Detention centre protests

Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), near Heathrow Airport in London, has become notorious for brutality towards detainees. There has been an intermittent hunger strike by asylum seekers in protest at their detention and treatment since 8 April.

Between 2 and 16 May six asylum seekers attempted to commit suicide. On 2 May, 24-year-old Amadie Ayatollah from Afghanistan was seriously injured after jumping from the second floor landing. The same day, hungerstriker Romeo Dzamba was locked in a secure block after being beaten and racially abused by SERCO security officers for talking to the press. He was handcuffed and his head repeatedly banged against the floor. He was then removed to Chelmsford prison. On 16 May Ayatollah Hamedi jumped three floors; he left a suicide note addressed to the centre Manager Craig Thomson, detailing the racist abuse and threats he had suffered. On 3 June Matadi Kidinga Christian slashed his wrists after being beaten by four immigration officers. Doctors and the press are being denied access to the prisoners who are attacked by officers and put into solitary confinement if they talk to outsiders.

SERCO has increased body searches and threatened protesters with isolation cells, and the Home Office has sped up the deportation of those such as Amos Onokare Alajaibo, Thomas Galazoe and Romeo Dzamba suspected to be involved or leading the protests. Direct phone lines to Colnbrook have been cut off and the Home Office and media have censored information about the existence and extent of the protests

Resistance is at an all-time high. Forty detainees have formed the Colnbrook Detainees Forum and issued a joint statement on 22 June:

‘We the detainees of Colnbrook IRC have come to the conclusion that we are being held hostage by a monster that appears to be out of control by its creator...We have run out of pleas and petitions, or reason to explain or question the ethics behind an organisation that dedicates itself to the dehumanisation of already distressed, displaced and disturbed people... We have repeatedly called for help and intervention, for an investigation of these crimes against humanity... We are beginning to believe the silence which has greeted our cries is either inevitable because no one can help, or deliberate because no one will help, or no one is willing to or bold enough to help. This is why we have resolved to proceed on a declared hunger strike... until someone in authority takes notice of our plight. We make the following requests with all respect for the authorities:

• an audience with the immigration minister Liam Byrne, MP.
• parliament to set up an independent committee to investigate the injustices being perpetrated by the IND , the AIT and Detention Centres.
• temporary admission for any detainee in custody for over one month.
• a temporary work permit for every detainee granted temporary admission, so they can earn a living, and support them...those who had work permits before detention, to be reinstated.
• temporary NASS assistance for all detainees made destitute by the long periods of detention.’

At Campsfield IRC in Oxfordshire 120 asylum seekers began a hunger strike on 14 June in protest at their indefinite detention without charge or trial and the brutal, racist dehumanising conditions.

The protest was triggered after a Somali man climbed onto the roof with a rope and plastic bag, threatening to hang himself if he wasn’t released. The police were called and he was removed to Colnbrook. He had been living in Milton Keynes for more than 10 years after claiming asylum; he has British citizenship, but was arrested as a suspected ‘terrorist’, imprisoned for a year and then kept
in prison for a further four months, threatened with the further punishment of deportation, despite removal to Somalia being unlawful.

On 21 June hungerstriker Antony Osas Aghayere was beaten by guards as he was dragged out of Campsfield and moved to Colnbrook. His injuries were still evident a week later when he was seen by a doctor. The Home Office has tried to deport him to stop him bringing a case of assault.

The detainees wrote to the press: ‘Most of us have been here for a long while now. There are people who have been detained for up to two years... We are cramped in here like animals. We are treated like animals and moved around different detention centres like animals. The immigration service have taken husbands from their families and taken people who ran away from persecution in their various countries, and dumped everyone in here... Campsfield has become a slave house. We detainees are treated like slaves, to do odd jobs for officers. Detainees are handcuffed to see doctors or dentists in hospitals or clinic appointments. We have some racist security officers who make racist comments to detainees and go out of their way to make you feel like committing suicide. Detainees have to be at the point of death before they get to see the doctors. The food is not worth eating. Even dogs would refuse to eat what we eat... We want the government to stop its hypocrisy and release the innocent people they herd into their detention centres.’

Campsfield is now run by US corporation GEO (Global Expertise on Outsourcing), formerly Wackenhut, which has a history of running racist brutal detention centres in the US and Australia. Medical treatment is now non-existent – sleeping tablets are given to people who have rashes and those who complain of serious illnesses are given paracetamol. One detainee who has a bullet lodged in his knee has been refused an operation. Journalists have been refused entry into the centre. Asylum seekers are forced to work: painting, gardening, clearing tables and mopping floors in return for £3 or £5 vouchers. Guards have even tried to bribe detainees with extra vouchers either to end their hunger strikes or to identify the detainees who organised the protests.
Charles Chinweizu

FRFI 192 August / September 2006


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