At this month’s demonstration at Hassockfield / Derwentside Immigration Removal Prison the thoughts of human rights campaigners will be with everyone affected by the latest devastating shipwreck in the Mediterranean, as well as the incident in the Channel last weekend which saw six people lose their lives. These tragedies underscore once again the importance of safe routes for people seeking sanctuary, with the IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF all calling for urgent action to prevent further deaths.
Campaigners are inviting local people to join them at the site between 12-2pm on Saturday 19 August to demonstrate against the cruel inhumane government policies which lead to those seeking sanctuary losing their lives in the attempt to reach countries, like the UK, that they perceive as being safe. In reality, those attempting to arrive in small boats face appalling treatment which disregards their basic needs and potentially places them further in danger.
Communities not cages
The government is reported to be considering sourcing more barges in which to place people seeking safety, after all 39 people on board the Bibby Stockholm were moved off the barge following the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water system. Questions continue to be asked about why people were placed on board before checks for Legionella were completed, and when ministers became aware of the risk to health. This follows people being placed on the barge despite ongoing protests and serious concerns voiced by experts about its safety. At least 20 people, including survivors of torture, earlier had their transfers to the barge cancelled following legal action, while a GP warned that the absence of health checks was a ‘public health catastrophe in the making‘.
Some of the people who were put on the barge have shared their experiences, with one man saying the barge is:
“Like a prison, it has entrance and exit gates, and at some specific hours, we have to take a bus, and after driving a long distance, we go to a place where we can walk. We feel very bad”.
A Syrian man who challenged being moved to the barge has said that the cramped conditions would remind him of the 2m square room he had to hide in to shelter from Islamic State soldiers, while a worker who previously stayed on the vessel has said that it is “not designed for living on”.
As the Bibby Stockholm continues to receive intense national and international scrutiny, leaders and communities across the UK continue to speak out against the use of floating prisons: the leader of Glasgow City Council has said the council would not support a barge being moored in Glasgow; candidates vying to be the first North East Mayor have vowed to oppose any plans for a barge on Tyneside; and Teessiders have spoken to Open Democracy about how they successfully opposed plans for a barge at Teesport. The Shadow Immigration Minister however has indicated that a future Labour Government would continue to temporarily use barges to house people seeking asylum.
The No To Hassockfield campaign, which seeks to close the only detention centre in the UK just for women, continues to condemn the Migration Bill. The bill ends the UK’s involvement in the International Convention on Human Rights which recognises the right to claim asylum and have that case examined. Hassockfield, previously the Medomsley Detention Centre for Boys and Young Men was renamed, Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre by Priti Patel on the day it opened.
The recent annual report by its Independent Monitoring Board called for the government to reconsider the suitability of Derwentside as an Immigration Removal Centre. The IMB said;
“That the remote location of Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre is unsuitable, and leads to unfair and, in some respects, inhumane treatment of the women held there, many of whom are vulnerable and may have experience of trafficking.
With the passing of the bill campaigners worry that even more vulnerable women will be imprisoned in the detention centre. Pregnant women, trafficked women and possibly unaccompanied children could be locked up in the remote centre.
Julie Ward Member of the No To Hassockfield Campaign said;
“The government continues to misuse millions of pounds of public money in a cynical attempt to appear tough on migration. In pursuing cruel policies like the Rwanda Plan and the use of floating prisons the government risks turning the UK into a rogue state that no longer upholds basic decency, breaking international law in the process. Our leaders have failed us, using dog-whistle politics in the process, ramping up racism, division and hatred. The UK is the only country in the Council of Europe to practice indefinite detention. We know there are better, cheaper and kinder alternatives. The government even funded successful pilot schemes but instead of implementing these they seem intent on pursuing costly, unworkable and inhumane policies. As each week goes by and more and more desperate people risk their lives our campaign to say No To Hassockfield grows in strength. We will not stand by whilst vulnerable women asylum seekers remain incarcerated on our doorstep.”
Dr. Helen Groom (Chairperson of No To Hassockfield) said;
‘The horrific sight of bodies floating in the sea should touch us all as. Those bodies are human beings who fled their homes because of war, persecution and famine looking for a place of sanctuary to rebuild their lives. The events of the last couple of weeks might feel a long way from ‘us’ but the plight of women locked up in Hassockfield/Derwentside is not. Whilst the conditions are not as poor as those aboard the Bibby Stockholm the reality is that the women have often been removed abruptly, are hundreds of miles from family and friends meaning that family visits are a rarity. The poor mobile signal makes it difficult for women to contact friends, family and legal support. We call on residents of the North East to join us at Hassockfield/Derwentside IRC on Saturday to show that they are appalled by current horrific government policy towards migrants.’