Update: Although the majority of detainees in Harmondsworth have resumed eating after the repression, some are still refusing to eat [more].
On Saturday, 5th April, between 5 and 6am, around 50 police in riot gear stormed the Harmondsworth immigration prison, near Heathrow, to break the detainees hunger strike who were protesting against the so-called fast track asylum system. They took 30 detainees away and most of them were put in solitary confinement or taken into normal prisons to prevent them from communicating with each other and the outside world. One detainee, who managed to contact supporters, said he was bruised all over his body, had injuries from handcuffs and a damaged ankle. He also reported that he saw another detainee being violently 'manhandled' by police.
The detainees' peaceful protest had started at 9am on April 1st, with mass food refusal by almost all of the detainees in the so-called immigration removal centre. Later, they also occupied the courtyard and around 120 of them remained there all night. A petition, with 116 signatures, has been sent to the European Court of Human Rights, John McDonnell MP and others (see also supporters' press release).
The detainees were complaining that they are being deported without having their cases properly heard, while being detained in the meantime without having committed any crime. The so-called fast-track system means that asylum seekers are not getting enough time to prepare their cases and legal representation is often of very poor quality. They further say that they are being abused by detention staff (detainees' statements).
Earlier news that there were some 300 detainees on hunger strike was slightly exaggerated as there are less than 300 detainees in the centre, which is still half-closed following riots in 2006. But it was still the majority of detainees, possibly in the region of 200 people or more. In any case, to obtain the exact numbers would be impossible, as the staff do not have to register that somebody has not been eating before three days.
Most detainees went off their hunger strike as it was hoped that the Home Office would listen to their demands. After the 'negotiations' failed to produce any results, the food refusal resumed on Friday, April 4th. On Saturday, the repression began, with riot police brought in and people taken away. Those left in Harmondsworth were feeling very intimidated but said they were coping. Some detainees were still refusing food but no confirmed information about the numbers was available.
The fast track system was supposedly introduced to deal quickly with claims that are 'clearly unfounded'. Asylum seekers are given only 5 days to prepare their cases and 2 days to appeal. Up to 99% of the claims are refused in the first instance. Most appeals fail too. A very large number of people whose claims are not 'clearly unfounded', including torture and rape survivors, end up on the fast track. Harmondsworth IRC is the main detention centre for experimenting with the 'Detained Fast-Track' category: people are detained as soon as they claim asylum and have to deal with their asylum claim from inside the detention centre.
Some background about Harmondsworth
Run by Kalyx (formerly UK Detention Services), a subsidiary of multinational company Sodexho, Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre opened in September 2001 in place of a smaller detention centre, the 'old Harmondsworth'. It is situated near Heathrow airport and stands next to another large detention centre, Colnbrook.
In 2003, Olga Blaskevica was killed in the centre by her mentally ill husband. Harmondsworth had to close down in July 2004 after the centre was severely damaged during a detainees' uprising. The riots exploded following the suicide of detainee Sergey Baraunick. Many detainees, including women and children, suffered from shock and smoke inhalation and some were hospitalized.
Later that year, Harmondsworth re-opened with increased capacity (501) to hold single men only. In June-July 2005, Harmondsworth was at the centre of a mass hunger strike involving over 100 Zimbabwean detainees, which spread to several other detention centres. Most were released when the High Court put a halt to deportations to Zimbabwe.
Mass protests, including a short-lived hunger strike following the suicide of detainee Bereket Yohannes in January 2006, have been a common occurrence ever since. Many detainees were often punished, put in isolation or moved from Harmondsworth to other centres to break the protests.
In November 2006, Harmondsworth had to close down for the second time after being damaged during another uprising, following the publication of a report by prison inspector Anne Owers, in which the centre was strongly criticised. The four men who were arbitrarily accused of "conspiring to commit violent disorder" have recently been acquitted after standing trial. The centre has, in the meantime, re-opened partially and two damaged wings are being worked on to increase capacity and lock up people more tightly.
A model letter with contact details is attached. Please feel free to copy/ amend/ write your own.
Please notify of any letter sent to:
No Borders Detainee Support
For more information /updates about the hunger strike and the repression:
solidarity with the detainees!
The Right Hon Jacqui Smith MP
Secretary Of State for The Home Office Fax: 020 8760 3132
3rd Floor Peel Building
2 Marsham Street e-mail:
London SW1P 4DFR email@example.com
Dear Home Secretary,
I am writing to you concerning a hunger strike that is currently taking place at Harmondsworth IRC.
Detainees say their peaceful protest has been violently repressed.
The detainees were protesting against unjust deportations, without having their cases properly heard due to time restrictions regarding the fast track procedure and bad legal representation. They feel they are being arbitrarily detained without having committed any crime and are subjected to abuse while detained . The detainees believe their human rights are being violated.
The Harmondworth detainees' protest began the 1st April. There are reports that the majority of detainees refused
food from 9am, that the courtyard was occupied and that about 120 detainees remained in the courtyard all night.
On the 2nd of April detainees said they resumed eating l after meeting with Immigration. However, as they felt that the negotiations produced no results, detainees resumed the hunger strike on Friday.
Detainees reported that on Saturday 5th April between 5pm and 6am, around 50 police in riot gear stormed the centre to break the detainees' hunger strike . Detainees say that the police took 30 detainees away and most of them were put in solitary confinement or taken into main-stream prisons, preventing them from communicating with each other and with the outside world.
One detainee, who managed to contact supporters, said he is bruised all over his body, had injuries from handcuffs and a damaged ankle and possibly a broken wrist. He also reported that he saw another detainee being violently 'manhandled' by police.
