My Week: Salma Iqbal advises detainees on returning home

The detention case worker at Refugee Action recounts her week

Salma Iqbal
Salma Iqbal

Monday This morning I go straight to Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, near Gatwick Airport. I'm there to provide information about our assisted voluntary return service, which provides impartial advice. Also visiting are members of our partner organisation from Pakistan, which provides support to people when they arrive home. We meet about 50 detainees, then move on to people who have already applied to return. Many are waiting for travel documents to be issued and flights to be booked. It's an agonising wait for people desperate to escape detention and get back to their families.

Tuesday This morning I work from home. Then it's a dash for the train to Dover in Kent, where we run an advice surgery at the removal centre. Detainees approach us cautiously: some talk about returning, others are just keen to talk to someone new.

Wednesday Today I'm at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, near Heathrow Airport, again with our partners from Pakistan. I complete applications for asylum seekers and irregular migrants wanting to return home. I'm also approached by an Israeli conscientious objector, an extremely frustrated Nigerian client and another person who believes he's been unlawfully detained. I refer him to Bail for Immigration Detainees and plan to follow up the other cases later.

Thursday I have two days worth of cases to follow up, and also a risk assessment to carry out for a client who wishes to return to Sri Lanka, despite concerns that he might face harm. After work, some colleagues and I watch a film about a young person who is forcibly removed to Afghanistan. It's sobering viewing; I've met boys like him in detention. It depresses me that young people are forced back to dangerous places on their own.

Friday A farewell lunch for a colleague brings much-needed cheer. It's a multicultural workplace, so the spread of food is impressive. There's no better antidote to the suffering we see than downtime with colleagues.

Refugee Action provides support to refugees and asylum seekers

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