Margaret, a former visitor at DDVG, thinks that immigration detention conflicts with Britain’s traditions of inclusion in the community
I became a DDVG volunteer around seven years ago because I felt that immigration detainees had a raw deal.
I think that the UK’s tradition of inclusion in the community does not fit with imprisoning those who come to our country. The United Kingdom has always given sanctuary to those who are persecuted in their own country.
Varied backgrounds, interesting people
I felt very unsure of myself when I visited for the first time (not helped by the grim surroundings of the visitors room at that time). However, over time I valued the detainees’ varied backgrounds and I was struck by how I could find common ground in the little things in life.
|The first man I met was from Pakistan. He had entered illegally and worked in the UK for several years. I visited him for a year – long enough for him to teach me how to make a quick curry – before he was sent home to Pakistan.|
|Another detainee I visited was from Algeria but he had lived and worked in Italy for many years and I was able to practice my rusty Italian over the months he was detained.|
|I remember one man in particular. He was from South Africa and he was anxious and depressed because all his possessions had been lost when he was arrested. I was able to contact the police in the area where he was detained and make inquiries about his belongings.
The immigration centre had given us some valuable training and this helped me notice when this man started to slip into a deep depression. On my weekly visits I encouraged him to make a timetable of things to occupy him and I suggested courses he could take in the education department. He took my advice and enrolled in computer and English courses. When he was later returned to South Africa I hope these skills were of some use.
|I visited a man from Zimbabwe for almost two years and this was a really rewarding experience. He had been an activist in Zimbabwe and his bail applications kept being rejected until at long last his application was accepted and he was released.|
A visitor’s role
I think the role of a visitor is to be provide constant and consistent support to detainees, especially when they are anxious about Home Office decisions. I also helped in the clothing store provided by DDVG, another really useful resource for detainees.
All in all, I enjoyed visiting the detainees and I learned a lot during my time working with DDVG, helped by the training sessions and support meetings provided.