A reflective account on the Seeing Asylum exhibition at its last destination in September in Roundhay, Leeds.

Seeing Asylum Exhibition – A Review from Martin Schweiger

A collection of large colour photographs were displayed in Roundhay Quaker Meeting House on Thursday 22nd September 2022. The Exhibition is the result of a collaboration between Leeds Beckett University and Leeds Church Institute. The images helped to tell the stories of women who were sent to Immigration Detention Centres. More information came from small booklets and the possibility of listening to one woman’s account of her experiences on small recorders with headphones. The issues came alive as we heard Maria De Angelis from Leeds Beckett University and Karen Pearce from PAFRAS talking about the background to the exhibition and delivering practical help and hope in a dark and difficult situation.

It is clear that the experiences of being in an Immigration Detention Centre is traumatising, adding to the adverse mental health burden already carried by many asylum seekers arriving in the UK. A telling comment was that people held in prison for theft, assault or murder know the length of their sentence and can count down the days to their release; people in the Immigration Detention Centres have not been found guilty of any crime but can only count up, the number of days they have been detained. The unlimited nature of the detention is particularly cruel.

Those viewing the exhibition will have asked themselves why is the food bad, the toilets dirty and telephones confiscated? Bigger questions also come to mind. Why is the process so secretive and hidden from public view? Who is accountable for the service provided and what is the public benefit of detaining people in Immigration Detention Centres? Does the process represent value for the taxpayers’ money?

Around 40 people visited the Seeing Asylum exhibition. Members of Roundhay Meeting were present to welcome people and to provide refreshments as well as guiding people to look round. It is well worth seeing and it is hoped that others will arrange to host the Exhibition in due course.

Martin Schweiger