On Saturday 20th May human rights campaigners once again gathered outside Derwentside IRC to show solidarity with the women incarcerated there and renew calls for the centre to be shut down.
“Brick by brick, wall by wall, detention centres have to fall”, a group chanted. And our message got a response from behind the high wall – “You can do it!”
Derwentside may be called an ‘immigration removal’ centre, but is detaining a whole spectrum of women who for one reason or another have fallen foul of the Home Office’s immigration rules. We know from the experience of the last twenty months that many of them will not ‘be ‘removed’ once their real circumstances have received proper legal consideration. Yet to be in this facility is to be imprisoned indefinitely, with all the despair and desolation that brings
We are not alone
As our supporters chanted and set off flairs, demonstrations were taking place simultaneously at other detention centres across the country.
In particular, protestors were outside Yarl’s Wood IRC in Bedfordshire, where detainees have been subject to increased restrictions after 13 people escaped at the end of April. The escape happened after a protest about conditions in the centre and almost all of those who fled have since been located.
This is not the first protest by detainees at Yarl’s Wood, where appalling conditions have resulted in detainees going on hunger strike in the past. The centre has a history of failed inspections due to the poor conditions and allegations of sexual abuse.
Sam Bjorn, spokesperson from Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSM), who are organising the demonstration at Yarl’s Wood said, “We stand in solidarity with people in Derwentside detention centre, and with the protestors who call for their liberation. Though we are hundreds of miles away we will be together in demanding an end to detention and the violent border regime. We refuse to look the other way while the state locks up and brutalises people for wanting to live freely. People who are fleeing danger or who are simply trying to rebuild their lives. As long as this cruelty endures, so will our resistance.”
What His Majesty’s Inspectors of Prisons said about Derwentside
Many of the women in Derwentside IRC have also been detained at Yarl’s Wood, and even though it opened only 18 months ago Derwentside has already been subject to criticism. An HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) report following an inspection of the centre in August 2022 criticised staff treatment and behaviour towards detainees and pointed out that failings in leadership and governance meant that women at risk of suicide and self-harm were receiving inadequate care. You can read the report here