Plans to open a new, women-only immigration detention centre in Consett, County Durham by the end of the year have been given the go-ahead by the Home Office. The Derwentside Removal Centre will have capacity for 84 female occupants awaiting deportation from the UK.
The decision to open the new detention centre has been greeted with widespread criticism and several local and national groups are campaigning to halt its construction.
A candle-lit vigil was held at the site’s gates on 24th November in memory of all those who have died in UK immigration centres and another protest is scheduled to occur outside the centre on 4th December.
In April this year, more than 1,500 Durham students signed an open letter calling for MP Mary Foy to support the campaign to oppose the centre’s construction. Foy subsequently wrote to the Home Secretary to outline her personal opposition to the plans and joined a cross-party group of more than 70 parliamentarians who wrote their own open letter in June to express wider concern about the new Derwentside project.
Residents have also expressed concerns about the development on a site that had previously been earmarked for housing development in an area with a shortage of affordable property. The County Council expressed a preference for an alternative proposal to build a housing complex on the site, but the Ministry of Justice decided instead to allot the land to the new detention centre.
The Home Office argues that the detention centre could create up to 200 jobs. It also stresses that it is a necessary replacement for the Yarl’s Wood facility in Bedfordshire which is currently the only immigration detention centre in the UK that specialises in the housing of female detainees and has been the subject of allegations of poor conditions in recent years.
Home Secretary Priti Patel MP justified the opening of Derwentside, insisting that “detention plays a limited but crucial role in maintaining effective immigration control”, and noting that “these changes will significantly reduce the overall immigration detention capacity for women”.
Patel also promised that the Derwentside Centre will be “committed to ensuring the proper protection and treatment of vulnerable people”, and that “safeguarding and promoting the welfare of women is at the forefront of the new facility”.
Local residents have also expressed concerns that the detention centre may raise unwanted memories from the 1970s and 80s when the site was home to the Medomsley Centre which housed teenage offenders serving sentences for minor offences.
In 2019, five former officers were convicted for their role in the physical abuse of male inmates at the facility during the 1970s and 80s and earlier this year the Ministry of Justice paid out more than £7 million in compensation to 1,600 victims of abuse at the centre.
Durham County Council leader Amanda Hopgood expressed fears that the opening of the new Centre would “bring back an awful lot of memories for people, and not good ones”.
Image: Colin Edgar via Wikimedia Commons