Local campaigners are urging people to join them on Saturday 18 December from 12-2pm for the 6th regular monthly protest at the site of the former Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in Medomsley near Consett where the government have been repurposing the estate as part of their strategy to appear tough on immigration.
The Home Office intends to use the facility as an Immigration Removal Centre for women asylum seekers they label as ‘illegals’ or ‘foreign criminals’. The facility has been renamed Derwentside IRC in a blatant attempt to try and erase the appalling history of abuse that occurred when hundreds of boys were locked up there over a period of decades. Five former officers have already been jailed for their part in the abuse with many more thought to have been involved in what was probably an organised paedophile ring.
The site was initially earmarked for a housing development with a pocket park. But the government has ridden roughshod over local planning processes, pushing ahead in a bid to open the centre before Christmas. It is thought that approximately 80 vulnerable women will be locked up in the IRC, many being moved from Yarls Wood near Bedford. The campaigners say it is imperative that the women know they are not alone and have pledged to maintain regular vigils and noisy protests at the site until it is closed.
Priti Patel announced the official opening of the IRC in parliament on 23 November, the day before 27 people drowned in the English Channel trying to reach safety in the UK. The same day Tom Pursglove MP, Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, was being given a tour of the refurbished centre which will be run by Mitie whose appalling record on workers’ rights in places such as Heathrow and Sellafield has led to strong retaliatory actions by Unite the Union and the GMB.
Mitie job adverts for custodial posts at the IRC have been used as source material by the NE Feminist Theatre Lab along with testimonies of former employees and those with lived experience of detention, to create ‘Newspaper Theatre’ performances. These sketches are being used to educate the public about the reality of life in detention and expose the links between Mitie and the Tory party.
Mitie is one of the companies to profit from the pandemic being given huge government contracts for covid testing sites and quarantine hotel security. However, one of its biggest contracts involves running immigration detention centres. In 2018, the firm won what was believed to be the biggest ever immigration detention contract in the UK after sealing a deal of more than £500m. This included the running of Colnbrook removal centre in Heathrow, where the most recent inspection reports said it ran dirty facilities with poor record-keeping.
Tory peer Philippa Roe, or Baroness Couttie, sits on Mitie’s board, and was given a seat in the House of Lords by David Cameron in 2017. Conservative peer Baroness McGregor-Smith, who is currently president of the British Chamber of Commerce and a non-executive board member of the Department for Education, was CEO of Mitie for almost a decade. It is easy to see why accusations of cronyism abound.
Since learning of the government plans in January 2021 local people have mounted a vigorous campaign against the new IRC, working across political lines and with faith communities, trade unions, academics, students and the local arts community. On Saturday 4 December campaigners organised a National Demonstration in Consett town centre, attracting several hundred people. Meanwhile there was a Solidarity Action in London’s Hyde Park.
On 25 November former Labour MEP Julie Ward, who is a member of the NoTo Hassockfield Campaign, had addressed the crowds who gathered for a vigil outside the Home Office in London for those who had perished trying to cross the Channel. She urged campaigners in the capital to join the protests against Derwentside IRC, either in person or online, to join up the dots regarding the ongoing ‘hostile environment’ and to recognise the common struggle that we must all embrace in the face of a cruel Tory government who are complicit in the deaths and trauma of people seeking sanctuary, including women and children.
The UK is out of step with international human rights norms regarding its treatment of asylum seekers. We are the only country in the 47 member state Council of Europe that practises indefinite detention whereby people seeking sanctuary are held for months if not years not knowing when their nightmare will end, if they will eventually be given leave to remain or whether they will taken in the middle of the night to be deported.
The opening of Derwentside IRC is the epitome of an inhumane Tory government who have assumed Nigel Farage’s clothes and lost their moral compass. Women asylum seekers are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society and they deserve our attention and compassion. You can find out more and support the campaigns here:
CAMPAIGN GROUP INFORMATION
No to Hassockfield
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Facebook – @No2Hassockfield
Durham People’s Assembly
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Facebook – @durhampeoplesassembly
Facebook – Abolish Detention – Hassockfield
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Women for Refugee Women
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