Resistance to detention and quasi-detention: No To Hassockfield!

By Bill MacKeith

The government’s further onslaught on refugees and other migrants, outlined in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 followed a farcical and insulting ‘consultation’ on a ‘New Plan for Immigration’ which closed only days earlier.

The consultation provoked unprecedented rejection by migrant organisations, campaigns, NGOs and human rights bodies. There is a huge movement needed in coming months to stop the government’s proposals.

Over the past six months, offensive action by the Johnson government has been fiercely resisted.

Since last autumn Home Secretary Priti Patel has put asylum seekers in former army barracks. Asylum seekers protested at their accommodation in old army barracks at Penally in Pembrokeshire, and Napier at Folkestone in Kent, as Covid-19 ripped through accommodation that the government’s own Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration said was unacceptable. Now Penally has closed, and a similar experiment at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk was abruptly dropped. But Patel insists the cruelty must continue at Napier.

Yarl’s Wood Befrienders and Women For Refugee Women won an important victory when they stopped a government plan to open a new asylum seeker camp alongside YW detention centre near Bedford. Lawyers Duncan Lewis were involved.

A plan for a 500-place asylum seeker accommodation centre on Ministry of Defence land at Barton Stacey in Hampshire was dropped after opposition including the local council leader and the MP Caroline Noakes, former Immigration Minister.

As for off-shore asylum seeker camps, the authorities of both Gibraltar and the Isle of Man have declined to play ball. We do not know the reaction of the governor of the combined British Overseas Territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, or of the five-member Island Council (which has advisory powers) of Ascension Island, another proposed site.

 Because of Covid-19 (restrictions mean the government cannot argue that a detained individual’s deportation is ‘imminent’), the UK’s seven main detention centres are only 10-20 per cent occupied. So the government plan, which came to light in January,  to open an 80-place women’s immigration detention centre at Hassockfield near Consett in County Durham is bizarre.  The site housed the notorious Medomsley youth detention centre where, during the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of young men were physically and sexually abused. This scheme, on land earmarked for housing by the local authority, is lauded by new Conservative MP Richard Holden as ‘bringing jobs to the area’.

No To Hassockfield is a powerful coalition determined to stop the planned opening later this year:

Organisations we are linked with include Oxford Against Detention (formerly the Close Campsfield campaign), Detention Forum, Yarl’s Wood Campaigners, Duncan Lewis Solicitors, Women for Refugee Women [special campaign on Hassockfield], AVID, Women’s Aid, Migrant & Justice Forum, North East Against Racism, West End Refugee Service (WERS), Mental Health North East (MHNE), End Deportations Belfast, Abolish Detention among others [People’s Assembly is one].

You can sign refugee Agnes Tanoh’s petition against the centre here.

There is all to fight for as the government continues its attacks on refugees and other migrants to cover up its own failures over Covid-19 and inequalities.

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