David's story: waiting for asylum and feeling suicidal - or why immigration detention needs to change
Humiliating, overwhelming, depressing – that’s how David describes the UK asylum process. In Kenya, he was asked to help cheat an election and was stabbed. Yet David, who is also fleeing persecution for being gay, is still waiting for a decision on his future here.
Before he left Kenya, David worked for the Kenyan Election Board. “I was being forced to do illegal activities… to steal the election,” he said.
David was attacked and stabbed when he was still in Kenya. Later, his former manager was murdered.
He is also gay and spoke out for the rights of the LGBT+ community while in Kenya. But homosexuality is illegal there.
“People are assaulted in gay prides,” David said. “People have to wear masks.”
People can be held without knowing why
David is now claiming asylum in the UK. If the Home Office decides that his case is strong enough, he will be allowed to live in Britain as a refugee. Like many people in his position, David has to report to the Home Office regularly.
Reporting to the authorities probably seems reasonable and straightforward, and so it should be. But it can take years for the Home Office to decide if people will be allowed to stay in the UK. And during this time, they can be put in an immigration detention centre without any notice and with no time limit. Often people don’t even know why.
The UK is the only European country where there is no time limit on how long someone can be detained. Last year over 27,000 people were held in immigration detention centres.
Detention centres are supposed to be used when people have to leave the UK and return to their original country. But most people held in the centres now return back to their homes in the UK – they don’t have to leave Britain at all.
New British Red Cross research found that being held affects people’s prospects for a normal life while waiting for their case to be heard. It also affects their mental health. And the impact can be serious even after someone has been released.
I LEFT KENYA BECAUSE I WAS FLEEING NOT ONLY PERSECUTION BUT UNJUST ABUSESDAVID, WHO IS SEEKING ASYLUM
David is among many people who have felt the terrible fear and panic that this system can cause.
“You are trying to move on. You are giving your story and your case [to the Home Office] so that you are included in society," David said.
“It’s very humiliating. If you are a documented immigrant and you are complying with reporting, why should they tell you that you can still be detained? So you find that your mental health is so bad, you can just collapse in that public place.
“The next thing you are thinking is, yes, I can be put on the next flight. Then they deport you to the place where you are running away from."
We believe the immigration detention system must change
The British Red Cross is speaking out for a fairer system, which works with people so they can get the information they need to make choices about their future.
- Detention should only ever be used as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. People should be supported to live in their communities while their immigration cases are resolved. If detention has to be used, nobody should be held for more than 28 days.
- Vulnerable people should never be detained.This includes pregnant women and people with mental or physical health problems.
- The immigration reporting system should be overhauled.
Nobody should be taken to detention when they report, and people should only be required to report if absolutely necessary. Detention should only be used when someone has to leave the country.
A more humane future
David is still working to be given refugee status in the UK and recently found out his brother had been murdered. “Because if they can’t get you they have to go after your family somehow,” David said.
He is now getting help from the Red Cross.
“They listened to what I was going through and that is what is important,” he said. “Whether the Home Office refused my case or not, they just wanted to find out how can they help you.
"I don’t know where I would be now if it was not for the Red Cross. I pray my case succeeds. I’m not saying problems will disappear just like that but it can be a start.”
“The other day I had horrible feelings, even of suicide. When you are in limbo it can really depress you, even to death.”
- Download our report on detention – Never truly free: the humanitarian impact of the UK immigration detention system
Every refugee matters to us
We work with refugees and people seeking asylum to help them feel safe, live with dignity and build a new life. If, like us, you believe that every refugee matters, get involved by donating below.Donate