Heart of gold: detained but not broken

04 July 2014

Related: United Kingdom
Bianca Venkata has been a JRS volunteer for about a year now. She is training to be a barrister. "I visit an immigration detention centre because I want to shine a light on the human being detained" says Bianca.

London, 04 July 2014 – In this testimony from the UK a JRS volunteer describes her unexpected encounter with an Afghan man held in an immigration removal centre. This chance meeting of two people, one free and the other detained, reveals a surprising role-reversal and highlights the inner human spirit that knows no borders.

One day I made an unscheduled visit to the detention centre. Neither the officials nor the detainees were expecting me, so I settled down in the multi-faith room and looked around at the books of different religious texts, the floor, the walls, and the carpet. There were no windows in this room making it impossible for anyone to connect with the outside world. Time passed slowly and alone I began to regret not informing the centre of my intended visit.

Then suddenly I saw Feizal.

When I first met Feizal he was very pale and was constantly being admitted to hospital. Often depleted of energy, he seemed withdrawn and sad. English is not Feizal’s first language and he struggled to express himself the first time we met. However, today was different.

Like most detainees, Feizal has a sad story. Feizal’s hometown is in Waziristan, a troubled border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Taliban killed his father and then tried to force Feizal to fight for them. A school teacher, and a pacifist, he could think of nothing worse than killing another human being: so he refused. Consequently, the Taliban issued an order that Feizal be killed. He had to go into hiding. Feizal’s mother managed to give him enough money to travel to the UK.

As soon as Feizal reached the UK he claimed asylum. His claim was refused and he was placed in immigration detention. Due to legal aid cuts he had no lawyer. Now, without a lawyer, he is appealing the refusal of his asylum claim by himself.

On seeing me sitting alone, Feizal immediately came up and sat next to me. His health had greatly improved and his downtrodden demeanour was replaced with one of strength. His English had also greatly progressed.

Feizal told me stories of his childhood and how he loved playing cricket. I complimented him on his dramatic improvement in English: he said this was due to him attending English classes at the detention centre. In the future, he hoped to teach English.

One gesture that will always stay with me was when Feizal pointed upwards and said with a big smile, “Above everyone, above the Taliban, above the law, there is Allah.”

Despite all of his difficulties, Feizal still retained complete trust and confidence in God.

I left the centre feeling extremely humbled. I had set out with the intention of helping detainees. Instead, I had received care from a detainee. Although Feizal had so many problems of his own, he cared about my well-being and spent nearly an hour trying to make me feel valued, so that I wouldn’t feel I had wasted my time in coming to the centre.

I realised that Feizal’s actions were ones of true love: the giving of the self to the other. Feizal did not have money, did not have power nor even his liberty but still he had his heart and he chose to use it to make me feel better. And for that I will be forever grateful.