Full House! Verne Visitors Group highlight indefinite detention

Full House! Standing Room only at Verne Visitors Group Awareness Raising Meeting 

Verne Visitors Group raise awareness of indefinite immigration detention, Friday 17th March 

Article by Verne Visitors Group 

Around 200 people from across Dorset and surrounding areas packed out the Dorchester Town Hall on Friday evening to attend a public meeting organised by the local Verne Visitors Group.

Chair of the meeting Charles Campion-Smith emphasised the purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness over the concerns for the policy of indefinite immigration detention, and not to criticise the Governor and officers at IRC The Verne whose job it is to implement these policies.

Chair of Trustees of Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID), Andrew Wilson stated that people are being detained indefinitely in The Verne and 8 other Immigration Removal Centres while decisions are made about their fate. He explained there is no “typical” situation in which people are locked up without trial and held indefinitely in these centres. Some are awaiting asylum application decisions, some have visa irregularities, some came here as children or teenagers with parents who have passed away or moved on and some are from abroad who have already served a prison sentence here.

Andrew informed the meeting that “A large number of detainees, many of whom have committed no crime, are held in detention for longer in the UK than in most other European countries while the proportion removed is lower than most. It is a system an All Party Parliamentary group described as expensive, ineffective and unjust. It concluded migrants and asylum seekers should be detained for no longer than 28 days, and only as an 'absolute last resort'.”

Andrew also spoke of the immense distress that people suffer, some of who are already vulnerable, and the negative and severe impact of the indefinite nature of their detention. Indefinite detention means lasting for an unknown or unstated length of time, a policy the Home Office has recently denied exists.

A film produced by AVID entitled Hidden Stories was shown. The film gives voice to previously-detained people, sharing their moving first-hand accounts of their experience in detention. It also reflects on the role that Immigration Detention visitors, such as those who visit The Verne on Portland, play in befriending, supporting and empowering people in detention. One visitor describes the effects of immigration detention as “absolutely damaging and absolutely long lasting”. There is mounting evidence that indefinite detention causes and certainly intensifies mental ill-health.

Visitors from across the UK also tell in the film of their experience of visiting Immigration Removal Centres: the razor wire, high walls, double locked doors. One commented “it’s a hostile environment; finger printing and body searches for visitors on arrival set the scene”.

Special guest speaker, one time Cannon of St Paul’s Cathedral and now a vicar in a London city parish The Rev Giles Fraser opened his talk by thanking the crowd in the audience. He said he felt overwhelmed by the numbers of people “I’m hugely encouraged that so many people have come to learn more about the topic.  I congratulate you for coming out tonight”.

Giles related his experience when James, a well-known, respected and simply lovely member of his church was taken from his home “by six heavies” in the early hours one morning last summer. In preparation for his forthcoming marriage at Giles’ church James and Giles had attended the local Registration Office to inform of the upcoming wedding. As a result of this visit, the immigration service were notified and discovered a visa irregularity which led to the unexpected and highly distressing removal of James from his bed. His fiancé was extremely distraught as the officials would not disclose where James was being taken.

After several attempts by Giles to acquire information about James’ whereabouts they were further distressed to learn he had been taken so far away from London to The Verne. Giles came to Portland to visit James and became aware what a difficult, expensive and time consuming journey this must be for friends and relatives with loved ones detained at The Verne.

Time passed, James’ despair increased as he had been told to prepare for imminent deportation from the UK on 3 separate occasions during his detention. Then without any explanation he was released. This was a clear illustration of the often random and arbitrary actions of Home Office decision-makers. There is no pattern or logic in the system.Questions and comments were invited from the floor and the speakers were joined by Charlotte Seymour of the Helen Bamber Foundation, an organisation that supports migrants who have suffered torture and cruelty, many of whom end up in detention despite Government policy that says this should not occur. Charlotte said “There is a culture of disbelief, the terrible stories these people tell, about their violent experiences and about torture are often discounted.”

Caz Dennett, a member of the Verne Visitors Group responded to a question about the skills needed to visit by saying: “The most valuable skill you can bring is just to listen to the person you are visiting. Visitors are a lifeline to people in detention and the hours I spend visiting at The Verne are without doubt the most worthwhile of my week. The least we can do is show our compassion, show that people in our community care and do not accept the inhumane system of indefinite detention”.

The Chair concluded by thanking everyone for coming and said “the strong attendance was a clear indication that many people in Dorset recognise that locking people up without trial and for an unknown length of time does not fit with our British values of justice”.  Charles suggested a range of follow-on actions “If you want to help there are several things you can do. You can contact us via our website vernevisitorsgroup.org.uk. Join the #Time4aTimeLimit campaign being run by the charity Detention Action (detentionaction.org.uk) which calls for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention. You can write to your MP and register your opposition to current policy and importantly just talk to people, tell your friends and family”.

Donations made by those attending to support the work of the Verne Visitors Group amounted to over £100.

Publication date: 
Monday, March 13, 2017