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       Report finds lack of government support leaves migrants extremely vulnerable during the pandemic whether in detention or released

New research exploring the impact of Covid-19 on volunteer visiting highlights the extremely difficult situation in which migrants were left whether in detention or released. It also points to the great responsibility many AVID members feel to fill gaps in government provision when supporting people who are in, or recently released from, detention.

Read the full report

Conducted by Dr. Teresa Degenhardt of Queen’s University Belfast, this study was completed in collaboration with AVID. The research is based on interviews with 14 visitors (the majority members of the AVID network) who continued working with migrants in immigration detention during the pandemic.

This unique study is the first of its kind to examine volunteer support provision during the heights of the Covid-19 lockdown, and draws exclusively on first hand interviews.

Amongst the key findings, Dr Degenhardt notes that many people released from detention centres into the community to avoid the spread of Covid-19 remain extremely vulnerable. There is a persistent lack of access to proper accommodation and food. People do not know their medical rights, and many fear approaching the system. Those who have experienced war, torture, domestic violence, and previous forms of detention are left in extreme isolation, largely unattended by the government and government contractors once released. A lack of official support means volunteers take on the responsibility of filling the gaps.

“We’ve very quickly realised that we really needed to help people who’d been released to get access to what they needed, whether it was food, clothes, accommodation, signposting to organisations that could help them … it became massive … it became something that was even more important than what we had been doing before, which was generally just emotional support.” - Volunteer visitor

Among other things, these volunteers said they needed strategies to address serious issue of poor mental health among people who were detained and also those who were released. They expressed the difficulties faced attending to peoples’ needs by phone, the desire to have more opportunities to exchange information with other volunteers and the need for a system to clarify the boundaries of their relationship while assisting from their own homes during the pandemic. In addition, there is an urgent need to revise access to legal aid in detention, and provide extended access to wifi/skype. AVID members also reported difficulties getting bail addresses to detainees who were to be released into the community.

The findings highlight the urgent need for the government to take action. Organisations supporting people in detention should not be left to fill the gaps in an immigration system that disregards the health of those forced to experience it.

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