For the last week, largely unnoticed in the mainstream British media, migrants in Britain’s ‘immigration removal centres’ have been engaged in one of the largest and most significant protests in many years against the dire conditions in the Britain’s ‘detention estate.’ The rebellion began on Friday May 2, when 150 detainees at Harmondsworth Removal Centre went on hunger strike.
Since then the protest has spread to Colnbrook, Brook House and Campsfield, where 50 people went on hunger strike last Tuesday. At Harmondsworth the detainees presented the authorities with an 8-point list of issues which they wanted resolved . These included an end to the ‘Fast Track’ asylum processing system which keeps migrants in detention while their cases are being heard; the lack of legal assistance in preparing their cases; an improvement in health conditions and the quality of food.
The private security firms that have presided over these centres and profitted so handsomely from immigration detention have naturally responded with repression, breaking up meetings and placing ringleaders in solitary confinement. Nevertheless at Harmondsworth on Friday, four wings – more than half the centre – were still on strike.
The causes of these protests are not difficult to understand. Last year a report H.M. Inspectorate of Prisons on Yarl’s Wood found:
The circumstances of those held at Yarl’s Wood make it a sad place. At best it represents the failure of hopes and ambitions, at worst it is a place where some detainees look to the future with real fear and concern. None of those held at Yarl’s Wood were there because they had been charged with an offence or had been detained through normal judicial circumstances. Many may have experienced victimisation before they were detained, for example by traffickers or in abusive relationships.
Similar observations can be made about much of Britain’s ‘detention estate.’ Presented by the Home Office as a measure to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from ‘absconding’ and/or facilitate their removal, immigration detention is part of an unacknowledged principle of ‘deterrence’, which aims at making conditions for migrants in the UK as harsh as possible in order to deter others from coming.
Successive governments have turned detetention into a source of profit for the private security firms that manage them, while simultaneously using these centres to demonstrate their ‘toughness’ towards undocumented migrants.
The result is a moral abomination, in which men, women and children have been locked up for months and in some cases for years., without being charged of any crime except their ‘illegality.’
All this is one more consequence of the climate of hatred, fear, racism and official victimisation of ‘illegal immigrants’ which has become so deeply embedded in Britain’s squalid ‘debate’ about immigration. Detention has heaped misery and humiliation on thousands of people, many of whom came here precisely because of the UK’s reputation as a defender of human rights and individual freedom.
Today the hunger strikers at Campsfield have issued a single demand declaring: ‘ We want to close all detention centres – they go against human rights. We want our freedom.’
Anyone who cares about human rights in this country should want them to have their freedom too, and support this ongoing protest against a detention system that shames us all and is no good for anyone except for the likes of Serco and GEO.
No ifs, no buts, just close these evil places once and for all, and solidarity with all those on the other side of the wire who are trying, even in the most extreme and unfavourable circumstances, to assert their humanity against a system that has tried to deprive them of it.
For further information, check the Glasgow Unity Centre twitterfeed. and the Close Campsfield blog Striking detainees are also leaving messages on the Independent comments column here, alongside the racists whose ‘concerns’ have done so much to make these centres possible.