Posts Tagged ‘Colnbrook’

End Indefinite Detention, Don’t Sack Cleaners

Saturday, May 7th, 2022

End Indefinite Detention, Don’t Sack Cleaners – two protests I photographed on Saturday 7th May 2016, one on the edge of London and the other in the centre.


Detention Centres Shut Them Down – Harmondsworth, Saturday 7th May 2016

Mostly protests begin later than expected and I was surprised when I arrived at Europe’s largest detention centre complex at Heathrow, two Category B prisons, Colnbrook & Harmondsworth, managed by private security company MITIE to find that the action organised by the Anti Raids Network as a part of a day of action at all UK detention centres had already begun.

Most of the protesters had come out to the protest on the west edge of Greater London from the centre and had apparently got there earlier than they expected and had immediately rushed past the few security guards onto the private roadway between the two prisons to communicate with the detainees who had gathered around the windows of the two blocks behind their 20 ft high fences. I’d photographed earlier protests here where the protesters had walked noisily around the Harmondsworth block (strangely on the Colnbrook side of the complex) on the rough track around the fence, but the centre was now under new management and MITIE were determined to keep them further away.

As I arrived and talked with the small group who had remained at the entrance those inside appeared at the far end of the road, being slowly moved out by the police reinforcements who had arrived shortly before me, and I followed protesters down the road to join them.

As well as making a lot of noise with pots and pans, megaphones and kicking the solid metal bottom of the fence, the protesters also held up a large banner with a phone number so that the detainees could contact them and tell them what was happening inside. At first the police made slow progress in moving them along, but soon another police van arrived with more officers and they were able to move them quickly to the front of the complex.

After regrouping there, most decided to walk along to the public footpath that runs along the east edge of the centre. Although bushes and small trees in front of the fence made the centre almost invisible, it was easy to hear the detainees shouting from inside and for them to hear the protest. Soon phone contact was made with some of them and they were able to speak over a megaphone. As I wrote back in 2016:

“Bashir from Lebanon told us he had been held in detention for 18 months and that his wife and children need his help, but he is stuck inside, unable to see them or do anything. Indefinite detention such as this seems a clear breach of so many of the human rights that everyone in the UK should be entitled to under our Human Rights Act 1998. Treating people like our system does is simply shameful.”

Detention Centres Shut Them Down – where there is more about the protest.

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre – Barbican, London, Saturday 7th May 2016

I left to make my way to central London where Cleaners union United Voices of the World were holding a flashmob at the Barbican Centre after cleaning contractor Servest proposed making many of the cleaners redundant or severely cutting their hours and pay. As well as the UVW, the action was supported by activists from the Bakers Union, Class War, SOAS Unison, Unite Hotel workers branch and IWGB Couriers branch.

I met the cleaners close to Moorgate Station and walked with them towards the Barbican, where they burst into a run as they turned a corner and rushed into the main entrance, past a couple of security guards who had no chance of stopping the unexpected arrival. They made there way to the middle of the arts centre, to protest noisily outside the hall where customers were entering a sold-out concert of music by Yann Tiersen.

After a few minutes police arrived and told the protesters they must leave or be arrested, and after some argument they slowly and noisily made their way back towards the main entrance, with police continuing to harass them.

They continued to protest on the street outside the main entrance, and the protest was still continuing there when I left for home.

More on My London Diary at Cleaners invade Barbican Centre.


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Immigration Detention – a National Shame

Monday, June 7th, 2021

Detainees seen through the wire fence, Harmondsworth Detention Centre, Sat 7 Jun 2014

Recently the Home Office under Priti Patel got its knuckles rapped in court, when the High Court ruled it broke the law by housing cross-channel migrants in the run-down Napier barracks in Folkestone, Kent. Public Health England had earlier warned that the barracks were unsuitable for accommodation for asylum seekers during the Covid pandemic, and with 380 detained in poorly sectioned off rooms of 12-14 with shared bathrooms and toilets the spread of infection was clearly inevitable, with around 200 people catching Covid-19.

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 requires the Home Office to provide “support” for asylum seekers who are unable to support themselves, including if needed accommodation, but this must be adequate for their needs. Clearly in this case they were not, and the situation was worsened by employing a private contractor to run the barracks, who in turn outsourced much of the work required.

John McDonnell MP speaking

Many of those sent to the barracks were clearly unsuitable to be housed there because of pre-existing mental health issues arising from trafficking and/or torture before their arrival in the UK – and the Home Office’s own assessment criteria should have prevented them being sent to the barracks.

The whole judgement is complex and lengthy but reading the evidence it examines leaves the impression of a total lack of concern for human rights and common humanity in the operation of our asylum system, and one which is evident across the whole range of how we deal with migrants and asylum. In 2020 over 23,000 people were held in detention centres in the UK, around a third held for more than a month; but it is indefinite detention with no limit to the time they may be held and for some their stay has lasted around three years. Over half of those detained have claimed asylum.

Of those detained in 2019, just over a third were deported, some illegally. A small number – just over 300 in the year ending 2019 – received compensation, averaging £26,000, after proving their detention was illegal. (figures from https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/ The Migration Observatory.)

On Saturday 7th June 2014 I went to the neighbouring detention centres (a polite name for these immigration prisons) of Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, just across the A4 Bath Road north of Heathrow Airport, along with campaigners organised by Movement for Justice, who had come to protest with prisoners inside the immigration prison against the unjust ‘Fast Track System’ and mistreatment of detainees by private security firms.

The were joined outside the prisons by local MP John McDonnell who has a long record of supporting asylum seekers, who told us that when he first became MP for the area in 1997 the immigration detention centre was only a small building housing a dozen or so detainees. Now these two large blocks house several thousands – and their are other large immigration prisons across the country.

After the rally on the pavement outside, the protesters – who included many former detainees – marched onto the site and began to make a circuit on the roadway which goes around the Harmondsworth centre, most of which is enclosed behind tall fences. The stopped at places on the way where they knew that those inside the prison would be able to see and hear them, making a lot of noise chanting and shouting as well as with whistles and other noise-makers.

Detainees are allowed to have mobile phones and the protesters were able to contact a number of those inside, some of whom were able to speak by holding the phone they were calling to a microphone of the protesters’ megaphone. Many inside feel they are forgotten and all had complaints about the way they were treated by the detention centre staff and the poor conditions.

At later events here that I photographed, police prevented the protesters marching around the 20ft fences that surround it, limiting them to an area in front of the administration block. Clearly the tall fences mean there was no security risk, but the sight and sound of the protest was important in raising the morale of those held in the centres – and something those private contractors running the jails wished to avoid in future.

More pictures at Support Detainees in Harmondsworth