and got told that he was still being detained at Harmondsworth and that he would be moved to another removal center later on today. I was told the phones were down and I could still not speak to him.

An officer told me Diyako is O.K.

Dec. 1, 2006

I normally call him at 10 p.m. each night.

On Sunday, I called him at about 10:30 p.m. Another detainee answered and said, "Not here, not here."

I was worried something had happened to Diyako. I continued to call. At 11:30, another voice answered and again said, "No here. All outside."

I could hear alarms sounding and people shouting. I called Harmondsworth and got through to the switchboard. I got told that the phones and computers were down, that they were waiting for engineers to come and fix them and that I should call back in the morning.

I thought there was some kind of electrical fault and I accepted this.

At 6 a.m., my Diyako called me and told me that there had been a big riot and everywhere was wrecked. He told me that people had seen the 10 o'clock news and seen an ex-detainee, the officers tried to turn it off, so they started going berserk. He said he would call me as soon as he could because he thought no one could stay there.

I started receiving reports of what had happened on the news and I kept trying Harmondsworth throughout Wednesday. No news whatsoever. They said immigration was transferring the detainees and everyone would be out of there by Thursday morning and that I was to call back then.

On the Web

"John Reid: You Ask the Questions," The Independent, London, Britain, Nov. 27, 2006.

"Immigration Removal Center Like a High Security Prison, Says Inspector," Alan Travis, The Guardian, London, Britain, Nov. 28, 2006.

"Fire Started at Asylum Complex," BBC, London, Britain, Nov. 29, 2006.

"Millions of Pounds of Damage Caused at Immigration Center," Richard Ford, The Times, London, Britain, Nov. 30, 2006.

I called first thing Thursday morning to ask the whereabouts of my partner. I got told that he was O.K. and that he was still being held at Harmondsworth; and to call back at lunchtime. I did so. He was still there.

I called again at 6.30 p.m. and got told that he had been transferred to Colnbrook. I was so relieved, but I still wanted to hear his voice.

At 7 p.m., I finally got this call. He told me he was okay and that he was back in Colnbrook, not to worry he would call me when he got a room, etc.

I got to speak to him again at around 10 p.m. Thursday evening. He told me that at Harmondsworth, he and three others had been locked in a room. They were given no food, water, warm blankets or toilet facilities until lunchtime on Thursday. Their last meal had been Tuesday evening!

They were made to sleep on wet and cold beds. Eight people were locked in a two-bed space room. There was no ventilation and they were all extremely scared and disturbed.

Great Britain? What is great about it? If we treated animals like this, we would go to prison for it. Where have our priorities gone?

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