I’m sure the Home Office thinks County Durham is off the map and no one will notice that they’re proposing to build a new detention centre in the wilds up there.
It’s to be for women, women who have come here seeking sanctuary.
I’m also pretty sure that Priti Patel & co have no knowledge of the rather long history of sanctuary in the holy places of Northumberland and Durham. And I think they can have no idea how many people in the North East belong to and support the modern Sanctuary organisations. These refuse to accept that people can be treated like trash and instead offer a warm welcome, in many very practical ways, to the large numbers of people being ‘settled’ here into temporary accommodation while they wait in anxiety for a decision on whether they can be ‘granted leave to remain’ and be allowed to become members of society here.
Durham is a City of Sanctuary, and so is Newcastle. There’s a hard-working group, the Northumberland County of Sanctuary, working with all sorts of local organisations to help people learn English, get the children into school, learn weightlifting and crafts – you name it, we’ll do it!
There are also countless individual people all over the county, helping out in so many ways, eg by donating for school shoes, & school holiday trips, for venues and strips for football games, Christmas presents, and donating what we call ‘stuff’ to make life easier like mirrors, vacuum cleaners, TV sets, tablets for the children during the pandemic, bicycles and warm clothing.
Then there’s the wonderful work done daily by the Red Cross protecting their legal rights and supporting them in many ways.
So who are these people coming here for sanctuary? We do not pry, but things come to light – for a start, they come from about twenty different countries across almost all continents and they soon become supportive of each other regardless of origins. In Northumberland we have recently discovered three international footballers and four people with doctorates in our midst. The Women’s Group organise regular litter picks in the ex-mining town where they are housed in the cheapest accommodation to be found, by a private company on behalf of the Home Office.
What they have in common is a belief in British justice and respect for human freedoms – that’s why they fled here.
I could go on. But there’s this urgent issue of the proposed immigration detention centre for over 80 women to be built on the site of the old notorious Medomsley Youth Detention Centre in County Durham, near Consett.
It would be in a style similar to Category 3 Prisons and intended for women who have served a prison sentence of more than 12 months, or who have broken immigration laws, or whose asylum claim has failed – work out for yourself which category will most often apply!
More information from the No to Hassockfield Facebook group and Twitter account or this website. The group is organising an online event for International Women’s Day, has a petition to sign and is campaigning hard.