Mary Dines

Mary Dines, one of the founders, and General Secretary, of JCWI sadly passed away on 18 June 2011. Mary was deeply involved in JCWI’s work from its very inception in 1967 long before my time and therefore my knowledge of her contribution to the cause of migrants and refugees is somewhat limited but what I understand from others, including the many beautiful stories about her uncompromising attitudes towards authority is tremendously inspiring to us all. 

Mary instilled a profoundly positive appreciation in her colleagues, friends and those who came in contact with her. In short, Mary was a dedicated fighter for migrants and refugee rights in the UK. In an article on the occasion of JCWI’s 40th anniversary Professor Sir Michael Dummet of Oxford University, another original leading light of JCWI, remembered Mary and he wrote “JCWI was fortunate that Mary Dines came to work for us in the office. I have never come across anyone who could work as hard as she did. We owe her an immense debt”.

On her death we remember that immense debt to Mary.

Habib Rahman, Chief Exec, JCWI

Sue Shutter, who worked with Mary at JCWI, wrote this tribute:

Remembering Mary

Mary saved lives and inspired lives. She was an example of what can be done through complete dedication and commitment to justice and stubbornness and bloodymindedness and sheer hard work. She knew what was wrong and how she had to work to expose it and put it right. Whether in her back office in a crumbling basement in Pentonville Road, where mice ran over her desk piled high with papers, whether visiting British nationals refused entry to Britain in a detention camp in Italy, or in prison in the UK, and taking down their complaint to the European Commission on Human Rights on the only writing material available, toilet paper, whether listening to individuals caught up in the racist toils of immigration laws and fighting with them to cut through its knots, Mary was there. 

Mary was a lifeline and an inspiration to many – but she wasn’t all of JCWI, even at the beginning. Its name, the JOINT Council for the Welfare of Immigrants was deliberate – it was a joint effort of over 100 ethnic minority and human rights organisations throughout the country – Indian Workers’ Associations, Pakistan Welfare Associations, West Indian Standing Conference, Campaign against Racial Discrimination and many others. Mary, Vishnu Sharma and Michael Dummett travelled around the country in the mid-1960s, galvanising support for work against the immigration laws and their effects, then mainly on black and Asian Commonwealth-country citizens, whose entry was first controlled in 1962 and the law and practice was immediately racist and unjust. The groups combined to get someone working at Heathrow, to help bewildered families whose members were refused entry there.  

Harrying MPs

Soon Mary and Vishnu were working much more than full-time, Mary was seconded from her job at the then London Council for Social Service, and they had an office, first at Toynbee Hall, then in Pentonville Road, courtesy of Community Service Volunteers. And they had an effect on many thousands of people’s lives, directly in solving their immigration problems and reuniting families and supporting them in their life in the UK, indirectly in highlighting the racism and injustice of the law and practice, in harrying MPs and Lords, in always standing up for what they knew was right. 

Justice was the core of Mary’s work and life. This had little connection to the law and her views on many lawyers were unprintable – with honourable exceptions for some who worked with dedication for justice, some are here today, others including Larry Grant and David Burgess, died before Mary.  The reality of people’s lives rather than law was important. I well remember the stories of JCWI sending telexes to immigration officers in east Africa, saying that a British national had been put on a flight back there against their will, so should be returned to the UK immediately – and it worked. And the story of a ceremonial burning of documents in the office backyard, after she had won a fight with the Home Office so that a man from Uganda, who had been in refugee camps in Denmark and Italy as a stateless person had gained the right to stay in the UK with his British parents and brothers and sisters, so that there would never be any evidence that could come to light later. 

nothing is impossible

Mary was never satisfied. She always needed to move forwards, to continue the fight at its cutting edge, never staying in any kind of comfort zone. She had a huge effect in showing that nothing is impossible. Mary saw very clearly who was the enemy – the bureaucracy and indifference of the Home Office destroying human lives – and how some groups could become compromised by taking government funding while fighting government policy and practice. She knew that immigration law can kill people and drive people mad. She fought it all the way…

From: Raman Ruparell, MBE

I was very sad to hear of the loss of Mary from Oliver. I first met Mary in the year 1972 when I was in a detention Camp in Italy, this was following the mass expulsion of Asians from Uganda.  My second meeting with Mary was during early 1973, this was in London when I came to the UK as a visitor and sought advice from JCWI. I volunteered at JCWI between spring 1973 – October 1974 and eventually became a full time paid staff member at JCWI after securing my settled immigration status with Mary’s assistance. I owe her an immense debt and will always remember her until my last breath.

I have never come across anyone who could work as hard as she did. She was a dedicated fighter for migrants and refugee rights in the UK and worked very hard for uniting hundreds of thousands of displaced Uganda Asian family members who were scattered in Europe and Indian subcontinent as a result of the mass expulsion from Uganda. May her soul rest in peace!

Mary Dines, R.I.P.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

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