I can’t stop thinking about the handcuffs

16 January 2011 – Story of a young South American girl who spent 12 days at detention centre 127bis

Listen to the story (in French): [audio:http://gettingthevoiceout.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/jai-garde-le-souvenir-des-menottes.mp3]

It was in 2005, I was coming back from work when a friend phoned me saying that someone needed me for some work. So I went to phone another friend to tell her that I had some work. I went into the booth in the phone shop, here in St.Gilles, and I called her.
I had only been on the phone for about two or three minutes when the police arrived. They started to control the shop and inspect all of us as well. They told me first of all to pay the phone shop for the minutes I had used up on my phone call. They asked me to hang up the phone so I could show them my papers. I didn’t have the papers, just the certificate from the commune. They started to note down everyone’s details to see if we were registered or not. There were a lot of us, eight different nationalities. But the only person who didn’t have their papers in order was me.

Straight away they called the Immigration Office. They had refused my request to stay but neither me nor my lawyer had received this paper yet. It had just been sent from the office but it had not yet arrived.
So they told me that I was not registered and that they had to deport me. They made me wait there a good while so they could check all my data. After that they put me in handcuffs and put me into a police van. They acted as if I had done something wrong. They put on the sirens.

We arrived in Anderlecht and they took all I had. They locked me in a place where there was not even a toilet, only a concrete seat. For a toilet, there was a hole in the ground. I covered myself up, there were lots of people.

I stayed from 10pm until 10am the next morning. Afterwards they brought me to Zaventem, and once again I was taken out like some kind of delinquent with the siren blaring. I never thought that would happen to me, I have never had problems with the police. I felt really bad; I couldn’t understand why they had handcuffed me. I had done nothing, I am not a thief, I had done nothing wrong, I am just here illegally.

When I was in prison I cried, because I thought to myself that in Ecuador this would never have happened, whereas here it was happening to me. I was also scared about some of the horrible things I had heard; that they undress everyone as they suspect we are hiding things, and I was very scared about them taking off all my clothes and having doctors examine me, but they didn’t do it this time.

I arrived at the detention centre in the afternoon and there were lots of people there. Lots of men, women and children. I was very scared. I had never been in a place like that before, locked in.

I didn’t know what was going to happen, nor for how long I was going to stay there for. They brought me to the place where I was to sleep, they pointed out my bed. It was a room for women and there were children there too. I stayed there from 11 to 23 May. I was able to leave because my brothers got me a lawyer who looked at my request to remain and stopped my deportation.

I was scared they were going to deport me. I was very scared because in Ecuador I have…erm…a problem, so I didn’t want to leave. My three brothers are here too, as well as my nephews. Yes I was very scared they would deport me.

While I was imprisoned I didn’t feel very well. And I couldn’t do anything either. I couldn’t make many telephone calls because they don’t let you use the phone all the time. We could do nothing! Everyone there was feeling terrible. There were lots of children who cried all night long. It was impossible to get a good night’s sleep. Everyone is assigned a social worker, but all they do is continue to tell us that there is no way we can stay here and the best thing to do is to sign the paper and leave. It wasn’t right for my social worker to say that because I didn’t want to leave. I asked her to help me and that was her response! I found that shocking. I didn’t know what to do. I spoke with lots of people there who told me not to worry about it and wait a bit as there are lots of social workers like that.

When I was released, my brother came to get me. He took my bag and I wanted to leave straightaway so that they couldn’t put me back in the centre. I was scared they would lock me up again. My brother said: “Let’s get out of here”. My brother didn’t have any papers then either.

I felt much better being free, even though I was still scared as I still had no papers and I had a an order to leave Belgian territory within ten days. I continued to be very scared. Every time I saw a police officer I couldn’t stop thinking about the handcuffs. It took me a long time to stop thinking about that. Before, I was never scared of the police.

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