Who We Are
Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group was set up in 1995 when the UK Immigration Service began to detain people at a small holding centre near Gatwick Airport. The following year, Tinsley House Detention Centre was built, and we became a registered charity. We work to improve the welfare and well-being of people held in detention, by offering friendship and support and advocating for fair treatment.
An additional detention facility at Gatwick, Brook House, opened in March 2009. Brook House operates alongside Tinsley House, and both centres are currently run by Group 4 Security (G4S). GDWG supports people held at both centres. Since May 2017, there has also been a pre-departure accommodation unit adjacent to Tinsley House, where families can be held for short periods.
GDWG has now grown to around 70 volunteers, who visit and befriend asylum seekers and people held in immigration detention at Brook House and Tinsley House. The group believes that each person held has a right to be treated with respect and compassion, whatever the outcome of their case. We also have a small staff team who manage and support the volunteers, as well as providing support and advocacy to detainees.
We are non-party political and do not represent any vested interests. We use our own insight into the experiences of people held in detention to try to improve conditions, inform policy and challenge negative images of asylum seekers and other people held as part of their immigration process, both through our own work and by networking with other organisations who provide support, such as the Association for Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID), Detention Action and Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID). We are also participating members of the Detention Monitoring Group and Detention Forum.
What We Do
People held in detention can be vulnerable, isolated and frightened. Many are young, speak no English, and may not know anyone in this country. Whether a person has recently arrived in the UK or has been here for many years, the experience of detention can be traumatic. They are held for indefinite periods and do not always understand the system that will decide their future.
Our volunteers undertake to visit one person regularly, listening and caring about what happens to them. In this way, although we cannot affect the outcome of their case, we can help to reduce their isolation, acting as a contact with the outside world. The visitor notices when anxiety and depression, or other medical problems, are becoming serious and can alert GDWG staff to make a referral to expert organisations such as Medical Justice when appropriate.
One of the greatest problems faced by people held indefinitely in immigration detention, is lack of access to good quality legal advice. Some do not understand the legal processes of claiming asylum or getting bail, nor do they know what they can expect from their legal representative. GDWG try as far as possible to make appropriate referrals to lawyers on behalf of detainees. By liaising with solicitors, or clarifying the legal process, we try to ensure that everyone we meet receives a fair hearing. We also help people make complaints where appropriate, and collate information, along with other visitors’ groups, with a view to attempting to improve the system as a whole.
We also assist with small practical needs, such as second-hand clothing, international phone-cards, and small amounts of money to destitute people being deported, and to families who wish to visit their loved ones being held at Gatwick.
How We Work
We have six paid members of staff who work from the office, supporting volunteers and assisting people held in detention, and working with other NGOs in the sector. People find out about us through the staff at the centres, or through our information leaflet, which is available in 19 languages and is displayed prominently within the centres. Initial contact is usually made over the phone to our office staff, who explain who we are and what we do, and ask people if they would like us to visit them. We maintain strict codes of confidentiality, and people detained are entitled to access a copy of the information we keep on them.
Strategic decisions are made by our Board of Trustees. The Trustees have ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of GDWG and ensuring that it is solvent, well-run, and delivering the charitable outcomes for which it has been set up.
Trustees, volunteers and staff also work to raise awareness of the plight of people held in immigration detention, by writing articles, submissions to governmental and non-governmental bodies, and by giving talks to a wide range of organisations.
In order to pay our staff and run the organisation, we need to raise well over £200,000 each year. The group is very grateful to the many trusts and charitable foundations which have provided us with financial support over the years.
As well as these large funders, we are also indebted to hundreds of individuals, churches and other groups in and around Gatwick who give so generously and enable us to continue our work.