What does visiting involve?
Volunteer visitors provides emotional and practical advice and support to immigration detainees, wherever they might be held.
Usually, volunteers visit as part of a visitors group, and make the journey to a detention centre on a regular basis (every week to ten days, agreed with the visitors group) to listen, to talk, to provide a friendly face from the outside.
While there is no set role for a visitor, their primary aim is befriending and support at a difficult time. For many detainees, they may have no one else to talk to. Detainees tell us that visiting is a 'lifeline'. We tend to describe visitors as 'in loco familiae': in place of family and friends, and visiting can be as varied and challenging as that!
This makes visitors and visitors groups unique. We are independent, impartial, and non judgemental. We are there for that person, whatever their circumstances.
People being held in detention can feel powerless, lonely, anxious and distressed. Detention is hugely traumatic for all who go through it. Visitors can help alleviate this, by:
- Befriending and giving moral support: simply being there to listen and care, as a trusted, reliable source of support and friendship, in confidence
- Facilitating communication and signposting to specialist support:providing a crucial point of contact between detainees and the outside world, connecting them with specialist support organisations, and helping them to stay in touch with solicitors or legal representatives, family and friends
- Helping to ensure basic needs are met: through their visitors’ group, volunteers may be able to assist detainees with practical everyday needs such as toiletries, second-hand clothing, and phone cards.
Visiting isn’t always easy. Getting to detention centres and prisons can take a long time, security can be complex, and visits themselves can be emotionally draining. But the difference made is amazing.
“…when I first started visiting I was visiting young men my son's age, and that was quite something - to think about what it would be like for my son in a foreign country with nobody to help him. And I think visiting does help in those situations, because there's actually somebody outside who does really, really care.”
Former visitor to detainees at Winchester Prison