Having been a supporter of Freedom from torture for some time, I have always wanted to have a more practical involvement supporting people wanting to stay in our country. Over the past year I have volunteered with Scottish Detainee Visitors, visiting Dungavel detention centre. I expected I would meet people, like those FfT supports, but have met a much more varied group of people who have fallen foul of our draconian immigration system.
I travel to Dungavel with a small group of Volunteers from Edinburgh. We meet a group of people in the visiting area, sometimes in a large group, sometimes just with a few people. We chat about anything that comes up, and we talk about their situation, checking that they have legal representation.
Some of those we meet are asylum seekers, and some of those have suffered torture. As we know those who have been tortured should not be detained. Many of those we meet are European nationals , some of whom have lived in the UK many years, but have had a conviction, and at the end of their sentence, been detained in an immigration removal centre. Others are Asians or other nationals who are detained because of visa irregularities. Many of these have been living here and working or studying for many years, often with families whom they have been separated from. Some have been detained for months, and some over a year.
One man told me he went to the immigration office to sign in on his way to collect his children from school when he was detained. Imagine the children waiting for their Dad at the school gate.
One lady who had worked as a carer for many years was deported with little warning between Christmas and New Year when it was almost impossible to contact her lawyer.
We hear so many sad stories, and it is sometimes frustrating to be unable to do much. We do however have some good chats and laughter and jokes. Sometimes we hear that someone has been released, or won an appeal.