SOAS Detainee Support Group is a student-led initiative working in solidarity with asylum seekers and other migrants in and outside detention centres. We aim to reduce isolation through visits to empower detainees and to campaign for an end to the use of immigration controls especially the use of Immigration Detention.
How we began…
SOAS Detainee Support started in 2005 as a campaign run by SOAS students for two Ugandan twins, Judith and Maria. The girls came to speak at SOAS about their experiences as young asylum seekers, of the immigration system and of detention. For many it was the first time to hear of theshameless human rights abusesbeing carried out in the UK and it came as a shock. However, as much as people were saddened and angered by the treatment the girls had received, we were inspired by their tremendous courage and sense of hope.
When Judith and Maria were detained for the fourth time, less than a fortnight later, it was a call-to-arms for many of the students who had met them. People from SOAS began to visit the twins in Yarl’s Wood IRC (Immigration Removal Centre) and formed a campaign to stop their “removal” to Uganda and calling for their immediate release.
Ultimately it was unsuccessful – Judith and Maria were forcibly returned to Uganda.This was a massive blow to everyone who had grown close to them. However, the feeling was very much that the battle had been lost but the war was far from over. During the campaign students from SOAS had had their eyes opened to the reality of immigration detention centres and of forced deportation. At the same time, they had learnt how to deal with solicitors, carry out legal research, lobby politicians, engage with the media and organise demonstrations.
It was widely felt that this would not be in vain, so in September 2006 the SOAS Detainee Support Group was founded as a society at SOAS. Since then, membership has continued to increase and now includes students from other London universities and non-students. We work closely with other organisations defending asylum seekers’ and migrants’ rights and are developing links with other student groups in SOAS and other parts of the country.
What we do…
Visiting is central to who we are as a group. We visit Yarl’s Wood IRC, located in Bedfordshire, north of London, where single women (and families) are detained as well as two male immigration detention centres near Heathrow, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth. The nature of support depends on the specific needs, desires and circumstances of the person being visited. We offer emotional support, help with finding a solicitor or medical expert, bring toiletries and other essential items,campaign on their behalf, and more.
Being locked up in a detention centre can be a very isolating and traumatic experience. Many people we visit may be in a very vulnerable position and not know anybody else in the UK. Having a visitor can mean a source of contact with the outside world and a source of support that can be invaluable.
If the people we visit wish to set up individual campaigns to either halt a removal or obtain leave to remain in the UK we can help them access skills, resources and people power.
We have an ongoing campaign to end the detention of children and families. We spread awareness among the general public, and students in particular, of the conditions in which children and families are detained and the effect it has.
We continue to support women who have been released from Yarl’s Wood. Once people have been released from detention it does not mean that their fight is over. They will often still experience isolation, emotional trauma, social difficulties such as housing, accessing healthcare and potentially destitution. We see it as very important to maintain the connections that are forged through visitations and continue to support people around the country.
We have built strong connections with other organisations and have presented at various events to develop an efficient and effective country-wide campaigning network against immigration detention and unfair borders. This includes highlighting the connections between world wide issues and immigration control.
- The group has recently started a radio show which aims at revealing untold stories about detention in the UK. To listen to SDS podcasts click here: SOAS Radio
For more information: http://soasdetaineesupport.wordpress.com/