Human rights campaigners will again be at the Derwentside Immigration Removal Prison for women in Consett, County Durham today. They will ‘welcome’ the new provider of the service SERCO and also remember the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22 year old Iranian woman who died in a hospital in Tehran, Iran, under suspicious circumstances. The ‘Guidance Patrol‘, the religious morality police of Iran’s government, arrested Amini for allegedly not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards. Her death in custody sparked protests all around the world, including in Newcastle, exposing institutional gender-based state violence in many countries.
On 1 September 2023 the £70 million pound contract for running Derwentside Immigration Removal Prison for women moved from MITIE to SERCO.
SERCO is a multinational company working in over 70 countries with an income of £4.5 billion and over £237 million pounds of profit delivering ‘public services’.
The SERCO contract runs for nine years, with an option for a further year. SERCO will be responsible for all aspects of detainee safety, security, and welfare provision at the IRC, excluding healthcare services which will continue to be operated under a separate contract commissioned by NHS England, together with facilities management and catering.
No to Hassockfield campaign
The No To Hassockfield campaign seeks to close Derwentside, the only detention centre in the UK just for women. 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. No To Hassockfield, along with Abolish Detention and Durham People’s Assembly work together to organise monthly protests at the site, and have pledged to continue their actions until the IRC is closed down. Today they will send a ‘welcome’ card, signed by the three campaigns, to Penny Wainwright, the current manager for SERCO , at Derwentside. The card says:
“We welcome you in joining us to create a better world. We will support you in walking away from the constraints of profiteering from the trauma and pain of our sisters. We will continue to campaign to shut this prison and we will be keeping our eyes on you”
Dr. Helen Groom from ‘No To Hassockfield said;
“SERCO has run detention centres here and in countries such as Australia for many years. Their brand is synonymous with profit and corruption. In 2018 they paid almost £23 million in fines and costs for overcharging the government when tagging people. SERCO was one of the companies, awarded a £322 million to run Covid 19 testing sites. In 2022 they served maggots to migrant children in the Midlands.
“Immigration detention is an unnecessary and inhumane policy. Companies such as SERCO are making millions of pounds profit at taxpayers’ expense. The women incarcerated in Hassockfield/Derwentside are not dangerous, they are not going to run away. A report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and UNHCR published last month, at the height of the summer holidays, showed that there are alternatives to detention centres, that are cheaper and more humane.
“We call on the government to close Derwentside Immigration Removal Prison down, set up proven alternatives and stop allowing rich shareholders to make profits from the misery of others.”
Mahsa Amini died one year ago today, 16 September 2022 in Iran. The Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran stated that she had a heart attack at a police station, collapsed, and fell into a coma before being transferred to a hospital. However, eyewitnesses, including women who were detained with Amini, reported that she was severely beaten and that she died as a result of police brutality, which was denied by the Iranian authorities. The assertions of police brutality, in addition to leaked medical scans, led some observers to believe Amini had a cerebral haemorrhage or stroke due to head injuries received after her arrest.
The campaigners working to close down Hassockfield/Derwentside stand in solidarity with Iranian women as they mourn the death of Mahsa and continue their resistance against brutal patriarchy. #WomenLifeFreedom is a global call to action to end gender-based violence.
Parisa Panahi, one of the organisers of the Iranian protest in Newcastle said;
“Today is the 16 September. You may or may not know about what happened to our little girl, the 22 year old young woman in Iran, who on this day last year started an uprising in Iran. She came to visit her family and never returned to her home, because the morality police took her into detention, and that detention was the end of her story. Three days later Mahsa Amini , our superhero Kurdish girl, died in Tehran. Today marks the anniversary of Mahsa Amini and so many others who lost their lives in doing what was right for their country, lost their lives fighting for their rights, lost their lives for human rights.
“16 September marks a very important day in Iranian history. That’s the day that people found their bravery again, found their bravery to stand in front of the dictatorship and they started protesting all over the country. Today marks a very important day for every single woman and child in Iran – we finally found our voice. Today marks a very important day – the day Iran was on the map because of the bravery of their people. Mahsa Amini started on a very brave path and we all shall continue her way until the glorious way of victory. #WOMENLIFEFREEDOM. I want freedom for every single person in the world, not just Iranian Women. Everybody deserves freedom.”