First impressions: internship at Dover Detainee Visitor Group

One of our intern’s offers her perspectives of DDVG, the work caseworkers and volunteers do, and the experiences of the detainees she has met.

My name is Cecile. Having finished my BA in International Relations and Politics I am now doing an internship at the NGO’s office. I have different tasks assigned to me, but most of all I am able to observe the internal functioning of the NGO, which is more complex than I thought.

This internship has helped me to realise how much work and involvement, but also critical skills and personal distance are necessary to face the diversity and complexity of cases. Experience of work with detainees, as well as strong legal and communication skills are needed to be able to deal with situations. Victor and Zoe work as mediation agents and facilitate the communication between solicitors, clients, other NGOs such as Migrant Help and Kent Refugee Action Network, as well as government agencies such as the Section Four team, which is charged with providing support to asylum seekers in the UK.

I have learned a lot at the office, for instance about the actual legal context in the UK and the deficits and weaknesses of the law concerning the conditions of detention and concerning the mechanisms of asylum seeking, removal directions and search for support and help. There is generally quite a gap between what is written in the law and the reality of the process, which usually takes much longer due to the bureaucratic system’s deficiencies. As an example, according to Rule 35, any detainee having suffered from torture should be automatically released. However, medical evidence is difficult to obtain and sometimes not considered seriously by the UK Border Agency, which leads to the unfair prolonged detention of victims of torture.

According to the Dublin II Convention, immigrants detained in the UK but who arrived first in another European country have their fingerprints there and must therefore be removed to that country. This leads to dramatic situations where detainees are being removed to countries where they do not speak the language and do not know anyone. Frances, a volunteer for DDVG has made many researches and produced a useful list of NGOs in each of the Dublin II Countries that can support the detainees being removed.

On the other hand, I have also realised the burdensome and tough reality of the law for detainees when accompanying Victor and Zoe to the detention centre. Getting into it is already a challenge: many security checks are required and the ubiquity of surveillance cameras and of officers can be oppressive.

My first meeting with detainees took place after a week spent at the office where I only had a theoretical and distanced approach of the notion of detention, and facing the reality of what I had learnt was harder and more sickening than I thought it would be. I have met a few detainees, mostly from Africa or East Asia, some of them even younger than me, but all affected and tormented about their life and future. Some of them decide that getting back to their country of origin is the best thing to do, but even this requires a whole and long administrative process, condemning them to spend more and more time in the center. Some others have family members in the UK and really want to be released to return to them as soon as possible, but that takes usually time as well.

A few seem very bewildered and perturbed, communicating with them is sometimes difficult and detention just seems to make them worse. Most of them have been victims of physical assault, violence or death threats for their sexual orientation or political views. We also helped a few detainees who had been victims of human trafficking or exploited by owners of restaurants or hotels. In all the cases, visiting was always leaving a bitter and sad taste in my mouth.

I therefore realised the importance of the role of the volunteers, who give a lot of themselves. Their presence, in certain cases, is crucial because they take care of translating when detainees do not speak English well and feel confused. More generally, they bring a bit of social warmth into a very cold and hostile place, where detainees suffer from frustration and isolation.

Cecile interned with DDVG from April – June 2013.


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