Holiday time? Spare a thought – and solidarity – for those in detention, hidden away at UK airports

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By Roxy Legane, Community Campaigner with These Walls Must Fall Northwest. These Walls Must Fall is a network of community campaigns challenging the use of immigration detention in the UK, coordinated by Right to Remain.

As the holiday season approaches, alongside the prospect of another brief summer in the UK, those of us privileged enough to do so find ourselves arriving at airports, eagerly awaiting our escapism. Everyday people move freely through departures and arrivals, excited by holidays and business trips, or returning to families and loved ones on the ground.

Recently, I too sat waiting in Manchester Airport for my very own escape to France. As I stared out of the window at departing flights, this time it was with a sense of unease at the stark contrast I was a part of. While waiting for my summer break, I, like everyone else, was in walking distance of Manchester Airport’s very own ‘residential short-term holding facility’; known previously as Pennine House.

Now located near the world freight terminal, this short-term holding facility is a holding ground for 32 men and women after being taken from the community they belong to, or following refused entry to the UK. They are individuals whom the Home Office hope to deport or move to other Immigration Removal Centres, where their time held could be more permanent.

In 2019, an unannounced inspection of the facility by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons showed that although improvements had been made through the holding facility’s refurbishment, women’s accommodation was being used as an overflow for men, with some women being held with men unrelated to them. Frosted windows gave no view to the outside and also could not be opened, meanwhile the outdoor area available resembled ‘a high-security prison yard’.

Staff spoken to had had no recent equality and diversity refresher training, and although visitors were welcome, the centre remaining ambiguously placed with no address for the new centre on the Home Office website, making visits from loved ones and supporters challenging.

Continually praised for being a city welcoming of diversity, how many in Manchester are aware that as they await their flights, a short walk away people are faced with the unwanted prospect of theirs?

From Gatwick to Heathrow, ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ are conveniently placed by airports, intended to make the process of detention to deportation an efficient one. As the Home Office hold people against their will, in some cases for indefinite periods of time, many holiday makers do not know that their chosen airport is a prison to those who want to stay in the UK. Regardless of reasoning, that should be their right; no one is illegal.

By the time I returned from France, it struck me that some detained may have come and gone and some may have been held my entire 5-day holiday; awaiting their ‘fate’ as I touched back down on Manchester soil.

We know that trauma is inevitable for those detained, as highlighted by one individual who was kept in Gatwick-based Brook House for two years. This has to end.

Am I suggesting you feel a sense of guilt each time you set foot in an airport? Do I think you should feel bad for being part of those lucky enough to choose? No. These Walls Must Fall campaigners ask for more than that, they ask for solidarity, and for the wider public to take action in the fight to end immigration detention.



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