The government continues working to ensure a hostile environment for ‘unwanted’ immigration. Meanwhile, efforts by the UK public to show solidarity with people on the hard end of government measures are becoming more and more vital.
‘#Unlocked15’ has gloriously illustrated both sides of this coin. This tour has documented in detail the inhumane impacts of immigration detention. But at the same time it has illuminated the efforts of people working hard to break the isolation of those detained, and to change the system.
As a researcher and as a volunteer myself, I am interested in these efforts, by some of the UK public, to engage with immigration detention. How do we go about connecting with people held in detention, challenging how it works, and what do we learn along the way? What motivates and sustains people in this endeavour and what kinds of alternative approaches to migration are imagined? How does all this relate to wider issues and trends in contemporary social mobilisation?
I find myself exploring a few key – and often over-lapping – areas of activity. The first is connecting with people held in detention, building relationships with individuals, offering emotional and practical support. Second, there is raising public awareness about detention – in local communities, in places of learning, work and worship, in the media and online. The third area of activity involves challenging the system: monitoring detention decisions and practices, mounting strategic legal challenges, and pushing for change at political level. Finally, these various areas of activity often imply talking with each other: networking within and between the many groups and organisations across the country dedicated to detention, migration and human rights issues.
Despite the hostile political climate, as I listen to people involved in these efforts (visitors, caseworkers and campaigners; volunteers and paid workers; people with and without personal experience of detention) I am struck by a sense of momentum. On all fronts and across the country, there have been developments in 2015.
People especially point to the Parliamentary Inquiry and increased political interest, public advocacy by people who have been affected by detention, hard-hitting media exposés, the legal challenge to the Detained Fast Track, and major protests both within and outside detention centres across the country throughout the year. People also talk about quieter but significant local developments and achievements. Unsurprisingly there are some differences among in terms of goals and approaches, but there is significant shared ground and huge dedication and energy.
It will be needed: in the light of an immigration bill that looks set to worsen rather than improve the situation, 2016 holds new and grave challenges.
If you have experience of supporting people in immigration detention, and are willing to fill out a short questionnaire, please click here.
This survey is part of a research project seeking to understand how and why people engage with immigration detention issues. The questionnaire asks about your experiences, views and background. It only takes a few minutes to complete.