At the August meeting of the JRS UK Detention Outreach volunteers representatives of the British Red Cross presented their work on International Family Tracing. This initiative by the Red Cross/Red Cresent network was set up to help family members who had been seperated from their families by war, natural disaster or migration to reconnect via their Trace the Face website. Restoring family links between those who have been seperated is ofen a very lengthy and frustrating process but, if succesful, it can allow vital communications between family members who have not seen each other for a very long time, and can be especially useful in transmitting important official documents between relatives.
The British Red Cross had been invited as guest speakers to the monthly meeting of Detention outreach volunteers. Beatrice Grasso, Detention Outreach Manager at JRS UK, said: “We are extremely grateful to our colleagues at the British Red Cross for having shared their work with us. Having the opportunity to learn more about the work of other organisations is a deeply fruitful and enriching experience, and it gives us some extra tools to accompany and serve our friends in detention.” Currently in the UK, the use of detention is an administrative decision and in the experience of JRS UK many individuals do not always understand why they are being detained; which is often very distressing. Beatrice continued, “Many of those we work with tell us that they lost contact with their families, and that can add a significant level of distress to an already stressful situation. Knowing that there is someone who might be able to help restore contact could potentially be a lifeline for many of our friends.”
These meetings give volunteers the opportunity to share and reflect on their experiences of accompanying individuals currently detained in the Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) at Heathrow. Visiting detention can be very demanding both emotionally and mentally as a lot of knowledge is needed in order to accompany detainees as best as possible, particularly given the fast rate at which immigration rules change. In addition, detention outreach work can be fairly isolating, as most volunteers conduct their visits alone. It is therefore important for our volunteers to have a space where they can share information and updates, celebrate achievements and successes, and support one another through difficult times. Beatrice said, “Without our team of dedicated volunteers we would never be able to provide the service and accompaniment to our friends in detention that we currently do. It is a vital service and one which can break down the isolation that many people feel when they are detained. We do however have to be aware of how demanding these visits can be and ensure that we set time a space aside so that we can accompany others in our team as well as our friends in detention.”
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