MORE than 100 residents attended a meeting to find out more about supporting those held at Portland's new Immigration Removal Centre (IRC).

The former HMP The Verne is reopening as an IRC at the end of March after an extensive refurbishment.

It will house up to 580 men over 18 who have been detained by the Home Office under immigration law, and will be the second largest detention centre in the country.

The Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID) hosted an 'awareness raising event' at St John's Church in Weymouth on Thursday evening to discuss the opening.

A panel of speakers discussed indefinite detention and how people in Dorset could get involved in supporting detainees.

Speakers included AVID director Ali McGinley, Jerome Phelps and Tamsin Alger from Detention Action, Andrew Wilson from the Morton Hall Detainee Visitors Group, as well as a speaker with personal experience of detention.

Questions were asked from interested residents about the training and screening process involved in becoming an IRC visitor, and how they could sign up.

Potential IRC visitors were told they could help in three main ways; by befriending detainees and giving them moral support, helping to ensure their basic needs are met and by facilitating communication for detainees with the outside world.

The panel added that they were 'overwhelmed' by the public support for helping detainees and by the numbers of people who attended the meeting.

One resident, who did not wish to be named, backed the idea of visiting detainees.

She said: “I have previously visited detainees and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

“I would certainly encourage anyone who was thinking of visiting detainees at the Verne to do so.”

Detention Action's Andrew Wilson added: “From my experience of visiting I can tell you that a friendly human face makes all the difference to those detained.”

Dorset County Councillor Paul Kimber, who represents Tophill, asked the panel if they felt the area could service the detention centre efficiently, not only in regards to visits but also specialised solicitors for detainees.

The panel said they didn't feel they were qualified to answer but that legal advice for detainees would be provided through volunteers at Detention Action.

Mr Kimber said: “The meeting has seen a tremendous turn out which shows the level of support for the Verne.

“The local community has turned out to see how the Verne can be supported in this particular initiative, and personally I believe it's important to hold up the human rights and wellbeing of detainees.”

For more information call AVID on 0207 281 0533 or email