In this blog, SDV volunteer and MRes student, Bridget Holtom, reflects on a collaborative research project recently undertaken by SDV with people released on bail and temporary admission from immigration detention in Scotland. She also shares excerpts of the film ‘Detention without Walls’, one of the outputs of the research.

Around a year ago, I was at a meeting for SDV volunteers at which Pablo, who we had visited for many months in Dungavel, was present. Everyone at the meeting was struck by the difficulties he was facing since his release. Like many people leaving detention he was experiencing isolation and destitution. I had already had a discussion with the SDV Management Committee and staff and we had agreed to collaborate on a research project. Pablo’s experience gave us our research focus, and so the Life After Detention project was born.

The project worked with experts-by-experience, like Pablo, who had spent time in immigration detention to trace their own journeys, interview other people who had been detained and signpost to support through a weekly drop-in for people recently released from detention and living in Glasgow. The research aimed to highlight the difficulties faced by people released from immigration detention and to identify ways in which support for people in these circumstances could be improved.

Using focus groups, interviews, mapping, photography and film-making, the participant researchers explored the experience of life after detention and the following key findings emerged from their work:

  • The difficulties experienced inside immigration detention do not end with release and there are new and unexpected obstacles. These include disorientation, poor accommodation and the continued separation from family and friends.
  • People are still at risk of deportation and experience difficulties associated with uncertainty. The threat of deportation meant that people “couldn’t make no plans”, as they were always “up and down with paperwork . . . waiting, waiting, waiting”
  • The uncertainty of life after detention is indefinite, just as immigration detention is currently indefinite. Living with this uncertainty means that many people in these circumstances experience stress, anxiety and sleeplessness.

A key output of the research was a film called Detention Without Walls (excerpts below). The film follows the moving story from immigration detention to life after detention, described as ‘Detention Without Walls’. Abandoned at train stations, separated from family and friends, unable to work or travel, fearful of return but determined to stay in the UK, it explores how ideas of crime, citizenship and community combine in ways that multiply rather than remove the differences between us.

 “If I was able to work then I’d get a job. And then I wouldn’t have problems with money to come and pick you up.”

“To be honest, I don’t think there’s anyone who has been in detention that’s one hundred per cent right in the head, it has to affect you somehow”

“A lot of my friends I’ve left in England. So coming over here I’ve not really found any friends apart from the people I’ve met in detention”

“It feels frustrating because you’re actually fighting something that is bigger than you and you feel really that you are helpless”

“Fear of deportation, a sense of loss of status and dependency on one’s family”

“It’s been great to be part of this group and feel like we don’t have the normal barriers and boxes around us”

If you would like any more information about the project or would like to get in touch with the film makers, please contact Scottish Detainee Visitors.

You can read the report of the project here


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