*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Matthew's story: 'You never come out of detention the same'

by
12 June 2015

Matthew came to the UK to be safe from political persecution in Zimbabwe. Without the right to work, he ended up in prison, and then detention

 

I LEFT Zimbabwe because of political issues. My parents were into politics, and that caused a problem for them. They are no longer alive. When I was 14, they took me to a farm where I was given a false passport, and then put on a plane.

I arrived at Birmingham airport, with maybe £100. Some say I should have claimed asylum then, but I didn't know about asylum. I just got on a train, and stayed on it until it stopped, which just happened to be in Newcastle.

I remember buying fish and chips for the first time there. After that, I sat at the train station for a few hours, and an old woman came and asked me if I was all right. I told her where I came from, and that I didn't know where I was. She drove me to her house, introduced me to her husband and kids, and they looked after me.

After a while, I moved to Leeds. I got to meet some fellow Zimbabweans there. I thought they were helping me, not knowing that they wanted to use me. Before I knew it, I was homeless. I had no money, nothing.

I started getting into trouble, stealing food and sleeping on the streets. After that I met Nicola. She introduced me to her parents, who were very kind to me, and we became a family.

Her parents showed me that I could apply for asylum, which I did in 2002. I was refused in 2003, and given a Section 4 house near by for about two years, because it is impossible to get a travel document from the Zimbabwean authorities to deport me.

Later, I was moved between houses in different areas, and was sometimes homeless. But I saw Nicola frequently, and in 2007 we had a daughter.

 

I AM not allowed to work in the UK, and I got into trouble again, trying to look for money to help support my daughter. I was given a six-month prison sentence, and was meant to serve three. But on the day of my release, on 25 November 2010 - my partner and daughter were waiting for me outside - they told me that I was being detained under the immigration act as a foreign national prisoner.

I stayed for a year and a half in the same prison. After that, they took me to Morton Hall [Immigration Removal Centre] for about a year. Then they moved me to Colnbrook [IRC], where I spent another two years, or something.

In that time I had 16 bail hearings. Bail is a waste of time. The charges - immigration and probably the solicitor are all in it together. They talk about it before we even go to the building, they know who's going in, who's not getting bail; by the time you get there, you're not getting bail.

On 12 March this year, they came to me, because of my health, and said: "We've detained you for too long; we can't deport you, we've got you a Section 4 house."

I told them I wanted to live with my daughter. They said: "We need you to sign this, because you need to come out of the detention centre today, not tomorrow." But I wouldn't agree to go to the Section 4 house unless I could see my daughter; so they gave me a travel warrant to go to Yorkshire on the day of my release, to see her. After that they took me to my Section 4 house in Plymouth.

My daughter has known me from inside a visiting room, and for what purpose? Four and a half years, then just to release me and separate us again? The Government is intentionally cutting family ties, because support for those families, or individuals, on Section 4 or Section 95, doesn't cover travel.

 

ONCE you have spent a lot of time on your own, locked in a room, you come to a place where you think life is not worth living. My daughter is my only reason for living - without her, there's no me. Me, I'm done. I'm done with England, I'm done with life, I'm done with everything. I don't need all this. The only reason to live is her, and that's what got me through detention, because in my head I was: "I can't let her down, I can't let her down, I can't let her down."

But now I'm living in Plymouth in a Section 4 house where they are selling drugs. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry lives there; I don't even know who lives there, some come and do prostitution even. In a Home Office house! They give me £35 of supermarket vouchers, not even money, and they're going to use that - they've always used it - to say that I'm not a good dad; I haven't been there for my daughter. They're going to say we're not a family; that there are no family ties.

The Government justification for detention is that you will reoffend or abscond; so part of your conditions for bail, or release, is that you sign in every week at the police station. You must sleep and reside at that address every night; so if you stay somewhere overnight, that's a breach of your conditions, and that's a reason to re-detain you.

I've got hatred inside of me. I don't know what's happened to my life. I'm supposed to be free, but I'm not free, because I'm not with my daughter; that's where my happiness is. I'm free, but I'm locked up: I'm in Plymouth, I'm in a room, I'm being pumped with different kinds of medication, I don't know if I'm coming or going.

 

I SOMETIMES think, should I just go to Yorkshire and sleep on the streets? At least, then, every morning, I could take my daughter to school. But then they would take me back to detention, and I can never go back to detention.

Nightmares, nightmares, nightmares. . . They will never go away. Detention will never go away. The noise in Colnbrook: you've got 200 to 300 people in a small space, and they're all talking. Even when it's quiet, I can hear the talking, the keys, the shouting, people crying.

The only way I feel better is when I'm with my daughter. I just want to go where she is, because she loves me and I love her; my baby mother [Nicola] loves me, even though I've been away for so long, and I've got someone like Theresa May saying I've got no family ties.

I know people who have been in Colnbrook for six years, and are still in there today. But if you're in detention for one day, it will change you. Right now, I'm on medications and I don't even know what they are. In Colnbrook, before the NHS took over, they were giving me the wrong medication. The NHS psychiatrist had to cancel everything, and I was told I shouldn't have been taking that medicine, and for so long. Now, I don't even know myself. You never come out of detention the same.

 

Matthew has no appeals or applications pending. He has been refused asylum, but cannot be returned as the Home Office cannot obtain a travel document to send him back to Zimbabwe.

Forthcoming Events

18 March 2021
Theology Slam Final
The third annual Theology Slam competition will feature talks on justice, creativity, and community in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

22 March 2021
Festival of Christian Pilgrimage
This free, online festival is a chance to reflect and deepen understanding of pilgrimage.

25 March 2021
All Sisters and Brothers
London Churches Refugee Fund and Church Times present an evening in support of refugees.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)