SOAS Detainee Support is a student-led initiative working in solidarity with migrants in and outside detention centres. We aim to reduce isolation through visits, to empower detainees and campaign to put an end to the use of immigration detention.
What we do…
- SOAS Detainee Support mainly visit people who are being held in Yarl’s Wood, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs).
- We work in solidarity rather than out of charity, and try to meet people in detention on their own terms and without preconceived notions about people’s situation or desires.
- Visiting is central to who we are as a group. The nature of the visits depends on the specific needs, desires and circumstances of the person being visited. We offer emotional support, help with finding a solicitor or medical expert, bring toiletries and other essential items, campaign alongside people in detention, and more.
Things we can do alongside those in detention:
- If the people we visit wish to set up individual campaigns to either halt a removal or obtain leave to remain in the UK we can help them access skills, resources and people power.
- We continue to support people who have been released from detention. Once people have been released it does not mean that their fight is over. People often still experience isolation, emotional trauma, social difficulties such as housing, accessing healthcare and potentially destitution. We see it as very important to maintain the connections that are forged through visitations and continue to support people around the country.
- We have built strong connections with other organisations and have presented at various events to develop an efficient and effective country-wide campaigning network against immigration detention and unfair borders. This includes highlighting the connections between world wide issues and immigration control.
- We put on RELEASE parties with amazing music, great energy and information about immigration detention.
How we began…
SOAS Detainee Support started in 2005 as a campaign run by SOAS students for two Ugandan twins, Judith and Maria. The girls came to speak at SOAS about their experiences as young asylum seekers, of the immigration system and of detention. For many it was the first time to hear of the shameless human rights abuses being carried out in the UK and it came as a shock. However, as much as people were saddened and angered by the treatment the girls had received, we were inspired by their tremendous courage and sense of hope.
When Judith and Maria were detained for the fourth time, less than a fortnight later, it was a call-to-arms for many of the students who had met them. People from SOAS began to visit the twins in Yarl’s Wood IRC (Immigration Removal Centre) and formed a campaign to stop their “removal” to Uganda and calling for their immediate release.
Ultimately it was unsuccessful – Judith and Maria were forcibly returned to Uganda. This was a massive blow to everyone who had grown close to them. However, the feeling was very much that the battle had been lost but the war was far from over. During the campaign students from SOAS had had their eyes opened to the reality of immigration detention centres and of forced deportation. At the same time, they had learnt how to deal with solicitors, carry out legal research, lobby politicians, engage with the media and organise demonstrations.
It was widely felt that this would not be in vain, so in September 2006 the SOAS Detainee Support Group was founded as a society at SOAS. Since then, membership has continued to increase and now includes students from other London universities and non-students. We work closely with other organisations defending asylum seekers’ and migrants’ rights and are developing links with other student groups in SOAS and other parts of the country.