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Asylum Seekers Share Stories of Operation Vector Detention

Asylum Seekers Share Stories of Operation Vector Detention

When Helen, an asylum seekers from Operation Vector, arrived at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, she was confused and scared. She was taken to her cell, handed cleaning spray and wipes, and told to use them before making up her bed. She had no idea why she had been arrested when she went to report.

“They told me I had been detained for Rwanda and tried to convince us to go voluntarily, saying it is now the law and we have already been selected. But they didn’t explain to me why I had been chosen.”

Helen and six other women detained at the centre tried to support each other amid fears of being put on a plane to Rwanda.

Fear and Uncertainty

Promotional materials for Rwanda were displayed around the centre, intensifying their fears.

“The walls in this place are tall and horrible and scary. I had never been detained before, and knowing that the Home Office can take me to the airport and put me on a plane at any time was terrifying. All I could think about was how I could get out of this place.”

Helen was released from detention soon after this interview.

Operation Vector’s Impact

Although the Home Office refuses to confirm numbers for “operational reasons,” it is thought that more than 100 asylum seekers from conflict zones, including Sudan, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, were detained before Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced an election for 4 July.

Protests and Confusion

On Sunday, dozens of campaigners from Action Against Detention and Deportation protested outside Brook House near Gatwick airport and Heathrow, where asylum seekers are still detained with plans to send them to Rwanda.

Confusion and chaos have ensued, with detainees unsure about their future. Sunak has publicly stated there will be no flights before the election, but Home Office officials have reportedly indicated a flight could take off at the end of June, justifying the detentions.

Judicial and Government Responses

One judge described the detentions as “speculative.” The Home Office declined to comment on these reports, but government sources say the plan is still “live.” Asylum seekers who arrived in the UK between 1 January 2022 and 29 June 2023, and received a notice of intent about their asylum claim being inadmissible, are still under consideration for removal.

Labour has pledged to scrap the Rwanda scheme if elected, but current uncertainty provides little comfort to asylum seekers who fear being forcibly sent to Rwanda either before or after the election.

Personal Accounts of Fear

A Sudanese Asylum seekers , whose friends have been arrested, shared his fears with The Guardian:

“None of us feel safe anymore. I’m frightened to sleep in my Home Office accommodation in case they arrive in the middle of the night and take me for Rwanda.

“If I walk down the street and see a police car, I’m frightened they will catch me even though I have committed no crime. But we must continue to go and report, or they will come and arrest us. We don’t have any choices. The whole thing is making me struggle to eat or to sleep.”

Community and Charity Responses

Shirley Hart of Welcome House in Hull, which supports local asylum seekers, described the “terrifying” nature of Operation Vector.

“When people disappear like this, it breeds an atmosphere of terror. Before this happened, some asylum seekers were rebuilding their fragile confidence. Now they don’t know who they can trust. We liked to think we don’t live in a society where people are taken in the middle of the night and disappear.”

Current Status of Detainees

Some detainees have been released, like one asylum seeker now engaging in therapeutic gardening at their host’s home, as reported by the charity Refugees At Home. However, many remain in detention, uncertain about their future.

One Eritrean man, detained for 25 days until his bail hearing, expressed his distress:

“I have done nothing wrong. I want my freedom. We still believe that we could be sent to Rwanda. Nobody knows what will happen with the election and whether Rwanda will be cancelled after that. I don’t even like to hear anyone say the word ‘Rwanda.’

“It is so upsetting for us to think about this. I came here to find safety because of what is happening in my country but I haven’t yet found it. Can the Home Office tell me which planet I should go to, to find my freedom and my safety?”

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