Katherine came to the UK from Uganda when she was 16. She is now 21 and has two children, Joseph, 2 and Sarah, 6 months. She and Joseph were detained in Yarl’s Wood for over a month in early 2007, when he was 7 months old. They now live in temporary accommodation in London, awaiting a decision on their asylum application.
“It happened when he was 7 months old. Immigration officials burst into our home at 6 o’clock in the morning. The baby screamed for hours and hours, and I couldn’t comfort him. I was too scared to even comfort him. We were taken to Yarl’s Wood. First they took away Joseph’s clothes, and this was February. That night was the worst. I tried to keep him warm in bed in this tiny cold room, and he screamed and I cried and I didn’t know what was going to happen to us. It so was like when they took me before, in Uganda. I wasn’t sure which was real.
While I was in there I couldn’t stop thinking about when I was younger. About what happened. Studying and being in England had helped me to forget. But I couldn’t forget anymore. They kept me prisoner in Uganda a long time and things happened there. Soldiers did things to me and my family were all killed. Thinking about it all the time made it hard to care for Joseph.
I wanted to kill myself all the time I was there. And I think Joseph picked up on how I felt, because he cried so much. Some of his hair fell out, he wouldn’t eat and became ill. The doctor prescribed some medicine but they wouldn’t let me keep it. Maybe they thought I would commit suicide with it, I don’t know. The doctor was supposed to come and give it to him, but he never seemed to turn up.
We were in Yarl’s Wood for more than a month. All the time I was being told we would be going back to Uganda very soon, and one time they took us to Heathrow Airport. I was there all night with the baby, and he kept crying, and I was so tired, and so frightened. I couldn’t change his nappy, and he didn’t have a bottle for ages. I said again and again, if they made me go back I would kill me and my baby. We would be better dead than go back. Then the next day they took us back to Yarl’s Wood.
In the end we were released. I still don’t know why we were arrested, or released again. They don’t tell you anything in that place, and you need to know what’s happening, how else can you live? I went back to college, and eventually I had Sarah. Their father is an asylum seeker as well.
I guess I’m proud that so many people cared enough to campaign to stop us being sent back. Hundreds of people signed a petition.
Ever since Yarl’s Wood, I’ve felt low and scared all the time. We no longer have any status to stay in this country and we could be arrested at any time. It’s worst when I have to sign at the Immigration Office. Now I’m not allowed to study any longer, so I haven’t anything to take my mind off things. A few months ago we had to move to another part of London, where I haven’t many friends. And now that I’m over 21, social services want to take back the flat. They say they’re not responsible for me any longer. But where can we go?”