For those who despair that the outrage of immigration detention continues – seemingly unchallenged – in the UK, hope may be at hand.
Those of us opposed to the very existence of immigration detention – the imprisonment of people simply because they are migrants, in an inherently abusive system – have spoken out, written, shouted, protested and campaigned for many years. Yet we have witnessed the expansion of the detention estate, the indefinite detention of migrants, the shattering effects of detention on physical and mental health, and the deaths – every one, one too many – of people in detention.
Abuses and deaths in detention
But is there a change in the air? Mainstream media is paying more attention to the abuses of detention, particularly the sexual abuse scandal in Yarl’s Wood and the spate of deaths in detention over the last year. Last week the funeral of Christine Case, who died in Yarl’s Wood in March, took place a day after a young man was found dead in HMP The Verne, a prison that is being used to hold migrants but has not yet been converted to an immigration removal centre.
See the Institute for Race Relation’s heartbreaking roll-call of deaths in detention here.
In May, hunger strikes and other protests swept across detention centres in the UK (see previous posts on this blog). Solidarity demonstrations were held at Harmondsworth and Dungavel detention centres. On 7 June, a protest was held outside Harmondsworth including family members and friends of people currently detained there, as well as ex-detainees and activists.
15 June – Day of Action
On 15 June, there is an international day of action to close detention centres, with events happening in Spain, the UK, the US, and with other countries to be confirmed.
In the UK, there will be a protest at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, between 4.30 and 6.30 pm. The organisers have highlighted the global protest movement against detention, as well as the recent actions in the UK:
On 7 March, in the US a wave of hunger and work strikes by migrants began at the North West Detention Centre and grew til it was 1200 strong. After 56 days, a Bill encouraging “alternatives to detention” of undocumented migrants was put forward. During that time, an unprecedented movement, Not1More, organised actions to urge President Obama to stop deportations, winning the support of 30 members of Congress.
In April, in Israel, 1000 people demonstrated at the Holot detention centre in the desert, where thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have been protesting imprisonment without trial, indefinite detention, and illegal deportation to Uganda and Rwanda. In the same month, in Valencia, Spain, 100 detainees started a hunger strike against deportations.
16 June – Magna Carta day
The international day of action is followed by Magna Carta Day on June 16. Campaigners are highlighting the UK’s heritage of human rights going back to 1215 when the Magna Carta was issued. The Magna Carta, or ”The Great Charter of the Liberties of England’, established principles of due process and equality before the law. The devastating legal aid cuts implemented by the government have negated the principle of equality before the law, and many aspects of the asylum and immigration system are fundamentally at odds with its ‘tradition of human rights’ the UK so often celebrates.
Immigration detention is a notable example. The Magna Carta decrees that:
No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land.
Liberty, dignity and freedom: universal principles of our shared humanity. Just not if you’re a migrant in the UK, it seems.
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