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When Asylum becomes Prison: Refugee Siblings confined to Britain’s Dungavel Detention Centre

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The entrance to Dungavel Dentention Centre, where the UK’s unsuccessful asylum seekers await deportation: Photo by Azerifactory

Emma Danks-Lambert

The Dublin Regulation is a law concerning European Union Member States and asylum seekers. It establishes the Member State that is responsible for the receiving and examination of an application for asylum, and for deciding whether the criteria for asylum have been met by the applicant. It is often explained in the news as the regulation that ensures asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first EU country they entered. It has been heavily criticized by Hungary and Poland since 2015, with both countries making thinly veiled Eurosceptic remarks about taking power back from the European Union. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles often criticizes the Regulation due to the restrictiveness of the criteria for asylum, the lack of protection it offers asylum seekers and for its failure to take the interests of asylum seekers into account.

Benjamin and Ali Mahammadi are two young men who lived in Sunderland, in the North of England, past Newcastle, on the River Wear and by the sea. These two brothers were actively involved in their Church and Community, taking part in clean-up days, bible class translations, the local radio station and sport events at the University of Sunderland.

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Benjamin Mahammadi taking part in a clean up day: Photo by the Sunderland Echo

Having met the university chaplain and associate priest at Sunderland Minster, Reverend Chris Howson, I can say it is highly likely that a few of their Sunday nights were spent eating a home-cooked meal with Chris, his family and an assortment of Sunderland residents, before getting into a game of charades where anything in the living room could be used as a prop- including other guests.

The boys came from a family of medics and the youngest, Ali, wanted to become a doctor. However mere days after his eighteenth birthday- which had been celebrated with a trip to the Friary in Alnmouth- the brothers went to Middlesbrough to a Home Office Facility as a weekly requirement- and found themselves under arrest.

These two brothers are Iranian asylum seekers who went to the United Kingdom seeking their family, a place where they spoke the primary language and could freely practice their religion.

They spent one night in a police cell in Middlesbrough, an hour and a half from their family and friends in Sunderland and the next day were driven over one hundred miles away to a place in Scotland called Dungavel.

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A protest against mass deportation outside Dungavel Detention Centre: Photo by Azerifactory

Rev Howson refers to the detention center as “a prison, a terrifying place with clanging steel doors constantly being locked and unlocked by the guards, surrounded high fences and razor wire”. He isn’t alone in his condemnation. In September, a fortnight before the brothers were sent there, Amnesty International Scotland welcomed the news by the UK Immigration Minister that the center would shortly be closed.

However, it was not closed in time to save these two brothers, who, according to Howson, found themselves imprisoned and in severe distress, given medication without explanation which caused vivid nightmares, unable to understand the thick Scottish accents of the guards and sick with fear.

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Ali Mahammadi and Rev Chris Howson: Photo by the Sunderland Echo

Meanwhile, their community in Sunderland worked hard to find a solution. When their solicitor submitted a one-stop notice on their behalf, it was with many letters of support for the brothers, speaking of the way they had contributed to their community. The local MP wrote to the Home Office, asking for their release and when the brothers were at risk of being flown from Gatwick, the airline who would have transported them was lobbied heavily on social media to prevent them taking part in the deportation.

The intention of the Home Office was to send them to Germany where neither of them speak the language and, per the Asylum Seeker Database, the average time for the procedure in 2015 was eight and a half months, likely to have become even longer due to the sheer number of applications in the aftermath of the refugee crisis of 2015.

The aftermath of Brexit saw a rise in hate crime against those who had arrived on British shores any time after the Industrial Revolution and migrants are popular political footballs, to be kicked around as distraction tactics or as means of getting votes.

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Dungavel Detention Centre: Photo by the Sunderland Echo

However, refugees, migrants and asylum seekers are three nouns that don’t even begin to encompass everything Ben and Ali were to their family and friends in Sunderland and all their future potential to contribute to the United Kingdom if they had been given the opportunity to live in freedom and safety.

At the time of writing, Ben and Ali are still in Dungavel Detention Centre.

Click her for more by Emma Danks-Lambert.

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