Detainees protest against racist immigration detention centres

‘Our demand is quite simple. We want our freedom. We want our life with dignity. We do not want to be treated in an inhumane way. So that’s why we're demanding the closure of all detention centres for immigrants in the UK.’

Campsfield hunger striker, May 2014

At the beginning of May, protests broke out at four immigration removal centres (IRCs), as hundreds of detainees organised collective action against the appalling conditions, racist harassment and sheer incompetence of these vast, privately-run prisons.

On 2 May, 150 detainees embarked on a sit-down protest and hunger strike at Harmondsworth, near Heathrow. Their concerns included:

• the Home Office fast track system where refugees are immediately detained while their asylum claims are processed;

• inadequate health care;

• lack of access to legal help;

• serious delays in passing on important documents such as faxes;

• inappropriate food for the 80% of detainees who are Muslim.

The protest, which involved blocks C and D, threatened to spread to other blocks. Three Home Office officials visited the detainees who were occupying the main exercise yard and promised a response to their demands by 6 May. The protest was suspended.

However, no Home Office response has been forthcoming: instead a number of detainees were issued with deportation notices and all faced individual interrogation as to why they had signed the petition. Harmondsworth, the largest detention centre in Europe, is run by the private company Geo. It was severely criticised last year by the Chief Inspector of Prisons for ‘shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost’, including ‘excessive and unacceptable’ handcuffing of sick, elderly and vulnerable inmates and rising incidents of self-harm.

On 6 May a detainees’ organising meeting at Colnbrook, near Gatwick, was broken up by security staff and the five alleged ‘ringleaders’ placed in solitary confinement. Caseworkers say that at least 50 politically-motivated deportations have since been rushed through. Later the same day, 20 detainees at nearby Brook House staged an all-night protest in the exercise yard, refusing to return to their cells. Following the protest 16 of the men were placed in solitary confinement.

The following day, at least 150 detainees at Campsfield in Oxfordshire went on hunger strike. In a YouTube video, a spokesman for the group said they had been ‘pushed against a wall’ and the hunger strike was a last resort. He said they felt that their detention breached human rights, and all IRCs in the country should be closed. He cited in particular the recent case of an immigration official threatening a Pashto-speaking detainee with solitary confinement if he refused to sign a ‘voluntary’ deportation order.

Campsfield is run by the massive outsourcing company Mitie. In February, Mitie was awarded an additional £180m Home Office contract to take over the running of Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, despite a massive fire at Campsfield last year in which it was found Mitie had not even bothered to check fire sprinklers were in working order.

These detention centres, run by outsourced and unaccountable companies, are monuments to the brutality of Britain’s racist immigration laws. The courage shown by the detainees, who are some of the most oppressed and dispossessed people in the country, in opposing this inhumane regime, is inspiring. Despite the muted coverage of the protests by the mainstream media, regular solidarity demonstrations were organised in solidarity with the protests.

Cat Alison

For more information, contact Campaign to Close Campsfield (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 01865 558145 or 01993 703994) and support the demand for the closure of all Britain’s racist immigration detention centres.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014


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