“… it was a call-to-arms for many of the students who had met them and heard their story.”
SOAS Detainee Support started in 2005 as a campaign run by SOAS students for two Ugandan twins, Judith and Maria. The girls came to speak at SOAS about their experiences as young asylum seekers, of the immigration system, and of detention. Shortly after learning of the shameless human rights abuses being carried out in the UK, Judith and Maria were detained for a fourth time. It was a call-to-arms for many of the students who had met them and heard their story.
A campaign was formed by people from SOAS for their immediate release to stop their “removal”. During this time the campaign group visited the twins at Yarl’s Wood IRC (Immigration Removal Centre), learnt how to deal with solicitors, carry out legal research, lobby politicians, engage with the media and organise demonstrations. Ultimately it was unsuccessful: Judith and Maria were forcibly returned to Uganda. This was a huge blow to everyone who had grown close to them. However, the feeling was very much that the battle had been lost but the war was far from over.
In September 2006 the SOAS Detainee Support Group was founded as a society at SOAS. Since then, membership has continued to increase and now includes students from other London universities and non-students. We work closely with other organisations defending asylum seekers’ and migrants’ rights and are developing links with other student groups in SOAS and other parts of the country.
Our work presently consists of visiting and organising. Our visitors offer practical solidarity to those currently in detention and in temporary accommodation. Our solidarity ranges from helping people access legal and other resources, to simply being there to provide a caring presence to resist the alienation and dehumanisation of detention.
Meanwhile, through our organising, we campaign against detention and deportations. We organise through working groups that aim to dismantle borders and the structures that uphold them. As a non-hierarchical organisation, we are constantly evolving with our membership and in response to the changing systems, policies, and needs of people affected by the immigration regime.
Together, we can fight for a world without borders or prisons.