A great way of raising awareness of detention as a local issue, and showing that local people are against immigration detention, is getting a letter published in a local newspaper.
Although people trust mainstream media and social media a lot less than they used to, local media is consistently the source of information that is most trusted. A 2013 survey found that 67% of respondents relied on their local paper for local news, with radio preferred by a further 35%.
As one MP said in this Friends of the Earth leaflet,
“My local newspapers are vital for me to find out about the issues that local people are concerned about, and also to let them know what I am up to. When an issue is raised in local papers – whether as a news story or a debate on the letters page – it has a real influence on my work.”
Detention as a local issue
When people are detained, they are usually taken to detention centres far away from where they have lived. This can make detention seem like a distant issue if you don’t have one of the UK’s eight detention centres near you.
But detention IS a local issue. People are being taken away from our local communities, our streets, our neighbourhoods, deprived of their liberty and subject to terrible prison-like conditions, simply because they do not have the correct immigration papers (yet).
Detention is paid for with British tax-payers’ money. This unjust, harmful and inhuman practice is happening in the country in which we live, therefore it is an issue for all of us.
If you know someone locally who has been affected by detention, you might want to use that as an example to show how detention operates in our communities (but without revealing details of that person if they have not consented to this).
What to say
The letter should only be short (see below). In it, you can say why you care about immigration detention, and why others should. Don’t get bogged down in technical or legal matters. Do you think detention is a moral issue, a human issue? This can engage people much more than too many facts and figures.
If you want to include quotations from people who have been affected by detention, there’s a lot to choose from on the blog posts that are part of Unlocking Detention.
You can find basic facts about detention on our These Walls Must Fall leaflet here.
You might find it useful to read/use the (short!) These Walls Must Fall declaration, which explains why detention is wrong and why we have a duty to act. Find it here.
Who to write to
Have a look at the letters page of your local newspaper – either in print, or online. On that page you will find information about how to contact the paper with your letter.
The CharityComms website has this useful advice:
A good letter is always less than 350 words. Normally, a quality newspaper is looking for between 50 and 250 words and they’re always written as though intended for the editor of the newspaper: “your readers might like to know…”
Here are some useful top tips on writing to a newspaper from Friends of the Earth:
1. Keep your letter short and to the point – no more than three paragraphs
2. Include your name and address – you can ask a newspaper not to print your details, but if you don’t supply them your letter won’t get in
3. Your letter can [usually] be typed or hand-written; delivered, faxed or emailed
4. You can either initiate a topic or react to a letter or article that has already been printed. If it’s the latter, quote the letter writer and the date
5. Personalise your letter with your thoughts or anecdotes as well as giving the campaign messages and statistics
6. Make local links. Though general letters do get in, you are more likely to get your letter printed if you make an issue … relevant to the readers.
7. Avoid jargon – if you can’t avoid using a technical word or phrase, make sure you explain what you mean
8. Don’t assume your audience knows the issues – keep it simple
9. Style matters – the way you word your letter could be the difference between winning over hearts and minds and getting people’s backs up. Avoid self-righteous language – no one wants to be preached at; and avoid exaggeration – people will dismiss your arguments if you sound hysterical
10. It is always worth following up with a phone call to ensure the paper has received your letter
So… get writing! And if you get a letter published, share it! If you’re on social media, use the hashtag #TheseWallsMustFall