‘I wouldn’t wish it on anybody’: Life inside Britain’s most notorious immigrant detention centre

PhD student Ahmed Seqeed has been temporarily released, but could be sent back to Iraq any day

Ahmed Sedeeq came to the UK in 2011 from Mosul, Iraq to study at the University of Sheffield. He returned home after completing his degree in Software Engineering, but fled his Iraq for good in 2014. His father had been killed by ISIS and Ahmed knew his own life would be in danger.

He applied for asylum in the UK and returned to Sheffield to complete his PhD, but on December 18th he was detained due to complications with his visa, and faced deportation back to Iraq.

After 10 days inside Morton Hall, one of the most notorious detention centres in the country where four people have died in the past year, Ahmed was temporarily released. However, he still faces deportation and could be detained again any day.

Throughout his time locked up, The Tab were in contact with Ahmed through his friends who occasionally managed to speak with him. Ahmed said his accommodation was “tiny and dirty” and that he was becoming unwell.

We spoke to Ahmed about his traumatic 10 days inside the detention centre, and the uncertainty surrounding his future.

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Ahmed graduating from University of Sheffield

'I went to see my visa officer as normal and the next thing I knew I was being deported'

Ahmed is expected to report to an officer every two weeks as part of his visa. On December 18th, Ahmed woke up and attended the meeting, which usually takes a couple of minutes.

He gave his name and address like normal, but that day he found himself being led into another room. "Another officer came in and told me to go into another room with him to go through some paperwork, but as soon as I walked in, the officer told me I was being detained and that I was going to be deported from the UK", Ahmed told The Tab.

Ahmed had to write down important contacts on a scrap of paper, such as his uncle who lives in London. He was then taken to the detention centre.

Ahmed had to hand in all of his belongings, and wasn't allowed time to tell his friends what had happened. He said: "My friends didn't know what had happened to me, so they called the police. They didn't see me online for a while, I wasn't replying to messages or answering calls. They called the police and paramedics to break the door in, but they couldn't find me in my house.

"Everyone was really worried, and so they called my next of kin, my uncle in London. He told them I'd been detained."

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Ahmed's friends were incredibly worried about him

'My father was killed by ISIS, so I couldn't tell my family the full extent of the hell I was going through'

When asked how his family had been coping with his situation, Ahmed paused. "My father was killed by ISIS", he said "so I didn't want to add further stress to my mother by telling her I'd now been detained." You could hear in his voice the toll this has taken on not just him, but his family also.

"She'd often phone me crying and telling me she missed my father. They were married for a long time, and it was a very distressing."

Ahmed's lawyer encouraged him to tell his mother the situation, but he didn't want her to know the full extent of the hell he was going through, so kept positive to not worry her.

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Ahmed with his mother as a child living in Mosul, Iraq

'You're woken up in the morning with the guards shining a bright torch in your eyes or a radio blaring in your ears'

Ahmed was sleep deprived for the ten days he spent there, being woken in the middle of the night by the guards shining bright torches in his face, or walking in with their radios crackling loudly, waking the detainees.

The rest of the detention centre was tiring also, with eating and leisure time strictly controlled. Meals were three times a day in the centre, with only a set amount of time to get to the kitchen before it closed. If you miss it, you have to go hungry. One day, an important phone call with his lawyer overran, and Ahmed arrived to find the canteen was shut. "Luckily, someone had left a small piece of bread on their plate, so I was able to eat that for my lunch", he said.

The internet was accessible for just 50 minutes a day, and if detainees were found to have attempted to access social media, they were banned from using it. There was also a library, gym and football pitches at the centre.

There was a shop where you could buy amenities such as soap and biscuits, but it wasn't always open.

'I was taught how to fashion weapons out of every day objects'

There seemed to be a fair amount of animosity between the detainees and the guards working in Morton Hall. Ahmed was taught by another detainee how to make a weapon out of a pen in order to protect himself against the guards.

Ahmed said: "The guy took a pen out of his pocket and showed me how he'd carved it to be sharp, and then showed me the best place on the throat to attack the guards. It was a horrible thing to hear."

Although he maintains the guards were never verbally or physically abusive towards anyone, people used makeshift weapons in order to extract information out of the guards about how long they were going to be in the centre for.

The pen a detainee said could be used as a weapon if necessary

Some detainees also attempted to poison themselves by smoking spice. Those who were caught smoking spice were punished by not being allowed to visit the shop.

Ahmed spent most of his time trying to stay out of trouble: "I tried to keep low. I don't want to pick any kind of fight or problem with anyone, I was just trying to work on my paperwork", he said.

Medical attention and legal aid was hard to come by at Christmas

Due to a lack of sleep and stress, Ahmed became ill during his stay in the centre. "My immune system was very weak, and I had a bad cold with a sore throat, so I asked for some medicine but I was told I was only allowed paracetamol.

"If I wanted anything stronger, I'd have to make an appointment. But with over 400 people in the centre, medical appointments are hard to come by and it can take days to be seen."

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Ahmed with his friends and family

As Ahmed was in the centre over the Christmas period, he wasn't able to receive as much support from his lawyer as he would normally. The centre slowed down while everyone else in the country was spending time with their families.

Ahmed kept busy by getting his paperwork in order. The internet inside the centre was painfully slow, and the two pages of A4 he needed to print and sign took two days to reach him. Those in charge "needed time to read through them" before handing them over.

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Ahmed's deportation notice

At times Ahmed described his mental health as "really, really low". Although he never would, he said he understood why so many in the centre had committed suicide.

He was not aware of what was happening outside the detention centre, other than postcards from concerned people who'd read about his case. Ahmed added: "The only thing which kept me going was knowing I had so much support on the outside. My friends would send me their Christmas cracker jokes, as I love comedy, and it was good to know I had something to smile about at last."

The University blocked Ahmed's email account

On learning Ahmed had been detained, the University suspended his university email account. "They did send another email to my private account asking if I needed any help with anything, but there's very little the University can do in these situations", Ahmed noted.

He continued: "I don't know if the University did help in some way, such as contacting the Home Office about my situation, but I haven't been made aware of it if they did."

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Ahmed cycling in the UK

Ahmed could still be deported any day

Ahmed is hopeful that his case is unique, and other foreign students won't find themselves in a similar position.

He is, however, still frustrated and becoming more stressed about what the future holds for him. There's no certainty in his life, with the Home Office telling him he could be detained again.

He's losing his hair and finds it difficult to sleep at night, knowing at any point he could be deported back to the war torn Iraq.

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Ahmed with his friends in Sheffield

Ahmed tries to work on his thesis and reading for his PhD, but finds it hard to concentrate, especially when he's not sure if he will be able to continue his studies.

He added: "The only way I managed to get out of the centre was by applying for a fresh asylum application. I don't know if I'll be detained again, it could happen at any minute. Even just speaking to the press could mean they just strike me out and I get deported. It's really difficult to get back to studying when I'm surrounded by uncertainty.

"I'm trying to be positive but it isn't that easy. It's difficult for people to be in my position, but it's not pleasant to go into detention. They are playing with people's lives, and it isn't right."

The petition created for Ahmed is still live and has over 50,000 supporters, add your name here.

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