No Man’s Land is a collaborative project that explores experiences of indefinite immigration detention in the UK.

There are currently approximately 2500 people detained under immigration law in the UK. Under this law, a person can be detained indefinitely. People can be held in immigration detention if their applications to be in Britain are being processed or have been refused. Many are asylum-seekers. Some are waiting to hear if they will be accepted as refugees. Others have been refused asylum and will be sent back to their countries of origin. Many people in detention cannot return to their countries, even if they want to. Some are stateless, because their country will not accept them back. Under international law stateless people have similar rights to refugees and should be allowed to stay.

© Nana Varveropoulou, Colnbrook IRC opened in September 2004. It has a capacity of 408. The men detained in Colnbrook are locked in their rooms at night, and during the day for roll-calls. There is no freedom of movement around the centre.
© Nana Varveropoulou, Upon arrival all detainees are hosted in the Short-Term Facility while their paperwork is being processed. During that time, usually 2 to 3 days, they are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day.
© Nana Varveropoulou, Farzin is from Iran. His asylum application has been refused. He had been in detention for 8 months when this photograph was taken.

Over a period of two years, a number of men detained in Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre participated in photography workshops, organised by Nana Varveropoulou, producing photographs that aimed to explore their experiences of immigration detention. The workshops were based around various themes, which were developed through group discussions, about the experience and the emotional impact of indefinite immigration detention. Using digital cameras to create photo-stories, participants were responding to themes that were mutually agreed and developed such as “Time”, “Powerlessness”, “Patience”, “Insomnia” and “Hope”.

While running workshops, Nana was also given unprecedented access to photograph the centre. Producing her own photographs of spaces and portraits, Nana created a simultaneous record aiming to explore the ‘outsider’ and ‘insider’s’ perspectives of indefinite immigration detention.

© Nana Varveropoulou, Benjamin had been in detention for 8 months when this photograph was taken. He did not want to disclose the country of his origin.
© C. Gomes, “I have been locked up in here for 18 moths. I have not been given a timeframe for my deportation or my release. I could be here for another year or deported tomorrow. Nobody knows what is happening really. We are all just disappearing in the system.”
© Nana Varveropoulou, Muhammad is from Eritrea. He came to the UK fleeing the civil was in his country. He was detained shortly after he applied for asylum in the UK. He had been in detention for 7 months when this photograph was taken.
© Nana Varveropoulou, The men detained in Colnbrook IRC live in a prison regime although they are not there to serve a prison sentence. During their time in detention they have visitation rights from family and friends. Visitors are searched, photographed and finger printed.

Nana Varveropoulou is a freelance photographer, artist and photography lecturer based in London. Nana’s work predominately explores issues of migration and identity through the investigation of personal spaces and individual experiences, often through the process of collaboration. Her projects include No Man’s Land – a collaborative project that explores experiences of indefinite immigration detention in Colnbrook Immigration Detention Centre; At Home – a project that was inspired by the stories of several Cypriot refugees who returned to visit their birth homes and villages after thirty years of exile; and 228 – a series of images that explores the relationship between architecture, domestic space and collective memory.

© C. Gomes, “There is never a moment of peace in here. You are constantly surrounded by people and noise, yet you feel utterly alone”
© J. Asadge, “You just have to hope that one day your life will get back to normal”
© James C, “Sorry I have missed so many sessions. There has been a lot going on and I have been a bit down. I snapped the other day and they said I attacked a guard. They didn’t take into account that he had spent the whole day provoking me. I spend 4 days in isolation. I made these pictures when I came out. There is no theme to them. This is just how I feel.”
© C. Gomes, “It was very early in the morning when they came. They didn’t say a word. They just said he was leaving. “Gather your things mate” they said. He figured that he was being deported and he started screaming. Three of them took him and the rest of them gathered his things. Days later they told me he was deported. I have never heard from him since.”
© M. Noor, “All you can do is wait”
© M. Noor, “We are only allowed out of our cells or our wings for 6 hours a day. The rest is ‘lock up’ time. There is nowhere to go so we mostly just hang out in the corridor. Our ward has a small outdoor space. There is barbwire and netting everywhere, even on the sky.”

Nana is currently Senior Lecturer in Photography at the Kingston School of Art. Nana’s work has been published and exhibited nationally and internationally.

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