Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Immigration Detention, the Hidden Costs: 4 - Reflection on ‘Living in fear’


The Unchained Collective


Time to read

4 Minutes

This guest post is written by two members of The Unchained Collective, Mariam and Derek, upon listening to their colleague’s/friend’s podcast.  

The Unchained Collective is a group of individuals, some with first hand 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 fourth 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, Flower shares her experience of confusion and trauma whilst navigating the process of claiming asylum, prison and the immigration system. She speaks of the loss of trust in family and friends and rejection from the community, alongside the ongoing impact of trauma. The lack of clear pathways of support for those who have been through detention highlights the need for long term mental health support, regardless of citizenship status. 


Mariam and Derek’s reflections whilst listening to Flower’s  podcast, Living in Fear:

Flower was chasing a dream, and thought her dream was moving in the right direction. When she arrived in the UK, she was traumatised, fleeing from persecution, and had no knowledge of the system. She was homeless, living in constant fear, with trauma always at the back of her brain and so she made a decision - to have a sham marriage - not knowing how to find security in any other way, how to claim asylum or how to get legal support. Then when she tried to apply for her baby son to be recognised as a citizen, out of the blue she found herself in prison, her son left alone. She lost her family and friends as she had been criminalised, she was surrounded by shame and rejection and targeted by the power of the system. She had a miscarriage due to the stress. 

As people with lived experience of detention we can say that one of the toughest things is the denial you face from your own family, as they also fear the Home Office coming to get them. They create their own stability and they don’t want to risk it by associating with you. The Home Office policies and approaches are so complex and difficult to understand that people live in fear of them, but instead of deterring people from coming to the UK, people go underground. We have to break this cycle of fear, we have to tell our stories, become knowledgeable about the system so we can help others. We need to generate a system that has humanity as the central principle, and from that point we can create a new fair system.

Now we have been empowered by the podcasts to speak out against the system and we are reclaiming our voices and identities. Sharing our stories is so important to generate awareness, and also for us to realise that we are not the only ones to go through this. We hope it might open a door for those who are more vulnerable than us, whose voices have been taken away by the system, who are still inside a removal centre, or who are under surveillance with a tag, or those who might go through this in the future. By doing this work we are no longer invisible, the Home Office will know that we have a public voice and it will be harder from them to make us disappear.  

We do this now both to help those still detained to understand the system and also for them to know that we are starting to speak out: if we get our papers and our security, we won’t just forget about them, we will fight for a humane way forward.  

We need this system to change its approach to foreigners. We need the system to recognise that we are human beings, and we need respect. We know that the system takes advantage of the fact that we often don’t know how to navigate it, takes advantage of our ignorance in the face of its obscure processes. Now we know, due to our experience, we call for that abuse of power to end. By strengthening our voices, we weaken their command, because their system relies on ignorance, confusion and prejudice to perpetuate itself. The Home Office forms are so difficult to fill in, they are made for certain people with education, money, time. Advice is needed, but we need to pay solicitors for this advice, and yet we can’t work. We are trapped into this position of helplessness and then criminalised because of this. Panic sets in, fear, on top of pre-existing fear and trauma and it is impossible to get through the complexity of the system.  

illustration of someone's hands being chained together, with the word 'detained' above
Illustrations by Preksha Pranjali

When people come to this country, fleeing persecution, their previous experiences hinders their trust in authority – and trauma confounds all efforts to try and approach it.   

A year ago when we started this podcast, we were very nervous, and needed first to build trust because we didn’t know the people involved very well. There were other people from our countries of origin there, and we were scared that they could be taking our stories to informers at the embassy. The process of listening to other people’s problems with the Home Office, directly facing these experiences and our feelings together, gave us the courage to speak out. We realised we weren’t alone and it gave us confidence. 

Reflecting on Flower’s podcast, we can see that she has now gained the confidence to share her story, she no longer has that fear, she knows what mistakes can be made and how to go about challenging the system and making her voice heard. 

Fear will only bring more fear. She has been targeted, spied on by authority in detention, she lost a whole life  - her baby – she also lost her career that she loved and studied hard for, she lost the ability to mother her son at a very formative age. But now she is rebuilding a new, clear life whilst also facing her own fears in order to make a difference. She is putting herself in a position to be able to support others who are going through this. We now feel secured and strengthened.   


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

With the support of