Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Immigration Detention, the Hidden Costs: 3 - Reflection on ‘Labelled as a criminal’


The Unchained Collective


Time to read

3 Minutes

This guest post is written by a student, Tali Scheiner, who took part in an social justice internship programme organised by the Centre for Social Justice Research (CSJR) at Westminster University, in collaboration with AVID - Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees. The internship is concluding with the exhibition “Immigration detention: past, present and future”, being held at Westminster University on 26th April for a week, at the reception of Regents Street campus.

 The Unchained Collective is a group of individuals, some with firsthand experiences of immigration detention and others without, who advocate the transformative power of art to confront the oppressive systems of border violence, and particularly immigration detention. The collective’s driving vision is to end immigration detention for all people, everywhere, recognising it as a violent perpetuation of colonial domination. Most members of the Unchained Collective are based in Britain, where the collective was established in late 2023. This is the third post of a themed series called “Immigration Detention - The Hidden Costs” based on the homonym podcast, of which you can listen to the introduction here


In this episode Blessing shares her journey from the horrors that forced her to leave her home, to visa complications, and once again losing her freedom multiple times in detention. She powerfully expresses the continuum of violence and long-term dehumanising impacts of immigration detention.


Tali’s reflections while listening to the podcast:

In this episode, Blessing shares her experiences in immigration detention and the traumas associated with it that are  her to this day. When listening to this episode, I was upset to hear how unbelievably unfair and unjust the process of immigration detention was for her, both during and after release. Blessing spoke of her persistent fear for herself and her children back in her home country and how she travelled to the UK in search for a better life, making her harsh welcome here all the more saddening. Throughout the duration of the episode, I could feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness. When she arrived here, she was not briefed on what was required of her legally or otherwise to be able to sustain a life in the UK. Even while being held in detention, her fate was unknown and she was made to feel worthless and inhuman (even being referred to as an “alien”). The idea of having to face persecution time and time again whilst in search of a better life is incredibly maddening, even from an outsiders standpoint. She says that she felt “mentally tortured” by it all. She talks of officers pacing up and down the facilities halls, removing detained people in the late hours of the night, leaving Blessing with constant anxiety and dread of being deported back to her home country. As I mentioned earlier, even after her release Blessing was treated as “subhuman”, not being allowed to work, rent, or access medical services. By the end of it, Blessing was left with a prison number and a tarnished identity that will indefinitely haunt her future. Regardless of the violence that she faced and pungently describes in the podcast episode, I am amazed by Blessing’s strength and perseverance through these harsh times and shocked by how yet another system in this country continues to fail so many. 

illustration of a person sitting under a beam of light, in the midst of darkness
Illustrations by Preksha Pranjali

The interview with Blessing about her experience of participating in the podcast creation:

Several questions were prepared for the reflection with Blessing:

  • How was your overall experience recording for the podcast?
  • Did you feel safe telling your story?
  • What were your hopes with this podcast? What kind of target audience were you hoping for?
  • How did you feel with the line of questioning? Were you worried about answering any of the questions?
  • What made you want your story out there for the world to hear?

Blessing’s decision to participate in the podcast was driven by a multitude of compelling reasons. She viewed it as a unique opportunity to engage with a wider audience and share her narrative, one often overlooked or marginalised by mainstream media. Throughout the recording process, Blessing found herself empowered by the platform the podcast provided, enabling her to delve into the depths of her experiences and confront the traumas she had endured. Her story, while sadly not uncommon, carries profound significance, representing the struggles faced by countless individuals whose voices remain unheard. By choosing to speak out, Blessing sought to impart invaluable insights, fostering a greater understanding of the challenges faced by immigrants and detained people. Her hope was to cultivate awareness and empathy, even if it meant reaching just a few listeners at a time. Blessing’s commitment to authenticity was evident throughout the episode, as she fearlessly shared her truth, leaving no detail unexplored. This transparency was driven by her desire to catalyse change, both within the public consciousness and among policymakers. By shedding light on the harsh realities of post-release life for those detained, Blessing aimed to challenge societal perceptions and advocate for systemic reforms. 

One particularly poignant issue discussed during the podcast was the practice of assigning detained people a prison number, a label that follows them long after their release. Blessing eloquently described the profound impact this had on her life, recounting the myriad challenges she faced as a result of being branded a “criminal” in the eyes of the system. This labelling, she emphasised, not only perpetuated stigma but also created tangible barriers to her reintegration into society. Undeterred by the obstacles she encountered, Blessing remained determined to effect change. Her insistence on highlighting the injustices she and others faced underscored her unwavering commitment to advocacy and social justice. Through her participation in the podcast, Blessing sought to amplify her voice and spark meaningful dialogue, catalysing a collective effort to dismantle oppressive systems and cultivate a more inclusive and compassionate society.


You can listen to the introductory episode embedded above, on Acast, and on Apple Podcasts.

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