Of the 60+ volunteers, both men and women, about 30 are active at any one time. They range in age from students to the retired.
Volunteers reflect on their visiting experience - our major project until the closure of Haslar Immigration and Removal Centre in April 2015
The views expressed on these pages are those of individuals, and not those held by Friends Without Borders.
"I first visited in 2002. I met Michael Woolley (the previous visitors’ group coordinator) in the pub. He told me about visiting and what to expect. We went to the detention centre together and filled in a form with the name of the detainee, my name, address, my car registration, make and colour and signed the form. A quick security search. Mobiles and personal belongings in the locker. Doors and gates unlocked and re locked and we’re in the visiting room.
Detainees sit in the grey chairs and visitors in the blue chairs. There’s tea, coffee, squash and biscuits in the kitchen. Visitors can make drinks for themselves and for the detainee they are visiting. The person I have come to visit comes through the door. I stand up and shake hands. I shake hands when they come in and again when I leave. In 11 years of visiting I find this aspect of contact important and meaningful. Human contact from the world outside to the world inside.
Detention, loss of liberty, loss of many aspects of decision making, loss of the ability to provide for yourself, for partners, children or anyone is so cruel and inhumane. Detainees are not detained for any crime. They are detained potentially indefinitely. On being detained, there is no release or deportation date. There is no calendar to tick off.
Detainees are wonderful. Some are resilient, some angry, some desperate and depressed, some involve themselves in the opportunities Haslar can offer. I’ve lost count of all the people I’ve visited. Every one has been worthwhile, each has a story that would make a Spielburg blockbuster movie, I feel honoured and fortunate to be a visitor. To be able to have contact with so many lives, families, countries and cultures. And sometimes to make really good friends.
On New Years Day I received a phone call from a detainee I visited for 18 months 8 years ago. He had been in trouble in the Punjab in India. He, his friends and family had raised £2,000 and an agent had flown with him to the UK. On arrival the agent had taken his passport and he didn’t see the agent or his passport again. He applied for asylum. He had to sign each week at a police station. He signed a few times and then he found a job. He was given a 10 month sentence for this for false documents. After the prison sentence he was detained. The first three months of visiting he was very depressed. The next year of visiting he studied art in education, was the rep for his dormitory, played cards with other detainees, worked in the kitchen, was popular with both detainees and officers. He appreciated my visits. When it was suggested he move to another detention centre he said he couldn’t because he had a visitor. Then the depression returned, India would not recognise him as a national of India, his solicitor was not effective, his mother had died, he was desperate to get to India to see his father. He said life in detention was no life at all. I went to his bail hearing where he was represented by BID and he was released. He came to visit me 3 years later with his wife, his baby and two friends. He has now got status and works at the airport.
As well as being a Haslar Visitors, I was volunteering for BID. After BID South closed, I also started to volunteer at the HVG Drop In at the All Saints Church Hall on Thursdays. Working with people with many levels of status. Some destitute, failed asylum seekers, some seeking asylum, some waiting for appeals to be heard, some with status. All the clients at the Drop In are trying to make sense of a system. A system, a bureaucracy, a craziness which is the NHS, benefits, work, education, status, asylum, children, national insurance numbers, prescriptions, tax credits, maternity grants, eligibility, Home Office Interviews in Liverpool, National express timetables, NASS, JSA, solicitors, fresh appeals, legal aid, not eligible for legal aid, fresh claims, English classes, citizenship, proof, evidence, religion, Medical Justice, insurance claims, hospital appointments, dental appointments, DVLA, permission to work, a friend in prison, a friend in detention, MP’s, MP’s surgeries, water bills, student visas, phone contracts. And that is just in the 6 weeks I’ve been there."
"The visits to the Haslar I.R.C. remain both a challenge and an inspiration.
The butterflies in the stomach when fearing 'the worst' could happen and the joy when it doesn't hasn't changed for me over the last year.
The men I have visited have been very different individuals but have all shown a tremendous amount of resilience, courage and patience. I have learned so much from them.
Living in such a busy world the opportunity to give undivided attention to someone for a full hour rarely happens - for me this makes visiting special.
I never cease to wonder at the dignity and strength of character shown by the men. To be allowed insight into their lives can be harrowing but is always a privilege. I am so grateful to be considered worthy to share, in part, in the lives of the men I visit."
"I have been visiting at Haslar IRC since July 2010 and I can honestly say it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have met such a variety of people. I have received lots of positive feedback from detainees and officers about the difference visiting makes and how much the detainees look forward to visits. Sometimes I am the only contact they have with the outside world. I also find visiting works both ways and that I get just as much enjoyment from visiting as the detainees! I try to find and research common ground to talk about.
Over the years I have learnt so much of other countries and cultures, including how to cook a yam and have had great discussions on who is going to win the X factor!! Some visits can be difficult, there are times when detainees are feeling down but I always try to go in with a positive attitude and hope in a small way I
can improve their day and make a difference."
Friends Without Borders, All Saints Centre, Commercial Road, Portsmouth, PO1 4BT, Phone: 023 9283 9222
Our registered charity number is: 1080187
Our registered charity number is: 1080187