In this blog, SDV director Kate Alexander reports on our Refugee Festival Scotland event on 19 June at the Glad Cafe
A darkened room, two chairs on a stage and the scene is set for Detention Dialogues, a documentary piece of theatre that is the result of a collaboration between SDV and Ice and Fire theatre company.
The evening presented two dialogues featuring the words and experiences of four people who have been held in immigration detention in the UK. Heartbreaking, moving and horrifying by turns, the dialogues brought to life the injustices of detention through the testimonies of the people most affected by it.
Several themes emerged from the stories we heard. Most importantly, the particular cruelty of indefinite detention. Like everyone who enters detention in the UK, none of the people whose testimonies we heard knew how long they would be detained. One made the comparison between immigration detention and prison and spoke of how in prison, planning was possible. You are working towards a release date in prison. In detention that is not possible. Time stretches out before you with no end in sight.
We also heard how detention affects not just the person who is detained but also their families and communities. A woman who had been detained in Yarl’s Wood while she was pregnant spoke of her ‘detention child’ and mused on how he might be affected by the fact that she was in detention, ill, scared and isolated while she carried him:
I have suffered a lot for my first pregnancy. It makes difference, even for the normal person but for the lady who is pregnant and has been in detention and has a sickness like that, it does make a difference. Not just for the mother but for the baby as well.
A dad who was detained in several detention centres across the UK spoke of the effect his detention might have on his baby daughter:
I have a beautiful daughter. She’s just a year and two months. In Dungavel she came to visit. It was sad, very, very sad. I even refused her to come back there anymore, because I said to her mum that my daughter she did not deserve to be coming every day in the prison to see her dad. It isn’t a good image to keep for a child. It breaks me every time, it breaks me.
Life after detention has been described as ‘detention without walls’ and this emerged strongly from the dialogues. None of the people we heard from has secure immigration status in the UK. Despite living in the community they are still at risk of being detained. We heard of sleepless nights before reporting to the Home Office and people’s fear of being ripped again from the lives they were building for themselves in Glasgow.
But there was also hope. I was struck in particular by two things. The story of a pregnant woman spending months in detention would not happen today. As a result of campaigning by a range of organisations and the hard work of committed MPs, there is now a time limit of 72 hours on the detention of pregnant women. And we heard of people being detained in the Verne and in Dover. Both those detention centres have now been closed, and the size of the detention estate has been reduced. Change can and does happen. We need to keep up the campaigns for more radical reform to the system.
Thanks to Steven Ritchie from Ice and Fire who developed the scripts and to the actors who worked with him to bring them to life: Claire, Brian and Hannah. Thanks also to SDV coordinator Shirley Gillan for her work with our Life After Detention group. And most of all, thanks to the people who shared their stories to create such a memorable evening.
Detention Dialogues is an ongoing project for SDV and Ice and Fire. You can see performances of the Dialogues at the Solas Festival on 22-24 June. Further performances will be announced on social media.