Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead Bishop for migration, joined the Detention Outreach team of the Jesuit Refugee Service for a visit to the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centres on the 22nd November.
The Bishop was able to spend time on the wing of Harmondsworth, meeting detainees and seeing the conditions in which they are held, some of whom had been in detention for prolonged periods of time. He also had the opportunity to witness JRS’ weekly advice drop-in, where detainees can receive practical as well as emotional support to help them cope with the experience of detention. The Bishop spent some time with JRS volunteers as they shared their encounters with people in detention, including with one volunteer who supports young Vietnamese men who are often victims of trafficking.
The Bishop concluded the visit by celebrating Mass in the Chapel, at the end of which the detainees who attended thanked the Bishop for his visit, and put before him their fears and concerns as well as their intentions for prayer.
Beatrice Grasso, JRS Detention Outreach Manager said: ‘We are very grateful to Bishop Paul for joining us on this pastoral visit. His presence in detention and his compassionate listening of the experiences of those we serve will have a lasting impact on the men he met. Having the opportunity to share their fears and hopes with the Bishop allowed them to remember that they are not forgotten, and to feel the love and solidarity of the Catholic community.’
Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK said ‘Many of the men who talked to Bishop Paul spoke about the agony of being separated from family and partners while in detention and the corrosive impact of uncertainty. How long would they be held? What would happen next? It was good to hear from Bishop Paul that he too has been pushing the government to adopt a 28-day limit on holding people in detention. A time limit would make some difference.’