By Poppy Askham
An open letter to City of Durham MP Mary Foy appealing against the construction of a new detention centre for women has gained over 1,300 signatures from Durham University students and staff members in its first three days. The letter is yet to be delivered to Ms Foy.
Building work recently began on the detention centre in Hassockfield, County Durham. The facility will house 80 refugees and is located on the site of the former Medomsley Detention Centre which closed in 2015 following the suicide of a detainee.
Director of campaign group Women for Refugee Women, Alphonsine Kagabo has raised serious concerns about the negative impact of such facilities on vulnerable women’s mental health, many of whom have already survived severe trauma. One in five female refugees interviewed by the group admitted to suicide attempts whilst in detention, whilst 40% said they had self-harmed.
Residents have expressed concerns to the local council about the development on a site that had previously been earmarked for housing development in an area with a shortage of affordable property. Palatinate understands that this was a decision taken by the Ministry of Justice, not the local council.
The letter, initiated by Durham students Rachel Cope-Thompson and Severin Baker, urges Mary Foy to write to Home Secretary Priti Patel and to raise the issue in Parliament by tabling a written question to the House of Commons.
Ms Cope-Thompson, a third-year student at Grey College, told Palatinate: “We are incredibly proud of the response from both Durham Students and staff members in light of the Home Office’s egregious decision to build a new detention centre for women asylum seekers”.
“We are optimistic that Mary Foy will be keen to engage with the issue, and work alongside Women for Refugee Women to take the campaign to Parliament”, she added.
Image: Colin Edgar via Wikimedia Commons