Successful immigration detention seminar held on 1st February

Last Friday around 60 academics, NGO practitioners and ex-detainees gathered in London to kick start a series of inter-disciplinary immigration detention seminars that will be held in 2013 and 2014. The focus of this seminar was ‘supporting detainees’ and we heard from a number of organisations that support immigration detainees in various ways. We also heard from individuals with first-hand experience of being held in Immigration Removal Centres and who could provide insights into what helped them cope with the experience.

The first speaker was Ali McGinley (audio here), Director of AVID (the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees: http://www.aviddetention.org.uk/). Ali spoke of the different visitor groups connected to AVID and of the impact of visit programmes for detainees and volunteers alike. Next up was Adeline Trude (audio here), Research and Policy Director at BID (Bail for Immigration Detainees: http://www.biduk.org/). Adeline told attendees about the work of BID, from casework to research projects, monitoring and providing information for detainees wishing to apply for bail.

After the break and a brief preface from Nick Gill (audio here) the morning was completed with a paper presented by Dr Lauren Martin (audio here) from the University of Oulu in Finland: http://laurenmartin.wordpress.com/ Lauren described her experiences working with NGOs supporting immigration detainees in the USA and how she juggled her PhD with NGO work. Lauren identified a number of global trends relating to immigration detention, including the privatisation of such centres, the criminalisation of migrants and the externalisation of borders.

After a lunch of buzzing conversation and exchanges, we heard from five speakers with experiences of supporting immigration detainees. First up was Clare Sambrook, reporter and co-founder of End Child Detention Now (http://www.ecdn.org/). Clare spoke of the family that first brought the detention of children to her attention and her subsequent campaigning against child detention.

Clare was followed by presentations given by Jerome Phelps (audio here), Director of Detention Action (http://detentionaction.org.uk/) and ex-detainee Ruhul (audio here). Jerome discussed the visiting, support and campaign work of Detention Action (formerly known as the London Detainee Support Group). Ruhul spoke movingly about his experiences of several years in detention and the newsletter ‘Speak Out!’ that he has set up for other detainees, with support from Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group (http://www.gdwg.org.uk/index.php). The first edition is available here:http://www.gdwg.org.uk/downloads/speakout01.pdf

Next up was John Speyer (audio here), Director of the organisation Music in Detention (http://www.musicindetention.org.uk/). John spoke passionately about the role of music in not only helping people cope with detention but in building links between detainees and others in the community. John also discussed the potential benefits of closer collaboration between academics and NGO practitioners.

The presentations were rounded off by a fascinating paper given by Gill Baden (audio here), of the Campaign to Close Campsfield (http://closecampsfield.wordpress.com/) and the Bail Observation Project. Gill described the first report of the Bail Observation Project, published in 2011 and which is available here: http://www.closecampsfield.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/ccc-bop-report-low-res.pdf. The project had shown significant discrepancies between bail results according to the tribunal and judge involved in the hearings. A follow-up report is due to be published in April 2013, which will consider the impact of the newly introduced bail guidelines for Immigration Judges.

The day was completed with open floor discussion about the potential benefits of closer cooperation between academics and practitioners as well as specific issues raised by the day’s talks. There was a general sense that the coming together of activists, campaigners, ex-detainees and academics was an exciting and stimulating development. Keep an eye on the series’ website for audio recordings of the talks, which will be available soon: http://immigrationdetentionseminarseries.wordpress.com/.

The next seminar in the immigration detention series is being organised by Dr Alex Hall (Alexandra.Hall@york.ac.uk). It will held be in July 2013 in York and will consider the relationship between politics and detention. For more details of this and the other seminars, check out the website: http://immigrationdetentionseminarseries.wordpress.com/.

Thanks to all that presented and attended for contributing to the day! Looking forward to the next seminar in July.

Melanie Griffiths and Nick Gill

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