As feared, the news broke this week that Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre is to be converted from a facility just for women to an all-male facility.
The centre will expand from 82 to 120 beds. We understand that the change will begin in January 2024.
So a mere two years after enormous sums were spent transforming a former secure facility for young men into a detention centre suitable for vulnerable women, the Home Office is going into reverse, with Australian prison construction company Laing O’Rourke involved.
Whats going on?
The Home Office has been communicating the following information to stakeholders about its decision.
“The Illegal Migration Act is designed to end illegal entry into the UK and we are absolutely committed to making it work.
To prepare for the Illegal Migration Act, Derwentside immigration removal centre (IRC), currently an all-female IRC, will be converted into a facility for men only in due course. Where needed, women detained on the site will be moved to a different immigration removal centre.”
And yet – as preparations go ahead for implementing the Illegal Migration Act, there is no guarantee that the Act will come into force in its current form. Everything will be in disarray if the government loses it current appeal regarding Rwanda
Given that over the past two years vigorous lobbying has led to great improvements in the treatment of women detained in the IRC, the statement that women will be moved back into mixed units is highly disturbing: the IRC was created to bring specifically female facilities together. The great failure was to do this in an entirely unsuitable location – and to fail to acknowledge the terrible impact of locking up women who are not criminals Here is one woman’s harrowing description of life in Derwentside – and experiences in a previous detention centre:
Opening a new chapter of abuse
Chair of No to Hassockfield Dr Helen Groom highlights here some of the issues arising from the new turn of events:
“We have to remember that the majority of women and, in future, men, who are locked up in Derwentside want to be here to work and to contribute to our society. The UK remains the only country in Europe to have no time limit on how long asylum seekers can be detained.
“The No To Hassockfield Campaign has consistently highlighted the unsuitability of Derwentside as an Immigration Prison, given its remoteness, the complete lack of local provision of legal and migrant support services and its poor mobile phone signals. These views were supported by the government’s own Independent Monitoring Board and recognised in the Home Office announcement. These issues will remain after the move to an all male facility.
“Richard Holden MP promoted the site as providing local job opportunities. Given half of the staff are purported to be female, what will happen to them now? The sports facilities at the site have been built on, removing the football pitch. As a retired GP, I had several male patients who suffered from long term Post Traumatic Stress disorder following their imprisonment when the prison was the notorious Medomsley Detention Centre. Do we really want history to repeat itself by locking up vulnerable, traumatised young men on this site?”
The fall out of this shock announcement will take time to sink in. But if the Home Office thinks it can silence protest, it is completely mistaken.
No To Hassockfield will continue to campaign to shut Derwentside IRC, to call for every woman detainee to have her human rights recognise, and to promote the proven, more humane and cheaper alternatives to indefinite detention.