Supporting Britons imprisoned overseas
News from our member, Prisoners Abroad, highlighting things you may not know about the vital humanitarian welfare support they provide annually to 1,100 Britons imprisoned overseas and their families back home. Plus details of a new later opening hours trial to enable families to get in touch more easily.
I’m Simon and I work for the UK charity, Prisoners Abroad. We’re a committed team with a lot of energy, supporting any British citizen who finds themselves held in a foreign prison and in need of our help. We provide a non-judgemental service regardless of innocence or guilt, sentenced or on remand - our support is based on need. We are also there for the families and friends who want to talk through what’s happening and keep their relationship with their loved one.
Being imprisoned abroad is often a very different experience from being imprisoned within the UK because the conditions and prisons abroad are typically very different to those in the UK.
Can you imagine what it’s like being held in a prison where you are being subjected to violence on a daily basis, where you might be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment? Imagine being packed into a stifling prison cell meant for 30 people, filled with 100 and with just one filthy toilet to share – a hole in the ground - in plain view of everyone. That’s a reality for a large proportion of the people we help, day in, day out and for year after year.
Would you think any of that is acceptable or fair? No, you probably wouldn't and neither do we.
- “I was terrified; I was forced to sleep on a concrete floor for seven months and when I finally got a mattress it was infested with lice.” John, Brazil
What do we do to help those held in foreign prisons?
We give survival grants of £30 a month so people can buy basic essentials - things you and I take for granted - like food and clean drinking water, soap and other personal hygiene items to reduce the risk of infection. We also send vitamin supplements to help people to stay healthy.
Due to overcrowding, infectious diseases are easily spread; hepatitis and tuberculosis are often rife, but easily treatable with the right medicine. In prisons around the world the vital medicines needed are not provided (they have to be bought). We pay for people’s medical treatments; this could be as simple as providing paracetamol or glasses but also for operations. Quite simply, our vital support saves lives.
We also send reading materials to help people combat loneliness and alleviate isolation, feelings which are profound amongst those thousands of miles from home. Often the simplest means of communication can prove difficult, so we provide international freepost envelopes to those unable to buy stamps to write to family and friends.
- “In prison one of the best feelings is when your name is called out to collect post or a parcel, a nice little reminder that you have not been forgotten.” Anonymous
To help with communication we send foreign-language dictionaries and phrasebooks. Can you imagine being imprisoned in a Thai prison and not being able to speak a word of the language or read important documents relating to your case? This is another common problem faced by the people we support.
We know that problems don’t suddenly stop when someone’s released so we have a dedicated resettlement service to help people back on their feet after their ordeal.
Families often feel they are serving their own sentence, and Prisoners Abroad supports them every step of the way. Our Freephone number is a vital channel for families to call for emotional support and practical information about the issues they face and we have just introduced later hours on our phone lines between July and October to be more flexible in line with the competing demands of people’s lives.
We also run family support groups and information days throughout the UK to help people stay connected, can help with booking or the cost of a visit to a prison overseas, and have developed an online community where friends and relatives can share their experiences with each other.
- ‘Frankly, I don't know how I would have got through the past three years had it not been for the support I've had from various people at Prisoners Abroad and the knowledge that there's always someone I can talk to when I'm climbing the walls!!’ M, a mother.
Prisoners Abroad was founded in 1978 to assist British citizens imprisoned abroad. Today we help over 50 times as many British men and women as we did in our first year. However, our mission remains the same: to ensure people survive overseas imprisonment with dignity and hope.
For details of our extended phone line hours, see: http://www.prisonersabroad.org.uk/news/400/80/Helpline-opening-hours-extended.html