One of the most exciting aspects of the Detention Forum is an opportunity to work with many groups and organisations who are not traditional “detention” organisations. We believe that a wide variety of organisations that come together at the Detention Forum demonstrates the strength of the civil society’s opposition to immigration detention. The Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN) is a member of the Detention Forum, and is active in our Indefinite Detention Working Group.
We have asked Bridget Walker from QARN to tell us about the detention session they ran at Yearly Meeting.
‘They’re all criminal, rapists and paedophiles’ shouted a man seeing this banner at a stall during Refugee Week.
‘What is Campsfield House?’ asked another passerby.
A couple approached the stall hesitantly : ‘It is good what you say. We are not criminals – behind every refugee there is a big story’.
This was the introduction to a session about immigration detention organised by the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN) at the week long gathering of Quakers at the University of Bath in August this year.
We reflected on where the first speaker had picked up this view of asylum seekers and migrants. Although his language might be more abusive it was not so different in tone from much of the popular media coverage of asylum and migration issues.
The second passerby was a long term resident of Oxford but knew nothing about Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre just a few miles outside the city. In this she is not alone.
The third speaker was a man from one of the Gulf States. His wife was Palestinian. It meant a lot to them to be affirmed rather than demonised.
In the discussion Friends shared their own experiences of the detention system. There was concern about the establishment of HMP the Verne as an IRC and the expansion of the detention estate. Friends spoke of the arbitrary nature of the decision to detain. Examples were given of the damage to mental health. The process of applying for bail had been ‘horrific’ in the experience of one witness. There was concern about the impact of the legal aid cuts.
We looked at ways of challenging the myths, of raising awareness, supporting those in detention and working for change. Friends are active throughout the country in visiting detention centres, providing advice, acting as sureties for bail, as well as supporting asylum seekers and refugees in the community.
QARN is co-ordinating two particular activities. The first is a submission of evidence to the current Parliamentary Inquiry into detention. Friends may also be involved in the hearings being held around the country. Secondly QARN is encouraging Friends to take up the Detention Forum’s ‘time for a time limit’ campaign to introduce a 28 day time limit on immigration detention. A template letter to MPs was drafted and about 100 copies were taken during the yearly meeting gathering.
The Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network held its inaugural meeting in December 2006 . We aim to work to change the way that refugees and asylum seekers are treated, whether recognized under the UN Convention of not, and for justice and compassion in our asylum and immigration system. In our experience this is frequently lacking – there is a culture of disbelief, encouraged by the language of politicians and the tabloid press. This needs to be challenged and we are convinced that a principled critique of current asylum policy should be part of our corporate Quaker witness.
August 31st 2014