12 July 2017
In the middle of a refugee crisis, which is too often framed by divisive, hate-fuelled debate, it's easy to forget what happens to asylum seekers once they arrive in the UK.
Often those fleeing abuse, torture and war, including families with children, are detained and incarcerated.
The UK in fact operates one of the most draconian systems. In France, migrants can be detained for a maximum of 45 days. In the UK, unlike any other country in Europe, has no limit.
Those, often already traumatised can be detained for months, or even years, often without hope and any idea when their incarceration will end.
And now Refugee Action's latest research lays bare the horrific experiences of refugees who aren't detained but are still let down by the UK system. They are hungry and homeless, suffering in extreme poverty because they are wrongly denied assistance or there are enormous delays in getting support.
Last week 120 people, including former detainees, spent five days walking from Runnymede to Westminster. The walk is organised by Refugee Tales each year in solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and detainees. I met up with them in Battersea Park in the heavy afternoon heat to join the final leg of the walk.
The first person I speak to is Tom, not his real name, who is waiting for his asylum claim to be processed. His story is hard to listen to.
He grew up on the streets of Kathmandu, without a family or a home, but was sponsored to come to the UK to study and begin a new life.
But then his sponsor died. Tom immediately informed his university, to assure them he would still pay his fees. The university promptly reported him to immigration authorities. He was detained for four months, shunted between four different centres.
He travelled back to Nepal to try to get help from a charity, but was thwarted by the devastating 2015 earthquake.
Now 22, Tom is back in the UK but is still waiting to find out if he will be given refugee status. In the meantime, he's studying again and has completed his first year of a social work degree - at a different university.
The Green Party is the only party proposing a complete end to detention. Not just ending indefinite detention, but shaking up our system so no one is incarcerated at all. Immigration detention is inhumane, costly and totally unnecessary.
During the election campaign, our women's manifesto was launched at Yarl's Wood detention centre, shining a light on the particular risks to women in detention centres, many of whom are survivors of sexual violence.
The Green Party believes asylum seekers should be part of the community while their claim is processed, and applications should be processed within three months. The applicant deserves to access public services until a final decision is made.
To detain those fleeing war and persecution isn't just cruel, it also staggeringly expensive. It costs more than £30,000 to detain one person for a year with over 30,000 migrants are detained across the UK's 11 detention centres.
Despite the obstacles the system creates there is still hope. On the walk I met Lee, a refugee from China - tortured by the Chinese government for protesting over Tibet - who has now built a life in the UK.
But it wasn't an easy or quick journey. He arrived in the UK in 2008 and was detained for seven months, then again for another six. He met others in detention who had been there five years.
Now, in 2017 after finally getting refugee status, he is married with two children and runs his own small business in south London.
But of the 20 former detainees on the walk, even now only Lee has refugee status. He's the only one who can be open about his experiences. The other 19 people - who are still waiting for decisions on their asylum applications and have no idea when they will get an answer - cannot speak out for fear it might jeopardise their claims.
This is what Lee is most adamant about highlighting when we meet. Until their applications are approved, asylum seekers have no voice. They are wary of appearing in any photos or videos or their names making their way into the public domain because even the slightest misstep could make their future far worse than it already is - and then what can they do?
Their voices have been stolen by a system stacked against them. Instead asylum seekers must rely on others to tell their stories for them, which is why the work of Refugee Tales is so crucial.
There is so much more we can do for refugees. Reinstate the Dubs amendment to help child refugees reach safety. Widen reunification plans so families dispersed by war can find each other again.
But once asylum seekers reach the UK we must not assume their journey is over. No one deserves to flee their homes and complete a dangerous, harrowing journey, only to be indefinitely locked up or abandoned by the country they thought would help them.