Network to End Refugee and Migrant Detention

When Labour came to power, detention centres held some 700 people under the 1971 Immigration Act. A decade later, there are nearly four times as many places – 2,557 (parliamentary answer 15.1.08) – and plans to increase that to 4,000.

What has resulted from this unjust policy, widely condemned as it is by migrant, refugee, human rights and humanitarian, trade union and other organisations?

Hundreds of thousands of people have been detained without charge or conviction, without time limit, without judicial oversight, often without reasons given in writing, and with inadequate access to legal support. The Home Office reported in October 2005 that 99.6% of asylum applicants in detention in Harmondsworth had been refused. At Yarl’s Wood 93 out of 94 people applying for asylum who were subjected to the ‘fast-track’ system (because they were from supposedly ‘safe’ countries) were rejected.

Children are being imprisoned (with one or both parents). Individuals and groups of detainees have made countless protests – letters, petitions, hunger strikes and major revolts at detention centres (just a few examples: Campsfield in 1994, 1997 and (three times) 2007, Yarl’s Wood in 2002, Harmondsworth in 2004, 2005, 2006 (twice), 2007, 2008). At least six times all or part of a detention centre has been closed as a result of damage. Three trials (Campsfield 1998, Yarl’s Wood 2003, Harmondsworth 2008) have failed to nail a single detainee on charges of riot, arson and conspiracy to cause criminal damage.

Eleven young men have killed themselves while in the care of UK detention centres. Many more asylum seekers have killed themselves in prisons, and dozens more in the community. On 30 March, a man detained under immigration powers was found hanged at Pentonville prison.

According to the government, in the ten months to January 31st 2006, 185 people in detention attempted self-harm, requiring medical treatment, and 1,467 were considered to be a danger to themselves and put on self-harm watch. The devastating effect of detention upon the mental health of detainees was described in ‘Detention of Refugees’, an editorial in the British Medical Journal on 4 February 2006.

Television programmes have exposed the racism of detention guards. Beatings of people being deported have been well documented, by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Medical Justice, Asylum Aid and others, again on television, and in a series of articles in the Independent newspaper.

Detention is one aspect of government immigration and refugee policy that we are trying to combat. Needless to say, we connect with many groups with similar broad interests but a different particular focus.

Over recent years, demonstrations, public meetings and debates in different organisations to oppose detention have increased. Local campaigns have been established near centres calling for their closure.
Following the adoption of the policy by national trade unions, in September 2001 the Trades Union Council’s general council backed a TGWU call for an end to
immigration detention. At Westminster, the Barbed Wire Britain Network has held six meetings with interested Members of Parliament.

But – despite the efforts of a few members of the House of Commons and Lords, and some journalists – the widespread public opposition to detention has still not adequately been reflected in Parliament or in the media. We need to step up the public profile of the debate on the issue.

Some things you can do now:

  1. approach local anti-racist, human rights, trade union, student, political, community, church and other faith groups for their support on this issue
  2. lobby (letters, meetings) your councillors, MP, government ministers write to the local and national press
  3. call local public meetings, street
    stalls, demonstrations at places of detention, and tell the media and politicians what you’re doing produce a local leaflet if there is a place of detention near you, set up a campaign to close it / stop it opening
  4. keep the Barbed Wire Britain network informed

We welcome your interest, ideas, and support, active or otherwise. Donations can be sent to: Gill Baden, 17c West End, Witney, Oxon. OX28 1NQ. Cheques should be payable to ‘Barbed Wire Britain’.

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