Saturday 20 January will be the 30th month when campaigners in the long-running campaign to shut down Derwentside IRC (formerly Hassockfield) will gather at the prison gates on the outskirts of Consett. They will continue to call for the closure of the prison and to campaign against what they see as the UK government’s cruel and inhumane immigration policies, including the indefinite detention of vulnerable people and the unlawful Rwanda plan.
To the dismay of local human rights campaigners, the centre opened in 2020 as a facility for the incarceration of women asylum-seekers, however the government has said that it will now be converted into an all-male facility in 2024. The campaigners understand that the move to a male only facility is unlikely to happen until much later in the year
“No-one is illegal”
The campaigners gathering this Saturday will continue to assert that there is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum-seeker’. As Lord Alf Dubs (himself a child refugee) explained to the campaign group in 2021, ‘no-one is illegal’. Everyone has a right to seek asylum in another country. When seeking asylum, a person enters into a legal process of refugee status determination. People who don’t qualify for protection as refugees will not receive refugee status and may be deported, but just because someone doesn’t receive refugee status doesn’t mean they are a bogus asylum-seeker.
Within its recent Illegal Migration Bill the UK government has dramatically reduced the number of ‘legal’ and safe ways to undertake migration to the UK. It is these anti-refugee policies which have dramatically increased the number of trafficking gangs leading to people seeking sanctuary undertaking increasingly risky and dangerous channel crossings.
The Rwanda Plan
This week, in parliament, the government’s ‘Rwanda Plan’ has again been shown to be deeply flawed. Whilst Rishi Sunak might want it to be so, Rwanda doesn’t and cannot in law become a ‘safe’ country just because the British government deems it such. Indeed, 38 Rwandans who sought sanctuary in the UK were granted refugee status.
Rwanda will not take LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and the British police do not regard the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, as a safe pair of hands, as Rwandans living in Britain have been warned by the police of potential threats from Kagame’s agents. Despite the prime minister’s rhetoric, campaigners believe that the British public increasingly believe that this policy is cruel, unworkable and a criminal waste of money that is desperately needed for investment in our public services.
Campaigner Simone Rudolphi said:
“While watching a supposed ‘democracy’ that prides itself on engaging in ‘rules-based politics’ debate and then vote for a racist, inhumane and illegal policy is heartbreaking. However, like many other campaigners I refuse to give up and instead use this heartbreak to fuel my continuing resistance against the toxic cycles of racism and profiteering from other people’s pain that is enshrined in current UK politics. We must solve the inequality crisis founded on the greed and exploitation of the global north. This is at the heart of the issue not a so-called ‘migrant problem’ as opportunist governments and some media like to frame it. .
Rage against inequality and a commitment to continued resistance mean taking action such as being here today at Hassockfield, rebranded as Derwentside IRC, to bear witness and to disrupt inhumane processes with the aim to shut this racist, for private profit, immigration prison against women down!”
Ben Sellers, newly appointed National Secretary of The People’s Assembly Against Austerity said;
“It’s absolutely chilling to see, in the government’s Rwanda policy, an echo of the rhetoric used by neo-fascist parties such as the National Front, the BNP and the EDL over many decades.
The deportation of those seeking sanctuary (often fleeing violence and torture) to a third country is inhumane, as is the treatment of those in ‘immigration removal centres’ such as Derwentside.
“To dismiss it as a ‘gimmick’, as the opposition has done, is somewhat missing the real purpose of the Rwanda policy. Because even if the deportations never become a reality, the point is that the ‘debate’ on the way we treat migrants, asylum seekers and refugees has shifted.
It normalises racist ‘solutions’ and legitimises treating desperate people as less than human.”