‘My Lawyer Said It Would Be Too Scandalous If I Was Arrested… She Was Wrong’
The Independent, 15 December 2005
A is an Algerian man, 36, who claimed asylum but was rejected. He was arrested in 2001, accused of supporting Algerian terrorism by raising cash through credit-card fraud. He currently lives under « house arrest » with his family while he awaits his appeal against the decision to deport him.
« After the terror attacks in London on 7 July I remember telling my lawyer that I expected to be arrested. I was arrested after the 11 September attacks in New York, and so I didn’t expect that things would be any different. But my lawyer insisted it would be too scandalous. She was wrong.
« The police came to my home in the early morning [in August]. There were many of them and they handed me a deportation order telling me that I was liable to be detained pending deportation. They told me to pack my bags and insisted on handcuffing me before I could say goodbye to my family. After I remonstrated about this with them, they agreed to let me say farewell to my wife and children without being handcuffed.
« The police took me to Woodhill prison where my property was taken from me and I was strip-searched twice. After four or five hours, the police put me into a van with two other people, and then we travelled for hours while I was still handcuffed; I was thirsty, but was refused water. After three or four hours we arrived at Full Sutton prison [near York]. I was not allowed to contact my lawyer for nearly three days. The detention conditions were extremely bad. I would have never dreamt that such conditions existed in Britain.
« I am basically locked up at home for 24 hours a day. I cannot use the internet, and I am not even allowed into my own garden. I wear a tag so that the Home Office can monitor my movements. I have had many problems with the tagging device. The police have come to my home nearly 40 times since I was released on bail. They come because they say that the alarm from the tag has been triggered. »
G is an Algerian man, 36, who claimed asylum in 1995. He was detained in 2001, accused of supporting Algerian terrorism. He uses a wheelchair and remains at home under « house arrest » bail conditions and is awaiting his appeal against the decision to deport him.
« I was rearrested in August 2005 when more than 50 immigration, police and special officers came to my home at 6am. Seven to 10 officers came inside the house while the rest waited in the street with four police vans. The police refused to let me phone my lawyer and also refused to tell me or my wife where they planned to take me. I don’t understand why the police had to come at that time in the morning and why so many of them came. After all, I was already under 24-hour surveillance and house arrest. I was always strictly monitored.
« Following my arrest, the police took me to Long Lartin prison where I was held from August to October 2005. When I arrived there, I was told I could only make one phone call: to my lawyer or my wife. After phoning my lawyer, I was taken to my cell which was extremely small and ill-suited to accommodate me and my wheelchair.
« As I was unwell, I was moved to the healthcare wing where I was prohibited from talking to any other patients, not allowed to talk to anyone; no association with patients.
« My bail conditions forbid me to use a mobile phone and other electronic equipment. I am not allowed to talk to anyone outside of my wife and child and others that have received clearance from the Home Office. Although I have access to my garden (albeit for a limited portion of the day) I fear that if I reply to any one of my neighbours saying hello to me I will be in breach of my bail conditions. So, I don’t even go out in the garden. Every night I fear that the police will come and arrest me again. I feel like I have lost all access to a normal life. I’d rather die than be sent back to Algeria. I will hang myself if [they] send me back. »
H is an Algerian man, 33, married to a UK national. He is a supporter of the Islamist group FIS. He was granted refugee status after arguing his life would be in peril if he were returned. He was arrested in 2002 after the Home Office ruled that he posed a terrorist threat. He has been held under strict « house arrest » conditions since October.
« When they came, it was 6am. I was allowed legal visits [at Full Sutton], but was strip-searched before and after. I didn’t want my family to visit me there; it wasn’t the right place for that. The second detention [in 2005] was very hard to take. I began taking anti-depressants, started to self-harm and was under suicide watch.
« I was ‘released’, though not really. We haven’t tasted what freedom feels like because of the bail- order conditions. We’ve been moving from one nightmare to another. I expect them to come, and wake up every day at 6am. I always expect them to come; they’ve always got something up their sleeve.
« There’s a perimeter where I’m allowed to go [outside] for only 2 hours each day. I can go to the mosque, but I can’t go outside the perimeter. I have to call someone every day at a ‘check-in’ time.
« Before [under the ‘control order’ conditions], I had 12 hours a day outside. I could go anywhere and had people cleared [to visit]. Now the conditions are stricter. People have to be cleared by the Home Office, send their names and pictures to the Home Office and they are too scared. We don’t have social visits any more, they’re much more formal. My wife has four sisters, but only one of them has been cleared. One sister-in-law comes to visit, but the others are too scared. I want a normal life.
« The authorities are playing politics with our lives. We don’t want to get caught up in their agenda, their politics. I would like to live like a normal person. I’m not sure why I’ve been labelled a ‘suspected international terrorist’. We’re being treated worse than ‘lifers’ in prison. We don’t want to be treated as scapegoats. If they say we’ve done something, they should’ve charged us. »
Abu Rideh, 33, is a stateless Palestinian refugee and torture survivor who has been in Britain for nearly 11 years. He was detained in 2001. He has been released under a control order. He is seriously ill.
« If I could go back, I would go back to Palestine tomorrow. I’ve never been interviewed or questioned. This was the first time I’ve been arrested. They say I am a terrorist, but they’ve never presented any evidence [of this] to me in all these years. They treat me like a criminal. In fact, they treat criminals better.
« I can’t sleep. I spend all my time in the house. I don’t go outside much; I’m just not up to it. I can’t visit family or friends and [they won’t come here] because they are too frightened. They are afraid of their names being given to the Home Office.
« At first, I had to call in every morning at 4.30am. I couldn’t sleep. I had to take sleeping pills. I asked the Home Office to change this, and they changed it to 5am. I still can’t sleep.
« I’ve asked [the Home Office] to have my travel documents [as a refugee living in the UK] renewed but they refused, saying I was involved in ‘extremist activities in the UK and overseas’ but I have never been questioned or charged with anything. Every time [things start to seem better], they pass an exception to the law. »