This video was shot outside the walls of Hassockfield/Derwentside Women’s Immigration Centre when a group of supporters at our April monthly demonstration found they could shout loud enough for the women inside to hear. Agnes Tanoh from Women for Refugee Women is speaking on the video, and the women inside responded – the first time we’d made contact with them in the 22 months since we started meeting together at the IRC gates.
Over that time we have learned many things about the IRC. For example –
The IRC is run on prison lines. It had to be refurbished before opening and so is newly furnished. However, this is no hotel: women’s movements and ability to move around are tightly controlled, doors with locks abound.
The Home Office says it has 84 beds, but it’s never been fully occupied. Even so, hundreds of women, indefinitely detained, have passed through the centre since it opened. Some stay for a few days, some for several months. Many will be released back into the community and not ‘removed’ at all – having been found to have a legal right all along to be in the UK.
Women brought to Derwentside will have started their journeys to the UK from countries all over the world – from Botswana and Brazil to Slovakia and Sweden. They are young and old, from many different cultures, speaking many different languages. Some will have lived in this country for years, having brought up their families here.
Thanks to the hard campaigning of Agnes and her colleagues in Women for Refugee Women, those currently detained have at last been allowed their legal right to face-to-face meetings with the lawyers representing them – so that they don’t have to rely on the centre’s patchy mobile and internet connection – which Mitie, the management contractors, don’t seem to be able to improve despite endless pleading to tackle the problem.
After arriving at the centre, often during the night, they are given a friendship pack, put together by local volunteer group Friendship Across Borders. FAB supporters’ charitable donations also mean that much needed items like clothes and top up phone cards can be supplied. The women can also earn £1 per hour for working (a cruel irony: asylum seekers in the community have no right to work even for this pittance until they have been here for six months, and then only for a narrow range of jobs. Yet they can be employed in IRCs!).
Due to the secrecy shrouding the centre there is so much we do not know! Immigration statistics do not reflect the kind of information we want. Staff working in the centre do not talk to us. The Durham Visitors group of volunteers offer a listening ear to the women on strictly limited terms but are bound by rules of confidentiality. However there have been several reports that give a picture of the IRC.
Here’s what HM Prisons Inspectorate had to report late last year.
Photo credit Simon Tangh WFRW