Melanie Friend, Domestic Visits Room, Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, July 2006. Courtesy of Belfast Exposed Photography
Border Country, the latest exhibition at Belfast Exposed Photography, is an installation of photographs by Melanie Friend together with the voiced testimonies of asylum seekers and migrants in detention centres in the UK.
Running at the gallery until January 11 2008, Melanie began work on Border Country in 2003, since when more than 25,000 individuals per year have been held for some period in immigration detention in the UK.
Immigration detainees in Northern Ireland had until last year been held in Maghaberry and Hydebank Wood prisons, but they are now automatically transferred to detention centres in Scotland and England.
Her photographs, taken on medium-format film, show the bleakness of the visits rooms in eight of these Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs): Dover, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth (near Heathrow), Lindholme (near Doncaster), Tinsley House (near Gatwick), Campsfield House (near Oxford), Yarl’s Wood (near Bedford) and Haslar (near Portsmouth). She also obtained permission to photograph some landscapes.
Melanie Friend, Detainees’ recreation area, Lindholme Immigration Removal Centre, April 2006. Belfast Exposed
As a visitor she also met asylum seekers and migrants in several IRCs and was given special access to record interviews with male detainees in Dover, and female detainees in Yarl’s Wood. The exhibition includes voice recordings that evoke complex identities and the physical and psychological experience of life in detention.
The project is designed to give voice to a socially excluded and almost invisible group of people without any home or belonging, trapped within an inhumane system that some of them cannot fully understand.
The act of listening to those caught waiting, uncertain of their future deportation or asylum, is designed to break the silence and invisibility surrounding these centres and those who are kept inside.
A publication of the work, with essays by Mark Durden, Alex Hall and Melanie Friend has been published to coincide with the exhibition.