Posts Tagged ‘hostile environment’

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

A Busy Monday

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

Kashmiris call for independence

Monday 11th of February 2019 was an unusually busy day for me covering protests in London, with several unrelated events taking place across Central London.

My day began outside in Marsham St, where groups outraged at the callous hostile environment introduced by Theresa May as Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016 and carried on by her successors Amber Rudd and Sajid Javid (and of course from later in 2019 by the despicable Priti Patel) held a mock trial of the the Home Office.

The Home Office were represented by a figure in Tory blue

The Home Office runs a violent, racist, colonial, and broken asylum, detention and deportation regime which treats refugees and asylum seekers as criminals, judged guilty without trial and often faced with impossible hurdles as they attempt to prove their innocence and claim their rights. It puts pressure on police and the CPS to launch false prosecutions – such as that of the Stanstead 15 who peacefully resisted an asylum flight and were charged and convicted under quite clearly ludicrous and inapplicable terrorism laws – and whose conviction was recently quashed on appeal.

Two years ago I wrote:

There were testimonies from individuals, groups and campaigns about suffering under the vicious system of rigged justice, indefinite detention, ill-treatment and arbitrary arrest and deportation. Two judges watched from their bench and those attending were members of the jury; I left before the verdict, but it was never in doubt.

People’s Trial of the Home Office

I left early to cover a protest at India House in Aldwych by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front calling for freedom, there on this day as it was the 35th anniversary of the hanging by India of Maqbool Bhat Shaheed in 1984. The population of Jammu and Kashmir is around 12.5 million, and India has over 800,000 troops in Kashmir, who shoot to kill, torture, rape and burn homes with impunity, killing over 100,000 Kashmiris since 1988. More recently India has even tightened its control over Kashmir, getting rid of the constitutional limited autonomy of the area, politically integrating it with India although this seems unlikely to lessen the continuing fight of the Kashmiri people for independence.

Later I photographed a protest by a second group of Kashmiris, the Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party UK, calling for the remains of Maqbool Bhat Shaheed to be released and for independence for Kashmir.

In late afternoon, private hire drivers came to London Bridge in their cars to protest against the decision by Transport for London (TfL) to make them pay the London congestion charge. London’s traditional Licenced Taxis – ‘black cabs’ – will remain exempt in what clearly seems unfair discrimination.

Minicab drivers have been organised by the International Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) into the United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) which includes the British Bangladesh Minicab Drivers Association, the Minicab Drivers Association and the Somali All Private Hire Drivers, SAPHD. Most private hire drivers are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups while black cab drivers are almost entirely white and the UPHD claim that TfL’s decision is a case of race discrimination.

London’s Licensed Taxi system dates back to the era of horse-drawn vehicles (Hackney Carriages) and seems largely inappropriate now in the age of smart phones and sat navs. ‘Plying for hire’ creates both congestion and pollution on our overcrowded city streets, and is now unnecessary when cars can be summoned by phone, and good route-planning software with real-time traffic information out-performs the archaic ‘knowledge’ routes.

The drivers parked on London Bridge and blocked both carriageways, then locked their vehicles to march along the bridge and hold a rally, then marched to hold a noisy protest outside City Hall. From there some went to Tower Bridge to block that, but were persuaded by the UPHD stewards to leave and return to their vehicles.

UPHD drivers protest unfair congestion charge
Kashmir Awami Party call for Freedom
Kashmiris call for freedom
People’s Trial of the Home Office


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.