By Waseem Mohamed
The Derwentside immigration detention centre (IRC) has reportedly welcomed its first female detainees on Tuesday, after the Home Office signed off plans to build the centre last month.
The immigration centre is located in Consett on the site of the former Hassockfield and Medomsley detention centres, and will hold 84 female occupants awaiting deportation from the UK. The detainees are being transferred from the Yarl’s Wood facility in Bedfordshire, which is being replaced following accusations of poor living conditions.
The Home Office continues to claim that the use of such IRCs remains “a limited but essential contribution to tackling illegal migration”, with its detainment policy insisting that “detention must only ever be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary.”
The Home Office also reassured people that the Derwentside IRC will adhere to decent living standards as the centre is designed to “reflect the lessons learned from detaining women at Yarl’s Wood IRC.” Facilities for detainees will include an appropriate female to male staff ratio, a range of recreational and healthcare provisions and access to welfare support, legal aid and outside communication including mobile phones.
The Derwentside IRC is part of a wider Government strategy to deal with asylum and immigration into the UK, including widescale reforms to the asylum seekers’ system under the Nationality and Borders Bill. As part of this, the Home Office intends to reduce the population of vulnerable people in detention, with the latest statistics showing that only 30 women are in immigration detention centres.
However, opposition towards the Derwentside IRC’s opening has continued to grow as numerous campaign groups aimed to prevent the site from opening. Campaigners argue the centre is “cruel and unnecessary”, with local residents, students and members of the University and former detainees among those pushing for the centre to be closed.
‘Women for Refugee Women’ have expressed their concerns over the Derwentside IRC. They fear that the opening of the facility “marks a reversal in Home Office policy regarding the use of detention”, arguing that “historically low numbers [of detainees] mean it is illogical… to open a new detention centre for women.” They also fear that the Nationality and Borders Bill will mean more people will become eligible for detention in an IRC, in a further contradiction to Home Office policy on reducing vulnerable detainees.
The pressure group has called for better treatment of female detainees who are often “survivors of serious humans rights abuses”, proposing that “immigration cases can be far more effectively and humanely resolved within the community.” Currently, the Home Office says that “95% of those facing removal are managed in the community.”
WfRW also questioned the facilities available at the Derwentside IRC. They claim that the remote location of the IRC means there is a lack of legal aid providers, resulting in women being “isolated from their support networks.” This contrasts with the Home Office’s reassurances that all detainees can access legal aid in some form.
Meanwhile, former detainees of Yarl’s Wood IRC which Derwentside will replace have also spoken out about their experiences of living in a removal centre. Agnes Tanoh, who was granted refugee status after a three-month period of detention, said that “fear is what my sisters who were taken to Derwentside today will be feeling. Imagine the terror on that journey.”
She also said that “people coming here to seek asylum are hoping for security and freedom… they believe that they are coming to a country of human rights but they find themselves in a prison. I don’t want that.”
Ambre, another former detainee at Yarl’s Wood said her four-month stay at the centre was “really, really horrible” and says that “There is no point detaining women. Detention centres destroy women emotionally… I don’t wish it on anyone, even my worst enemy.”
Members of ‘No To Hassockfield’ have also spoken out about the removal centre. Former Gateshead GP, Dr. Helen Groom, called on Home Secretary Priti Patel “to release all women in detention and to close Hassockfield now”, while local resident Owen Temple said that “many local people are horrified when they hear the use to which this notorious site is being put.”
Several protests have already taken place around the Derwentside IRC, and it is likely that further campaigns and protests will be planned in response to the centre now being operational.
Image: Colin Edgar via Wikimedia Commons