Ahmad explained that that Daymer, the Halveki Center and other Kurdish and Turkish community groups felt they had to respond to this appeal for support. They approached Harmondsworth management and requested that a delegation from the Kurdish and Turkish community groups be allowed to visit the men on hunger strike. This request was refused- so a group went ahead and made personal visits to individual detainees to find out what’s happening.
The delegation was shocked by their findings. Ahmad explained that before he himself had settled in Britain, he had spent time in camps for refugees and asylum seekers in other EU countries – but there was no comparison with what he found at Harmondsworth, which was like a high security prison. He could see no justification for the repressive levels of security currently experienced detainees who have not been convicted of any crime. He could only understand it, as serving as a deterrent and a terrible warning to migrants seeking work or refugees seeking asylum in the UK.
These repressive measures where being implemented by a Labour government, who although coming from a leftwing tradition has right wing policies. Because of the historical relationship between Labour and the various migrant communities, work within the communities to oppose the government’s policies has up until up until limited.
But community organizations must now face up to their responsibilities, they must work together to make public opinion aware of what is going on. People from all over Turkey are being targeted by the Home Offices drive to remove asylum seekers and undocumented workers.
Ibrihim from the Halveki Centre (Hackney) then spoke. He said the detainees he had met were very distressed. Men who had never been in trouble with the law in there lives were put in cells with people who had served sentences fro serious crimes and were now awaiting deportation.
Ibrihim spoke of the detrimental psychological effect of detention and said that the most distressing thing was the uncertainty about their future whether they might be released or whether, if ever, their removal orders might be issued.
Ibrihim said that the Kurdish groups cannot change the laws of Britain, but they must fight for better condition and treatment of those affected by these laws. He went on to say there was no justice or fairness in the system. One detainee told him that the Home Office appointed solicitor he was given to represent him in his asylum case – simply told him at the first interview, that the detainee should just go back to Turkey.
Ibrihim said that there was an expectation from the detainees for support from their communities. Even if they could not change the law, they must campaign to improve conditions. People, who have lost all opportunity to stay in the UK, must be treated in a respectful way. If the community groups do not act, no one else will.
Next Asli Demirel, a Respect candidate for Hackney Council spoke. Asli spoke about the conditions placed on visitors to Harmondsworth. She talked about how on arrived they had to show passports and proof of address, were photographed, finger printed. This experience reminded Asli of her experiences then years ago when arrested for protesting in Istanbul. Asli made the point that this high security regime was a deterrent and a barrier to family and friends supporting detainees. The visitors were not allowed to bring food or reading materials for the detainees. Pens and paper were not allowed brought in and only provided on request to the guards. Detainees were not allowed to touch hands with visitors and CCTV monitored everything. ~Yet despite the high security, drugs were openly available on the wings.
Asli explained that the men they meet had been in detention for a variety of periods from a few days to 9 months. One detainee said to Asli that the Home Office had not taken them seriously until they went on huger-strike. No genuine assistance is provided to detainees seeking asylum. No translation support is provided for Home Office forms or letters. One man they met had experienced significant weight loss, within a few days of refusing food. He had been put into isolation. He said that the Harmondsworth management blamed him for starting the hunger strike and that’s why they’d put him in ‘secure’. He complained of the pain he was experiencing but was only given sleeping tablets.
Asli talked of the extensive psychological pressure put on detainees. D.C.O’s regularly punished detainees for infringements of the many rules – which were not explained to them. Detainees where not allowed to lean against walls or kneel or squat on the floor.
Asli made the point that even in Turkish prisons, detainees were allowed freedom of association. To sit or kneel on the floor was not an offence.
Asli went on to say that these men were not gangsters or terrorists. Simply migrant workers or people who had dared to ask for asylum. Others, who wanted desperately to leave the UK, were still kept locked up in Immigration detention for months – it was totally up to the Home Office when they would be removed. There was no justification for how they were treating people.
Asli appealed to the community and to all who respect human rights to speak out about what is happening.
Ahmed from the Daymer Center spoke again. He said that Human Rights organisations in the West were very sensitive to violations in the developing world, but neglects them in the West. They talk about Guantanamo, but ignore what happens in their own backyards.
Ahmad said that the community groups must create sensitivity amongst the Human Rights organisations about these issues. One man he met was so angry at the injustices that had been done to him in Britain that he said he would attack the first British person he met on return to Turkey.
So they must appeal to NGO’s Trade Union. Mps or whoever they can to raise awareness and get these issues addressed. They must get the families of detainees involved and give them support to form a campaign. It is not sufficient to have sympathy with the detainees’ plight- but we all have a duty to act.
Reports from the London Turkish Language papers Londra Gazette and Aurupa Gazetezi were present and will carry articles on the detention centers in their next editions.
films from recent No Borders London action, Camcorder Guerillas 'Welcome to Dungavel', and 'Woomera Breakout' from Australia, and a report back on the current situation inside London's detention centres.
Inn On The Green is situated underneath the A40 flyover at 3 Thorpe Close, W10,
halfway between Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Road, and is 2min from Ladbroke
Grove tube station.