Ensuring Refugees’ Welfare

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) is set up to monitor the living conditions in places of detention in England and Wales. Its members are volunteers and passionate about making a difference to detained people’s lives.  
Revd Gill Songer is an IMB volunteer at Dover and Manston and the minister for St Andrews, Folkestone and the Elham Valley Methodist churches in the South Kent Methodist Circuit. 
“A young man was lying on his back in a marquee. When he turned his eyes to me, I felt it was Jesus looking at me. It really made me wonder. There was nothing physical I could do for him, but I could make this unseen man seen by sharing his and other people’s stories.” 

After setting foot in the UK, refugees who are rescued in the English Channel are sent to the short-term holding facilities at Dover and Manston where they stay for 24 hours before going to hotels. Those who are under 18 years old are held in separate facilities until a foster placement can be found by local social services. “Recently I talked with a young man from Sudan who turned 18 the day before he arrived, this changed how he was treated. He was anxious about his future,” said Gill.  

When they arrive at the short-term holding facilities, each group is given a bracelet and information so that family groups stay together.  

“It is very moving to see them arriving at Dover, walking along the gangplank and onto UK soil, but it is hard to know how they feel. Relief? Anxiety?” wonders Gill. As a member of the IMB for the past year, her job is to observe and report on the living conditions in the detention camps where refugees are sent and the way they are treated. She adds, “Our main concern is the welfare of the detained people.” Despite being recruited by the Home Office to monitor the holding facilities, these members of the local community remain independent. 

Gill Songer became a member of the monitoring board after replying to an email from Churches Together that mentioned the IMB were looking for volunteers. Her group of volunteers has eight members from different backgrounds. Their visits are not scheduled so they can go at any time and any day to monitor the living conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. “Sometimes there is no one when I arrive, so I check with the staff who are tidying and cleaning to prepare for the next arrival.” 

Board members can go anywhere within the facilities, they check records and produce an annual report.  In November 2022, at a time when the plight of migrants was receiving intense media interest due to over-crowding in the facilities, the IMB became the eyes and ears of the public, reporting on the conditions and human rights of the people being held there.  

To learn more about IMB, visit their website.