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                       Ishiaba Kasonga of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group considers how people in detention are experiencing lockdown.

Both in detention lockup and pandemic lockdown, people are at risk of death. Locked up under immigration powers at this time of the COVID 19 virus, my friend in detention has trouble understanding why detention is necessary.

He does not even have access to natural light or fresh air, he cannot do simple physical exercises, nor is he receiving adequate health care. My friend in detention cannot accept the inhumanity of being detained at this time.

If I accept the pandemic lockdown, I learn how to manage my physical environment and the resulting psychological deficit. But, how does a person locked up in a detention centre experience the lockdown, and what does it mean to him?

I remember someone in detention telling me: “why are they detaining me when they know they cannot provide me with adequate health care if I get the coronavirus?” Another one said: “why are they holding me when there are travel restrictions in my country?” And a high-risk patient, known to have severe underlying health issues, who was asked to adopt the shielding practice in a small cell without windows and fresh air, said to me: “how can I practice self-isolation in this place? In reality, the shielding practice will never work “

When the news came from Brook House that one inmate transferred from prison had subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, I received a text from a frustrated person in detention stating: “I could not sleep overnight because of the invisible threat. We are human. If people outside are mentally disturbed because of the virus, what about us who are locked up in a lockdown country?”.

We heard the cries, but the Home Office did not act on them and chose not to empty detention centres as Spain, for example, did.  

People remain in detention because they are migrants, but COVID-19 is borderless. The virus does not recognise country borders, nationalities, race; people are vulnerable worldwide. Those who are detained after having served a prison sentence see the state lockdown as a triple punishment and those who are detained directly in detention see it as a double punishment.

But their common denominator is that they are all feeling the fear of being treated like prisoners who somehow 'deserve' to be locked down indefinitely. Indefinite detention is mental torture, but lockdown is experienced as a death sentence. Hope dies in immigration detention. I am in solidarity with all in these awful and uncertain COVID-19 times.

                       Kasonga is Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group's Advocacy and Administration Support Officer. You can find out more about GDWG's work here.



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