Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.’
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero