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. The Jesuit Refugee Service runs weekly pastoral support visits to the Heathrow detention centres, as part of its mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and those who have been forced to migrate.
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 detainees who attended thanked the Bishop for his visit, and put before him their fears and concerns as well as their intentions for prayer.
Following the visit, Bishop Paul McAleenan said: “Meeting the men held in Harmondsworth detention drove home the hardships they face, being kept away from their families and their communities indefinitely. It was good to meet with those men, to hear their stories, and to stand with them.”
“I am grateful to JRS UK for facilitating this visit, and for the essential work that they do supporting people in detention. These people are some of the most vulnerable in our society, and as a Church we should be in solidarity with them, and keep them in our prayers”
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 yesterday 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.”
If you are interested in the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, you can find out more on their website
This visit follows the Bishop joining other leaders to call for a time limit on detention and his condemnation of the detention of victims of torture and human trafficking.