An LGBT+ asylum seeker who experienced immigration detention, Isabella and her friend Joyce stand with their arms around each other at Pride in Glasgow.

Isabella, right, and her friend Joyce at Pride in Glasgow

“I had to leave my family, my country and my life because of my sexuality.”

As a lesbian, Isabella faces restrictive laws and prejudices in her birth country, Namibia, not least from her own father.

“My father believes that if I sleep with a man, I will be ‘cured’ of my sexuality,” Isabella said. She is afraid that if she returns home, her father will force her into an arranged marriage.

Isabella came to the UK in October 2017 to claim asylum. Since then, she has become an active member of the LGBT+ community in Glasgow, where she lives.

In detention and terrified

But Isabella’s life was plunged into uncertainty when her asylum claim was refused last year.

All asylum seekers in the UK must report to the Home Office regularly. It was during one of these visits that she found her claim had been refused.

When she arrived at the Home Office to report, Isabella was put into immigration detention.

Asylum seekers can be detained while the authorities verify someone’s identity or work on their claim.

It seems straightforward, but the Home Office can place people in immigration detention centres with no warning and for any amount of time. People often have no idea when they will be released.

“I was terrified,” Isabella said. “I had no idea what was happening.”

‘I came here to be safe but instead I was locked up in detention but did not commit any crime.”

British Red Cross research on detention found that it has a bad effect on asylum seekers’ mental health. Sadly, this often continued after they were released.

Living in constant fear

Isabella was held in detention for two weeks. She felt constant fear and confusion as she “did not know when or how this torture would end.”

Her mental health deteriorated and she met women there who were “very vulnerable and mentally unwell,” and should never have been detained.

A constant fear of being deported back to the very place where she faces persecution meant Isabella was unable to eat or sleep in detention.

“I have a friend who was deported back to Namibia because she could not provide enough evidence for her asylum claim,” Isabella said.

“I felt so alone and dead inside there.”

Isabella had minimal contact with the outside world while in detention. Her partner, Anna, came to visit her and, “Anna’s support kept me going,” she said.

Friends from the LGBT+ community group in Glasgow also visited to give her their support.

Free but poverty-stricken

Finally, she was allowed to leave detention but was left in complete poverty. “I had no money, no home and no support,” Isabella said.

“I thought the pain was over, but in some ways, it was only just beginning.”

To help her deal with all these challenges, Isabella joined the Red Cross’ Voices Network and became a Voices Ambassador.

She is one of many ‘experts-by-experience’ within the Voices Network. Together, they work to end the use of indefinite detention in the UK.

Isabella must still regularly report to the Home Office in Glasgow, where she is at increased risk of being detained.

“For that whole week, I feel sick with fear in case they make me go through that again.”

#EveryRefugeeMatters – join our community of refugee champions

The Red Cross is the UK’s largest provider of refugee services, helping 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers last year. We also speak up for refugees’ rights.

People can now stand with us and with refugees on our new Facebook page, #EveryRefugeeMatters.

This new community of refugee champions can help people like Isabella to improve their own and other refugees’ lives.

Too many of people, like Isabella, came to the UK for safety but found fear.

Now, we want this to change. Will you join us?