I was given the position of volunteer detention officer in the Detention Outreach team for my (almost) two months at JRS this summer. It was the most enriching experience I could have asked for as a 20-year-old student. The two months were packed with knowledge of the immigration and asylum law system in the UK, human experiences of those going through the process and how charity work fits into it all.
As a law student, the experience taught me as much – or even more- than a law module at university. The team welcomed my questions and taught me all about the background and basic knowledge that I was lacking. Never had I expected, in such a short amount of time, to feel part of the family which is JRS. Not only did they care about me and how I was doing in my experience, but they cared about each other and most importantly they cared about the people that they worked with and for: the cases and the clients were part of the family.
I was present when refugees received their positive asylum decisions back as well as when the detention team were informed that people at the detention centre were being released. It made everyone’s day and it was clear that every little win helped. The theme of social justice united everyone.
My experience was made up of working on cases which were picked up in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). JRS was a forum of communication for these detained people who knew nothing about the system they were in, we supported, and we explained. Most of those held in IRCs were refugees, victims of human trafficking, or simply foreign criminals. All completely different from completely different places but in common they had the fact that they were given no resources and kept in inhumane prisons for sometimes simply not having the right documentation. The most shocking thing for me was that a simple theft conviction -having EUSS settlement, or a visa- means when deported they have a 20-year ban on the UK.
It was eye opening to see how countries use immigration detention as a prison system; they provide no resources and instead, the huge firms which run them profit from having people inside, moving them around from centre to centre, providing jobs for transport companies for example. They have created a money machine, whilst those inside are at the verge of suicide. Seeing this as someone that has not had contact with the asylum system in the UK was astonishing and mind boggling.
I have been shaped in ways which I did not think were possible. I am now more driven as I understand that passion does drive social justice work, and my eyes have been expanded to pick up so many troubling details present in the law and immigration systems.
Thank you JRS!