The whereabouts of most of the detainees who were moved are still unknown. Although the majority of detainees in Harmondsworth have resumed eating after the repression, some are still refusing to eat.
Detainees wrote and signed a petition (116 signatures) and sent it to the European Court of Human Rights, the local MP John McDonnell and others.
Some of the hunger strikers say they are torture survivors and that most of them never had a medical examination from a specialist. It is the Home Office's own policy that detainees who allege torture must be referred to a specialist for a visit and that torture survivors should not be detained "except in very exceptional circumstances".
Earlier this month a report by the Independent Asylum Commission found the UK's treatment of asylum seekers was "shameful" and falls "seriously below" the standards of a civilized society.
I am alarmed that a perfectly peaceful protest by people demanding their human rights can be so brutally repressed in a supposedly democratic country, that has signed all human rights international agreements.
I am asking that the detainees whereabouts are made public; that nobody is removed until allegations of assaults are thoroughly investigated; that allegations of abuse in detention are also investigated; that those detainees who have no access to adequate legal representation are given the time to find a legal representative of their choice; that those who have made allegations of torture are taken off the fast-track and referred to a specialist, and are not removed before they have a visit from a specialist and a medical-legal report.
solidarity wiht the detainees!
Althogh many detainees have resumed eating following the repression, some are still on hunger strike. The repression continues: we just had news that another of the hunger strikers has been taken and put in isolation. The detainees want us to demonstrate and make their voice heard.
Demonstrate in solidarity to the Harmondsworth detainees on hunger strike.
Wednesday 16th April 5.30pm to 6.30pm at Kalyx headquarters, 25 Great Chapel Street (nearest tube Edgware Road). Called by No Borders London.
The detainees are complaining that they are being deported without having their cases properly heard. The so-called fast-track system means that asylum seekers are not getting enough time to prepare their cases. Legal representation is often of very poor quality. They further say that they are being abused by detention staff.
Harmondsworth is run by Kalyx (formerly UK Detention Services), a subsidiary of multinational company Sodexo.
On Saturday, 5th April, between 5 and 6am, around 50 agents in riot gear stormed Harmondsworth detention centre to break the detainees hunger strike.They took 30 detainees away and most of them were put in solitary confinement or taken into normal prisons to prevent them from communicating with each other and the outside world. One detainee, who managed to contact supporters, is saying he is bruised all over his body, had injuries from handcuffs and a damaged ankle. He also reported that he saw another detainee being violently 'manhandled' by police.
The detainees' peaceful protest had started at 9am on April 1st, with mass food refusal by almost all of the detainees in the so-called immigration removal centre. Later, they also occupyed the courtyard and around 120 of them remained there all night. A petition, with 116 signatures, has been sent to the European Court of Human Rights, John McDonnell MP and others .
The four men, two Russians, a Palestinian and an Egyptian, appear to have been picked almost at random by the British state to face a highly political prosecution in revenge for the uprising which wrecked Harmondsworth. They were accused of spending weeks plotting ‘widespread disorder and destruction’. The ‘evidence’ for this came largely from a detainee witness for the prosecution, who is said to have bartered his testimony for permission to work in Britain.
In reality the uprising was a spontaneous protest in response to cumulative grievances, brought to a head by the publication of the Chief Inspector of Prisons report into conditions at the detention centre on the same day that a Brazilian detainee was violently restrained by officers.
Much of what actually happened during the protest was accepted by both sides, but many actions which the prosecution tried to label as criminal behaviour were in fact the prisoners defending themselves when staff responded to the revolt by locking detainees into their rooms while parts of the IRC were on fire, and shutting others out on the yard in the cold. Detainees refused to be locked in and broke windows to allow fresh air in or to pass water into those who could not get out.
One Detention Custody Officers (DCO) gave evidence that one of the defendants was red-faced and waving his arms around in an inciting manner, but when shown CCTV footage admitted she was wrong and the defendant was seemingly joking around. Another DCO referred to detainees in the courtyard as: 'Africans drumming on bins, doing war-dance'.
The four defendants were grilled by the prosecution barrister and repeatedly accused of organising against the system. In his summing up the prosecutor quoted the two Russian defendants as saying they were treated worse than dogs in kennels, and referred to the letter to FRFI (see http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/racism/letter_harm4.html), saying ‘in 2007 they wrote a letter still complaining about detention and the treatment’ and ‘no doubt they spent their long and boring days complaining and plotting…’
The jury was out for a week and could not agree on the verdict. Although the judge had directed that this was ‘not a political trial’ and their views on immigration detention were irrelevant, there was clearly plenty to deliberate on. Finally the jury returned a majority verdict that all four were not guilty.
Three of the Harmondsworth Four remain imprisoned and one is out on immigration bail. Three of them now face renewed legal battles against deportation. Ironically the fourth man had already made clear before the protest that he was not contesting his deportation and was just keen to leave.
The Support the Harmondsworth Four campaign was set up in November 2007 and FRFI has participated actively in it, together with Barbed-Wire Britain, Campaign against Racism and Fascism, London No Borders and the Payday Men’s Network. The campaign demonstrated outside the court each Monday and had an observer in court almost every day of the trial. It also picketed Kalyx, the private contractor that runs Harmondsworth, on the day of the verdict. The campaign continues to visit and support the prisoners and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Donations towards financial support for the detainees can be paid into No Borders London’s bank account (ref: 65252615; sort code; 08-92-99)
FIRST PUBLISHED IN FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 202 APRIL/MAY 2008
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