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Last month my penfriend detainee disappeared

17 October 2013

Last month my penfriend detainee disappeared. Regular JRS visitors to his detention centre in London could not find him and no official at the centre was able to answer a question about his whereabouts.
He was lost, perhaps deported. I was at a loss, someone I had come to know through the post had disappeared without my ever knowing the end or indeed the beginning of his story. As a pen befriender one is not permitted to ask about the detainee’s case or background and it would be irresponsible to ask after family, education or occupation when these lifelines have been severed. I had lost someone I would never know, yet whom I had come to cherish in my life.

My responses were those of bereavement – anger, sadness, bewilderment but also an urge to pray. My prayers were for my friend and for those who had befriended him, not least the art teacher of the detention centre who had encouraged him to create wonderful, exuberant cards, who had brought colour and life into his life. Prayers too for his future that he would be held in those arms of the Loving God we can none of us fall through.

What joy it was then to hear from the JRS intelligence network that he had been found, transferred to another unit in this country. Joy mixed with anger when I reflected on how someone could be disappeared by a people management system that needs to keep its statistics in good order.

And then a greater joy that dissolved all anger and created only compassion and thanks. A letter, or rather another exuberant card arrived from my friend addressed from his new detention centre, together with a printed message that someone, somewhere had helped him to write. His courage and love of life shine through, but can this story of one man contribute anything to the stories of unknown thousands displaced across the world?

I am reminded that there are many people out there involved in managing refugees, some, like the unknown art teacher are evidently good people helping detainees to be individuals not numbers, and it is not only the captives, but also all the captors who need our prayer.

This piece was written by one of our JRS UK pen befrienders who writes regularly to an asylum seeker detained in one of the Immigration Removal Centres near Heathrow Airport.

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310
uk@jrs.net

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