A migrant’s journey

DDVG’s Development Manager, Marianela, shares her personal experiences of migrating to the UK, of feeling invisible and inspired to make change.

Detained in the UK
Photo credit: Equinoxe. Los Roques, Venezuela.

My story

I came to the UK from Venezuela in 2002 because I was awarded a scholarship from the British Council to study for an MA in Human Rights at Essex University. As a student I enjoyed a lovely time, when everyone was friendly, kind and welcoming.


When I moved to Kent to finish my dissertation with my then boyfriend, all changed. I felt unwelcome. I felt an invisible barrier, which was difficult to explain, but that more than once I proved to exist to my partner by letting him observe how I was treated by others. It was not impoliteness it was more a ‘pseudo invisibility’. This made me feel different.

Rationally I reflected over my life and as a human being, as a professional and as a foreigner, I had lots to give. However, inexplicably I was vulnerable and sad; from being a very outgoing person I become shy and insecure. I just wanted to go back to my country where I was wanted and loved. I had my family, my work waiting for me and also my friends.

When I came to the UK I was not looking for a better life, I had it in my country! I was not here to steal anyone’s benefits. I came here to study, which I did and successfully finished. I married here in the UK but I had to marry before the date I wanted and not in Venezuela as we would have wished.

Detained in the UK
Marianela with her family in the Scottish countryside.

A sort of mistrust

The immigration policies and a sort of mistrust culture towards immigrants has touched my life.

Once married and with a plan to overcome my newly acquired ‘vulnerability’ I came to volunteer at DDVG in 2004. In parallel I started to meet people that did not treat me differently. Perhaps I was more assertive, perhaps I had met more native people and understood their worries, their points of view. Perhaps my English had improved but the end result is that at some point, I did not feel that invisible barrier any more. I think I came back to myself; I overcame that ‘circumstantial vulnerability’.

After many years I also became British citizen, so I am now a double national, Venezuelan and British. This duality is beautifully represented in my daughter who speaks skilfully both languages, who enjoys a fish and chips as much as a Venezuelan arepa and who ultimately at the age of five is aware of other nationalities and cultures and thus appreciates the need of understanding.

Detained in the UK
Venezuelan arepas.

Dover Detainee Visitor Group

At DDVG I started as a volunteer visitor to immigration detainees and got to know this incredible reality that I was not taught about at University: indefinite detention. This was and still is something that seems impossible in a country that highlights its respect for human rights. In all these years I had different hats at DDVG and now I wear the one of Planning and Development Manager concentrating most of my work on monitoring, organisation expansion, and fundraising.

Inspiration from negative realities

The negative realities continue. The invisible barrier which affects those who are here for the first time and those in immigration detention. Both of these realities are my day to day inspiration to work at DDVG and to contribute as much as I can in the consolidation of the organisation. I believe in provision of services to detainees, to ex-detainees and to raise awareness in the community about the issues migrants and refugees (facing far more difficult realities than mine) had to face in their personal and family journeys to safety in this country.

Detained in the UK


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