In the first of our ‘Thinking Outside the Box’ series, which looks to capture some of the learning from those with direct experience of working with people in detention, we speak to Meg, a long-time Advocacy Support Volunteer.
I think the public are woefully ignorant about detention. I had Politics classmates at university who had no idea that it even existed. I think this is because it very rarely makes the front page, and is only really picked up by lefty broadsheets. Most people absorb only the headlines – if it didn’t make it to BBC news at 10 then they just won’t know about it. It’s hard to make news with an ongoing issue. Until recently it was a problem which continued rather than a ‘story’.
I always expected working with detention was going to be hard emotionally but it also intellectually challenging. It can be a very confusing system to familiarise yourself with.
The lack of a time-limit creates depression and hopelessness – that’s what I hear over and over again. It’s so terribly sad when people give up hope – and so impressive when they have the strength to keep hoping.
I always think of the other side of a story now, no matter what I hear or what I read. Now that I’ve seen the other side of the immigration ‘story’, I can’t take the news or any political commentary at face value.
Sometimes I am struck by the familiarity and ease of the conversations; people are just people, however bleak and bizarre their situations may be. The guys who make me laugh are usually the ones I remember. Being able to keep your sense of humour in that kind of an environment is truly amazing. Strangely, that’s often what stays with you – people’s ability to make jokes as a means of survival.
In my experience, many people in detention find the red tape to be the most frustrating thing. They don’t have the freedom just to go to the doctor’s or go to the shop as they need to. They have to rely so heavily on the detention-centre staff and it can be incredibly frustrating when things are messed up for them.
I have seen people survive best when they focus on tomorrow rather than on next month or next year. Having something to fight for or work on is vital. Whether it’s preparing for an upcoming judicial review, or an appeal, or a fresh claim, or maintaining a proactive relationship with the legal reps and charities involved in their cases, it can make a huge difference. I guess it’s a question of hope.