When asked if I could write about my experience of volunteering with the immigration team at NKLC, my first inclination was to spend the piece focusing on how rewarding the work was; how much I enjoyed working with like-minded, radical, compassionate colleagues; how much I learnt about and was shocked by the cruelties of the immigration system; how I felt honoured and humbled to meet clients; how committed the caseworkers are to achieving justice for their clients; how grossly unfair it is that those who need access to justice are so often denied it for purely financial reasons.
On reflection I realized this piece should focus on one thing and one thing only – the dignity and perseverance of the clients NKLC serves, in the face of a system where so much is stacked against them. Almost every day at NKLC, I met a new client who had experienced immense horrors abroad – horrors so great they had fled their homes at great risk – who now was being forced to undergo a deeply complex, sometimes irrational, regularly nonsensical and often cruel immigration system. The horrors of the “hostile environment” meant that for so many, a system which should serve to protect and support, instead sought to debase. The sheer ability of clients to keep going in the face of this hostility, sometimes for many years, did and still amazes me. The courage it takes for clients to once again recount their traumatic experiences for yet another appeal; the patience clients showed when we explained that because a decision maker had misunderstood or misapplied the law, we would need to take further action; the humour clients could deploy, even in the face of yet another poorly drafted and ill-informed refusal – all of this compassionate humanity, in response to a deeply brutal system.
I had little idea before I started volunteering at law centres what those fleeing violence and persecution abroad are often forced to undergo here. The treatment of migrants is shocking and shameful. I am very glad that organisations as outspoken, dedicated and tirelessly hardworking as NKLC exist to support those trapped in the immigration system. But, most importantly, I am deeply humbled by the fact that despite the attempts of the immigration system to humiliate, dehumanize, and oppress clients, they keep going, and they keep going with dignity. In the hostile environment, this is a true and most impressive act of modern day heroism.