It appears on the map as ‘Government Buildings’. When you find it, tucked away behind some residential housing, it does not bring to mind military installations on occupied corners of tropical islands. The razor wire and bars on the windows are your only clue that this is Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, the seemingly permanent location of Britain’s indefinite detainees.
Unable to be deported, yet endlessly refused release, the detainees here watch planes take off and land at Heathrow airport through the thin strips of their cell windows, and they wait. As weeks turn into months and months turn into years, they wait.
Some cannot be deported because their country of origin is too dangerous – the courts have stopped the government deporting people to Zimbabwe or Somalia, for example.
Others are from countries that will not accept them back. Iran is actively seeking to stop asylum seekers being returned there, while the first attempted deportation to Baghdad late last year ended in embarrassing failure when the Iraqi military ordered the flight to leave immediately without allowing the Kurdish deportees to disembark.
Migrants from these countries are being left in the limbo of indefinite detention.
How can that happen? When proposals to detain suspects for 42 days under anti-terror laws faced such widespread condemnation, how can a young Somali called Mohammed be entering his third year of detention, waiting for an impossible deportation to the most dangerous city on earth?
Mohammed can’t understand it. When I met him in February he told me how he used to love this country that had given him refuge: ‘the way people express themselves, and freedom of speech, all these wonderful things’.
‘Now I’m looking at another side of the system,’ he said.
Mohammed came to the UK ten years ago. After a childhood spent witnessing murders and seeing corpses in the streets, he found adapting to life here difficult. He was given leave to remain for four years, but afterwards was refused and not allowed to work.
He struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and spent several short spells in prison. When he was charged with using threatening language during an argument, his solicitor advised him to plead guilty as he would get a suspended sentence – but he ended up being given four months.
Two years later, he is still detained.
‘My freedom has been taken away,’ he says. ‘It is one of the most important aspects of human life, your liberty. I am in a small room – every single day is the same. Killing time, that is what we are doing and time is not supposed to be killed. Time is all we have in life.
‘I’m not getting younger. All I want is to live life and have a family and do the things that other people do.’
Britain is almost alone in practising indefinite detention. France, for example, has a maximum limit of 32 days. Last year NGOs united to oppose the EU Returns Directive planned to extend a time limit of 18 months across Europe. But Britain refuses to implement even this lengthy time cap.
A string of High Court rulings have found indefinite detention to be unlawful. And earlier this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the UK Border Agency had unlawfully operated a secret policy of blanket detention of ex-offenders, regardless of their individual cases.
Sixty years ago, the political thinker Hannah Arendt, herself a refugee who had been interned more than once, pointed out the limitations of ‘inalienable’ human rights. In reality, as soon as refugees appeared who belonged to no government or political community, no authority would protect their rights.
She diagnosed a condition of ‘rightlessness’, where refugees can say what they like, but ‘their freedom of opinion is a fool’s freedom, for nothing they think matters anyhow’.
But whenever the rest of us recognise refugees as our neighbours and community members, what they think starts to matter.
This is why the Detained Lives campaign against indefinite detention will be travelling around the country this year. Ex-detainees, released after years in detention, will be discussing their experiences – and how solidarity can oppose the marginalisation that culminates in indefinite detention.
Mohammed won’t be there, for the moment: he will be in his cell, dreaming of becoming a youth worker to help kids avoid his mistakes, and of one day returning to a peaceful Somalia to buy his patch of land by the beach. Most of all, he will be dreaming that one day ‘this will finish and I will walk the streets as a free man.’
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform