RT 'banned' from visiting Harmondsworth for 2 months, guard says
I had been speaking to "Haider", an Iraqi who says he's been in immigration detention for a staggering two years. During that time, he's tried to commit suicide four times. He offered to show me some paperwork to back up his claims. He says his solicitor thinks he has a case for unlawful detention, and he's got correspondence from the Home Office relating to his asylum claim. When he was having trouble emailing it out to me, I thought, why not go in and get it?
The first part was easy. The visitors' centre looks like a doctor's waiting room. Reception desk, chairs, a TV, magazines. There's more security than at the doctor's, though. You present some i.d. (driving license in my case), the guards take your fingerprints and photograph, and you empty your pockets into a locker. The staff were kind to the assorted visitors: an elderly Japanese woman, a young Eastern European man, and a mother with a small girl, who kept crying, "I want to see my daddy!"
Then it gets confusing. Around the corner from the visitors' centre are several doors. "It's the second one on the right," the staff tell me. Of course, I pick the wrong door. A harassed, official-looking man, laden with papers, follows me in, and obviously because of this, I am let into the heart of the centre. Ahead of me, a slightly grubby corridor painted sickly green, with doors leading off it, and burly staff coming and going. I turn around to the female security guard and ask where I'm supposed to go. "Oh god, hide your pass!" she hisses. She realizes before I do that she's let me in the wrong door, and doesn't want to get into trouble. "Tight ship," I think.
Once I've found the right door, another female security guard checks her computer and there I am, linked with "Haider", whom I have asked to see. The little girl is also there, still asking to see her daddy. The guard pats me down, and runs a metal detector over me and an older woman, and we wait to be let in. We can see the visiting hall through the automatic glass security doors.
But just then, the guard calls me back. "Laura, come around here please." Waiting for me is a large, male security guard. He looks like a former police officer who's run to fat, and has a demeanor to match. He tells me to sit, but he remains standing. He asks me to confirm my name, and whether I work for RT. I do - and I know I haven't done anything wrong, although his expression strongly suggests otherwise. In his hand, he has a piece of paper. He's reading from it as he tells me the Home Office has banned RT journalists from visiting Harmondsworth for a period of 2 months. It's the first I've heard of it, so I check: "RT specifically?" "RT specifically," he confirms. I ask to see the paper he's reading from, and he's appalled. Then he asks me to leave. I don't want to cause any trouble for "Haider", with whom I am now linked in their computers, so there doesn't seem to be anything else to do but comply.
During the week that we've been at Harmondsworth speaking to detainees about their lives, I've often thought of the words of American journalist Finley Peter Dunne: that our job is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Harmondsworth detainees have texted me to thank us for the coverage - "at least someone is listening," one said.
And now I know the Home Office has noticed what we've done, and seen fit to try and stop us, I think we must be doing something right.
Laura Smith, RT UK correspondent