This year’s conference took place last Thursday in London, held at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre in London, and was well attended by former detainees and representatives of charities and non-governmental organisations. It was a chance to share experiences and information affecting those released from immigration detention.
Christine Oliver, Project Manager of Samphire’s Ex-detainee Project described the developments over the last year:
One morning workshop run by Fraser Paterson of Samphire aimed to help ex-detainees tell their stories. In this session one ex-detainee encapsulated the psychological burden of having no limit on immigration detention in the UK:
In prison you count down the days, in detention you count them up
The afternoon session also included uplifting personal testimony from ex-detainee Alpha about his experiences in education, and demonstrated that tenacity, perseverance and a positive mindset can lead to great achievement. Another ex-detainee, Ololade, shared his personal testimony about the impact his detention had on his wife and young family, and the hardship of living without permission to work and with no recourse to public funds.
The afternoon saw Gill Woodfield and Shona Clements of the Red Cross give a presentation on their International Tracing and Messaging Service which helps to restore contact between families separated by armed conflict, disaster or migration and shared some of their success stories.
Jack Hansen of STAR (Student Action for Refugees) spoke about their work and their campaigns for free access to higher education for refugees and asylum-seekers, and their week of action against destitution – demonstrating despite a very negative print media outlook on migration, that young people are overwhelming positive about the UK as a place of sanctuary for people fleeing persecution, armed conflict and human rights violations.
Finally, Anna Pincus of the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group outlined their ‘Refugee Tales’ project which is in the planning stages – a 90 mile walk from Dover Immigration Removal Centre to Canterbury and then Crawley, to take place during Refugee Week 2015. Anna was seeking ex-detainee volunteers to do the walk, to share their experiences with story tellers, artists and musicians, and even to take part in a drama group.
To summarise the day in terms of the information given and learned would miss its real value. We saw a lot of engagement in the sessions and this also spilled over into a noisy and animated lunch hour (lunch generously provided by The Pret Foundation). It was a great opportunity for conversation, networking and catching up with old friends.
In the face of the Government’s aim to create a hostile environment for migrants it was great that the conference had such an overwhelmingly positive feel.