Hunger strikes and uprisings have been part of life in detention centres since these monstrous institutions first opened, but have dramatically escalated in the past few years as the UK government are detaining increasing numbers of increasingly desperate people.
The detainees were frustrated at the lack of results of talks between themselves and management. The detainees had temporarily suspended a 150 strong hunger strike against the overcrowding and the bad conditions in the centre. The centre has been badly damaged, a fire was lit, 26 detainees are said to have escaped and 16 to be still on the run. 14 presumed 'ringleaders' are said to have been moved from the centre and nobody knows where they are at time of me writing.
Campsfield can hold up to 200 men at a time.
-69 Tamils from Sri Lanka went on hunger strike three weeks ago against their deportation back to genocide. Many are still on hunger strike. Two have been on hunger strike for a longer time and are very weak.
They are demanding removals to Sri Lanka to be stopped, at least until a new country guidance case is heard, and to be released in the meantime. They are asking for the death of a deportee at the airport after arrival to be investigated, and the torture of another, who was imprisoned after arrival, to be stopped.
The Tamil hunger strikers are detained in Harmondsworth, Haslar, Tinsley House and Oakington.
-Another disturbance in Campsfield in March 2006 caused damage to the centre and many detainees had to be moved. Some had to be hospitalized for smoke inhalation.
-In November 2006, a major disturbance caused the almost total closure of Harmondsworth IRC. This was the second time in two years the centre had to close down due to detainees revolting. The riots this time were triggered by guards preventing detainees from watching the news on TV about a report from the chief prisons inspector Anne Owers, in which the centre was strongly criticised.
-There was mass hunger strike in Harmondsworth in Janury 2006, following the suicide of Beretek Yohannes from Eritrea.
-Over one hundred Colnbrook detainees went on hunger strike in April 2006, after guards prevented them from symbolically joining a No Borders demonstration outside by going to the windows. The detainees put forward a list of demands and many were released as a result of their struggle.
Colnbrook IRC has a capacity to hold up to 326 men. The hunger strike spread to Haslar, where it was violently repressed following a peaceful occupation of the courtyard.
-Later the same year,100 Campsfield detainees went on hunger strike. According to a recently published report, the conditions in the centre remain unchanged.
-Harmondsworth had to close down a first time in 2004, when a riot erupted following the suicide of detainee Sergey Baranyuck from Ukraine.
Many detainees including women and children had to be treated for shock and smoke inhalation.
Harmondsworth re-opened a year later with an increased capacity of 551 to hold single men. In the meantime, Colnbrook was built next to Harmondsworth.
- 30 Ugandan women went on hunger strike in Yarl's Wood in July 2005, against their planned deportations and the conditions in the centre. Most women were released thanks to the support they received through the hunger strike, but a small number were deported and some of them 'disappeared'. Sophie Odogo spent months in a psychiatric hospital, after her mental health collapsed in detention. She is a torture and rape survivor. She is not expected to make a full recovery, ever.
-During the previous month, over 100 detainees from Zimbabwe went on hunger strike in various detention centres including Harmondsworth, Yarl's Wood and Campsfield. Two were hospitalized as a result, in fact it was a hard struggel to get them out detentnion and in the hospital before it was too late...Most were released following a High Court ruling in favour of a suspension of deportations to Zimbabwe, after evidence of deportees imprisoned and tortured by the Mugabe regime was presented. The Zimbabwean hunger strike received massive media attention.
-In September 2003 Yarl's Wood burned down following a disturbance, with great danger to the detainees left locked inside the burning building all night long: that's how those in charge handled the emergency! It was by far the most dangerous of such incidents and it is a miracle if nobody died. The building had not been fit with water sprinklers, possibly to save money.
The disturbance was sparked by the ill treatment of an elderly and sick woman.
Yarl's Wood was at the time the newest detention centre in the UK and
the largest detention centre in Europe, with 900 capacity. It re-opened a year later with reduced capacity of 450, and is currently holding families and single women.
This is only an incomplete list of major disturbances, but people suffer, struggle, rebel, go on hunger strike or attempt suicide every day inside detention centres.
Instead of recognizing that its policies of detaining migrants and asylum seekers in prison -like conditions have disastrous consequences and ought to be revised, the government are planning to lock up more and more people.
The Immigration Minister Liam Byrne has broken the ground for the building of a new removal centre near Gatwick, which will be called Brook House.
Two wings of the damaged Harmondsworth are also being worked on, in order to increase capacity and lock up people more tightly. The government's plans are to increase the detention capacity from 2500 to 4000.
Immigration removal centres are prisons in everything but in name, except for the fact that people do not know how long they are going to be detained for. They are certainly not places suitable to accommodate vulnerable people, including pregnant women and children. Torture survivors are routinely detained, in breach of Home Office own guidelines, and so are rape survivors and other severely traumatised people.
Of 10 IRCs operating in the UK, 7 are run for profit by private companies. To keep some one locked up for a week costs around 1300+ taxpayers' money, without counting the overheads such as escorted transport.
IRCs have the function to terrorise migrants with the reality of segregation behind razor wire and violent deportations, handcuffed as if they were criminals. This may send a strong message to others: Britain is not a soft touch.
The majority of those held in immigration detention at any time are people seeking asylum. Some 28.000 men, women and children are arbitrarily detained in the UK every year. Many are deported, often to war-torn countries and to countries with appalling human rights records. .
Four men are known to have been killed after being deported from Britain, but the real number is certainly much higher. As there is a political willingness to deport people at all costs in order to meet government targets, nobody monitors what happens to people after they are deported, apart from some human right activists and small NGOs: they are documenting numerous cases of people imprisoned and tortured after being deported from the UK. We are also aware of many cases of deportees brutally beaten and injured by escorts in attempts to force them on the plane: some people are, very understandably, terrified to go, so violence and intimidation are used to force them. Legal firms are handling hundreds of such cases, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Sometimes people are so scared of being deported that they try to kill themselves. They are put on suicide watch and deported all the same.
While these horrors, that remind of the Nazi era, are happening almost unnoticed, the Minister for Immigration can boost that increasing numbers of people are being detained and deported: 'ordinary' people can be reassured no hordes of unwanted foreigners will be allowed to come and settle in the UK.
Demonstrate outside the UK Immigration Service
210 Old Street, London, EC1V 9BR
(nearest tube – Old Street )
TUESDAY 7 AUGUST 1 – 2PM
Tel: 0207 837 1688
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! demonstrates monthly outside Communications House. We dedicate this month’s protest to solidarity with the detainees at Campsfield.
IT IS NO CRIME TO FLEE FROM ILLEGAL IMPRISONMENT!
CLOSE DOWN CAMPSFIELD HOUSE AND ALL IMMIGRATION PRISONS!
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!