Hassockfield protest Hassockfield protest. Photo: Janice Hutton

Immigration detention is cruel, expensive and inefficient, but the Tories seem determined to persecute vulnerable people. Janice Hutton reports from a protest outside the recently-opened Hassockfield centre

Janet Mathews, Lynne Saunders and I attended a demonstration at Hassockfield immigration removal centre on Saturday 15 January 2022, with Janet giving a rousing speech.

We stood shoulder to shoulder with other groups, and individuals, local and national who were also demonstrating the opening of this horrible centre. There were about 150 activists in total braving the cold and we received much support from passing traffic with car horns sounding and messages of support being shouted.

We demonstrated at the entrance to the building, eventually moving around the perimeter of the building to ensure that the women being housed there could hear our support.

Janet Matthews addressing the protest. Photo: Janice Hutton

Hassockfield has the same security level as a category C prison. Women will be held at this centre who have served a prison sentence of more than 12 months, or who have broken the immigration laws, or their asylum claim has failed. Some of the women held here will not have not had their claim for asylum refused. Others come from countries such as Somalia or Iraq and it is recognised that it is too dangerous for them to return for reasons including religious persecution or anti-LGBT laws. 

Over half of the women detained in detention centres such as this are eventually given their freedom to live in and contribute to the Community (74% in 2020!).

As we know many women seeking asylum are fleeing abuse including sex-based violence/sexual violence and trafficking.

The government had previously pledged to reform the systems of housing asylum seekers in detention, to reduce the number of vulnerable people held, including reducing the number of women held in detention centres. Caroline Nokes had vowed to introduce schemes that would reduce numbers detained and support vulnerable women outside of detention.

However this pledge has now been reneged upon. This is a complete betrayal of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. 24,000 people are held in UK detention centres in in the UK every year… and they can be held for an indefinite amount of time. The UK is the only country in Europe to do this.

Detention centres are expensive, costing £160 million in 2018. This staggering figure does not include £21.2 million paid in compensation to 867 people between 2012 and 2017 for being wrongfully detained.

Women housed here came to us looking for safety, yet they receive treatment as if they have committed the most heinous of crimes.

This is a cruel regime, where people detained are so traumatised that many resort to self-harm and attempt, or commit, suicide.

It is expensive – each person detained costs more than it does to go to Eaton.

It is inefficient – we are told that the reason for the centres is to house people who are at the point of being removed from the country but this is a blatant lie.

The number of groups and people attending Saturday’s demonstration shows the level of support for closing this, and all other, immigration detention centres.

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