The struggle in detention centres continues

Britain now locks up more asylum-seekers and migrants than ever before: approximately 30,000 per year are detained. On 26 July a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers strongly criticised the policy of detaining children, saying there was ‘no evidence that the child’s welfare was taken into consideration’. The parents of 16 families from Liberia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, China and Uganda held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) then began a hunger strike to highlight their situation. Matthew Zaccharias reports.

Yarl’s Wood is run by private company GSL-UK Ltd, contracted to the Home Office, and is the main holding centre in England for families facing deportation. One of the hunger strikers was Prisa Kafoula, a Congolese mother of three children, aged 6, 4 and 2. Prisa and her children had been forcibly separated from her husband who is still resident in Leeds. Speaking from Yarl’s Wood, she said, ‘This is no place for my children. After my 3-year-old daughter was killed in the Congo in 1998, I would rather die here than let that happen to my children’.

Six of the hunger strikers maintained their protest for 14 days. On 12 August Paul Lopo, a Congolese asylum seeker who had participated in the hunger strike, was taken to Colnbrook IRC while his children, Christian, aged 5, and Josee, aged 7, were left at Yarl’s Wood for several days. This was against the Home Office’s own policy that asylum seeker children should be cared for by social services in the absence of their parents. Mr Lopo said: ‘As a parent I was doing the best I could for my children in detention, as only a caged animal can do. I am their father and should be there to look after them.’

Deadly detention
The government’s detention policy is being placed under further scrutiny by the inquests into the suicides of three asylum seekers. There have been ten deaths in Removal Centres in the last six years and figures released earlier this year showed that there was one serious attempt at self-harm every 36 hours.
The current inquests concern the deaths of:
• Sergey Baranyuk, from Ukraine, found hanged at Harmondsworth on 19 July 2004;
• Peter Kenny, from Nigeria, who died in hospital on 7 November 2004 after throwing himself from the third floor at Colnbrook;
• Manuel Pereira Bravo, from Angola, found hanged at Yarl’s Wood on 15 September 2005.

Britain deports to war zone
The government stepped up its attacks on Iraqi asylum seekers when on 5 September it forcibly deported 32 Iraqi Kurds to the north of Iraq, the first forced deportation to Iraq since November 2005. Britain constantly tries to maintain the myth that despite the continued barbaric war that it and the US have foisted on the region, all or part of Iraq is ‘safe’ for refugees to be sent back to.

Home Secretary John Reid showed his contempt for the legal process by announcing that last minute applications for judicial review would not stop the removals. Nevertheless, lawyers acting for five of the men obtained injunctions preventing their deportations going ahead. The Home Office then revealed that they had five other Iraqi Kurds on a reserve list who would take their places.

The Kurdish-controlled region in northern Iraq is increasingly unstable. In July and August there were waves of demonstrations over the corruption of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) officials and the lack of basic amenities such as water, electricity and fuel. The PUK and KDP responded by conducting house-to-house searches, arresting political activists and shooting at demonstrators

Two of the asylum seekers managed to contact the Iraqi Federation of Refugees and described their deportations. They had been pushed barefoot out of the detention centre on the morning of 5 September while the security guards swore at them. They were then handcuffed and two security guards were assigned to each of them. A coach drove them to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where they were pushed onto an army plane and given flak jackets. The plane then flew directly to Erbil Airport in northern Iraq. Before the plane landed, the security guards tried to give the asylum seekers $100 each, which they ripped up and threw away. At Erbil Airport they were handed over to the KDP and questioned for several hours before being released. It is not known what happened to the other 30 asylum seekers.

FRFI 193 October / November 2006