This is a story of whistleblowers in the land where there are no whistles and ears are forbidden. That land is called “immigration detention”. In different places, it goes by different names. Yarl’s Wood in England. Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros, or CIE, in Spain. The names change, but the structures and situations are the same. “Immigration detention” is a country, and it’s global.
In September, there was yet another story about systematic sexual predation at Yarl’s Wood. This time it was Tanja’s story, an account that only made it to the public because of the tenacity, perseverance and creativity of Tanja, who just kept on pushing. Yarl’s Wood is a designed community in which staff preys upon the most vulnerable, typically young women fleeing sexual violence. Remember, the Yarl’s Wood prison population is almost 90% women, while men make up almost half the staff. The police yet again said they would conduct an investigation. The real story here is the story of the story, the fact that Tanja could get the story out at all. And that story continues.
Since Tanja’s story broke, all hell has broken loose, and by hell is meant silence. First it was Sirah Jeng, a 59-year-old Gambian, who said she could corroborate Tanja’s story. Her reward? In November she was informed, with barely any notice, that she should get ready for imminent deportation … hours before her scheduled appointment with investigating police. That was November.
This month, Afolashade Lamidi, 40-year-old Nigerian, also confirmed parts of Tanja’s accounts, and then some. And she received the same treatment as Sirah Jeng. She was promised the opportunity of forced return to Nigeria.
This is in so many ways a common story. In Spain this month, Aramis Manukyan, known by his friends and now the world as Alik, was “found dead in his cell.” Alik was a 42-year-old Armenian, a father of a 7-year-old daughter. Found dead in his cell was immediately translated into suicide, despite various testimonies to the contrary. Prisoners reported from different floors that they could her Alik’s cries, but no matter. He committed suicide.
After much pressure from the usual suspects like SOS Racismo, Cerramos los CIE (Close the CIE) and Migra Studium, the police, yet again, say they would conduct an investigation. And that’s when the two key witnesses were deported.
For every Tanja and every Alik there are tens, hundreds, thousands of neighbors and friends, prisoners all. There are witnesses in prison, and they are not the kings or queens in the land of the blind. They are the witnesses in the land of the blinded. They are the whistleblowers in the land where whistles are prohibited and hearing is a crime. Remember, what happens in immigration detention stays, or dies, in immigration detention.