Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My voluntary work

My voluntary work has an unusual prerequisite, security vetting including a criminal records check and I declaration that I have no connection with any political organisation on the far right or far left. Every time I participate I have to be issued with keys and a personal radio complete with panic button. What do I do? I am a chaplaincy volunteer at the Harmonsworth Immigration Removal Centre (HIRC) near Heathrow.

My main work is preaching for the Christians there two or three Sunday evenings a month. HIRC houses over 600 detainees at any one time. In is like a prison in that detainees cannot leave at will but unlike prison there is freedom of movement inside HIRC and good facilities like gym, library, computers and tasty food. The facility is run by a commercial contractor and part of the contract is provision for the spiritual and pastoral care of detainees. About two thirds of detainees are Muslims, about a quarter are professing Christians. I was recruited by the senior chaplain, a Christian. His deputy is a Muslim imam. Both of these men are full time employees. There are a number of Christian volunteer visitors who come with different affinities with various groups of detainees. My affinity comes from twelve years' work in Nigeria and still able to communicate in an African language.

Christian detainees are mostly African, especially Nigerians. They are free to meet and some do so twice daily every day of the year. Their worship is very lively indeed with drumming and dance, not at all like that of even the most charismatic church in England. I can join in with my tambourine which I am not allowed to do in our Ealing church.

As in prison, one never asks a person the reason for their detention. Sometimes it will be told. A minority are awaiting deportation after criminal conviction. More are asylum seekers awaiting tribunal decisions. I think the majority may be immigrants who have outstayed the term of residence granted when they entered the UK.

Usually I have no idea why a man is there listening to my preaching. Detainees are there on average for around six weeks but it can be many months. One thing is certain. They all want out . This is why when I leave each time, I can say something one never says elsewhere at the end of a church service. ' I hope I don't see you next week.'

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