9 Mar 2015

Harmondsworth detainees launch hunger strike

Detainees inside Britain’s largest immigration removal centre say they have launched a hunger strike after a weekend of protests against conditions inside the complex.

In a letter seen by Channel 4 News detainees claimed they would launch a hunger strike from 8am today demanding an end to “indefinite deprivation of liberty and human rights”.

Everyone here is burning in the fire of uncertainty. Detainees’ letter

Home affairs select committee chair Keith Vaz visited the centre after a Channel 4 News undercover investigation revealed worrying conditions inside (see video, below).

Protesters gathered outside the centre on Saturday calling for its closure, and reports of protests inside the centre emerged on Sunday evening. Detainees could be heard chanting “freedom” inside the centre.

‘Like animals’

One protester said of the treatment by Harmondsworth staff: “It’s like we are animals. They are not giving us help. If anyone came inside and see conditions here they would see and release us.”

A letter signed by protesting detainees was seen by Channel 4 News: “We are writing to draw your attention to the miserable plight condition of the detainees of asylum cases”.

The letter outlines grievances with the handling of cases including the long detention time while cases are processed and the prison like conditions they say they are detained in.

Above: Channel 4 News investigation into Harmondsworth

“Everyone here is burning in the fire of uncertainty, that is the worst form of mental and physical torture, without any offence or crime and without any punishment decided by the court.”

“The detainees…have started peaceful protest against the immigration practice from Sunday noon. Furthermore all have decided to go on hunger strike till they are set free to contest their cases properly without any confinement.”

In 2006 specialist riot police were brought in to bring an end to a major detainee protest at Harmondsworth after a damning watchdog report into the centre. Extensive damage and “deliberate sabotage” was caused to the centre during the 2006 disturbances.

Inside immigration centres

Last week Channel 4 News aired secret filming revealing life inside both Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth centres.

Footage from Harmondsworth included a staff member claiming the centre is at breaking point and a Home Office employee suggests cameras are forbidden from the centre to prevent detainees sharing their conditions with the media.

During his visit to Harmondsworth on Saturday Keith Vaz MP had originally invited a Channel 4 News team to accompany him, but the Home Office refused permission.

Protests have also taken place this week by women inside Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre and on Friday there were reports of a disturbance at Verne IRC in Portland.

Mitie said they were unable to comment at this time.

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A Home Office spokesman said: “Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls. It is vital these are carried out with dignity and respect and we take the welfare of our detainees very seriously.

“That’s why the Home Secretary last month commissioned an independent review of detainees’ welfare to be conducted by the former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw.

“Detention is only ever used as a last resort after all attempts to encourage individuals to leave voluntarily have failed.”