Returning ‘home’ can be torture

Tom Kemp gives an account of a recent visit to a friend in an immigration detention centre.

Today, I found out that my friend will be returning to the country that tortured him.

I’ve been visiting him for three months, six months into of his latest stint of immigration detention in London. He’s lived and worked in London for 15 years. Four years ago he was captured by police and sent to his country of origin as a terrorist suspect where he was tortured and blacklisted from working. He made his way back to the UK, his home, where he had made a life.

This time, he was sent prison before being moved to an immigration detention centre, not because he was charged with a crime but because he was considered a foreign risk. After some time he was granted bail but only allowed out of his accommodation for 5 hours a day split between two periods, one of which had to include the 45 minutes walk to a police station. It proved too much: he took off his tags and was caught again 2 months later. He then went on hunger strike.

His asylum case was rejected on the basis that the UK could receive assurances from his home country that they wouldn’t torture him again. It took months to receive any evidence of the assurances but when they came through his appeal became weak; he told me today that he has decided to to his country of origin.

His story isn’t the most horrific I’ve heard. Far from it. Does it need to be? It doesn’t take away from the madness of it, the violence and injustice of taking a person away from their home.

Usually relaxed and stoic, today he was angry and at one point cried at the thought of returning to the country that had caused him such anguish. Nine months in detention takes its toll. He looks bloated and ill, downtrodden and worried. He pointedly corrects a friend who says ‘this place is like a prison’. ‘It is a prison’ he retorts.

We say our good-byes. I wait for a guard to come that can open the 5 locked doors and take my finger prints twice before I can be free. I hope he enjoys his freedom – I guess starting life from scratch is as free as you can be.

Tom is an LLM student at SOAS focusing on issues related to access to justice. He is a Reclaim Justice Network steering group member motivated by a belief that the law and criminal justice institutions are ill-suited responses to social harms. Tom can be contacted via Twitter @tomgk90. 

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